Plan ahead to defuse stressful situations
Advance planning is the best stress buster, according to a survey presented at the Western Psychological Association’s 2011 meeting. The idea here is that prevention is the best medicine. If you know you’ll be driving home in traffic, for example, plan an alternate route you can use as a detour.
Take a break from bad news
Here’s an excuse to pass up the front page and tune in to The Voice: Bad news doesn’t just bum you out; it actually ramps up your tension level. In a 2012 Canadian study, women who read articles containing negative news and then faced a tense situation produced more of the stress hormone cortisol than those who had read neutral articles. You don’t have to stick your head in the sand, but if there is something devastating on the news, don’t dwell on it. Instead, try to do something that nurtures you, like working in your garden.
Connect with your own spirituality
Studies show spirituality can help relieve stress, probably because it encourages you to feel a sense of purpose and connection to others. For many people, that means religion and prayer, but you also can tap your spiritual side by doing something to help others, volunteering for a cause that means something to you, or reading an inspirational story. The goal is to do something at least once each day that inspires self-reflection.
Listen to music
Several studies have found that relaxing music reduces your heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels. It doesn’t matter what you listen to, whether it’s Bruno Mars or Beethoven, as long as you enjoy it.
Chew gum (really!)
Chewing gum reduces stress, depression and anxiety, leading to a more positive mood, according to a study published last year in the journal Stress and Health. You also could snack on something crunchy, like carrots or celery, that requires a lot of chewing. The mere act of munching might help relieve stress by burning off nervous energy; it also might stimulate other senses—which can boost levels of feel-good hormones in your brain.
Exercise doesn't just help you burn off existing anxiety; it also will help buffer you against stress for the rest of the day. In one study, researchers had people either rest quietly or ride a stationary bike for 30 minutes. The workout group didn’t get as tense when shown disturbing photos later.
Keep a gratitude journal
Take five minutes each day to write down two or three moments for which you are grateful. They can be anything from waking up to a gorgeous day to a positive comment from a co-worker. The practice can boost your happiness—and thus reduce stress—by about 25 percent, according to research by the University of California at Davis.
Snuggle with your pet
Or better yet, if you can, bring Spike to work: In a study, people who worked with a pet in their office had lower overall stress levels than petless co-workers. If Bring Your Pet to Work Day isn't an option, just cuddle at home: Other research shows folks with pets are less lonely and have greater social and emotional support.
Netflix your favorite comedy
Whether it’s the latest hit rom-com or an ancient episode of Friends, just anticipating a laugh lowers levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, according to a 2008 study from Loma Linda University in California. And laughter itself also reduces tension, giving you a double dose of calm.
Smile—even when you don't feel like smiling
In one study, people who smiled during a stressful activity had a lower heart rate afterward than those with neutral expressions. Researchers say the most stress-relieving grins are the ones that go all the way up your face and cause crinkles at the corners of your eyes.
Hug your partner or kids—or both
Hugging someone you know well reduces stress and lowers blood pressure, according to a 2013 study. Hugging boosts the hormone oxytocin, which in turn reduces the concentration of stress hormones.
Reach out to a friend
Several studies have found that bonding with close friends and family members helps reduce the negative impact of stress, especially during anxiety-producing times such as job loss or the illness of a parent. If you can’t hang out in person, call, FaceTime or Skype!
Have some fun in the bedroom
Sex is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re frazzled, but it might help: A 2010 Princeton University study found that rats that did the deed had cell growth in their hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with anxiety regulation.
Stop checking work email at home
Detaching from work completely is the key to recovering from job stress during off-hours. Why? If you’re still checking your email, you might end up ruminating about work all night—which would prevent you from recharging for the next day.
Don’t multitask with media
Using multiple forms (like TV and texting) at the same time is linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Edit your Facebook friends
The more types of friends you have on Facebook, the higher your anxiety, according to a 2012 study from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Key word: types. It’s not the number of friends that causes the stress—it’s the diversity of friends. The most anxiety-inducing groups to befriend? Employers, family members and religious acquaintances.
Take some tea time
A cup of tea helps reduce anxiety levels after a stressful event, according to one study. The believed magic ingredient? L-theanine, found in green and black tea, which helps regulate the nervous system.
Munch on walnuts
A diet rich in walnuts might prep the body to deal with stress by reducing blood pressure, according to a 2010 Penn State University study. Aim to have an ounce a day (about a handful).
Eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in already anxious folks, according to a German study.
It really does make a difference: People who meditate have lower stress hormones in their saliva compared to people who do other stress reduction techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, according to a 2007 Chinese study.
An easy technique to try: sit quietly for five minutes (you can set a timer) and focus on your breath as you breathe in and out. Every time you exhale, say a word to yourself, like calm or love. Every time a random thought comes into your brain—your grocery list, a work meeting—let it go and focus instead on your breathing. Do it every day and within a few days, this technique will become automatic. Enjoy your newfound calm!