It is an egregious understatement to say we are living in a particularly stressful time. Because of this, making time and space for stress management is absolutely necessary, and more important than ever. While we all might have our own particular de-stressing activities that work for us (watching a favorite TV show, listening to a favorite album, giving yourself a face massage), there are also a bunch of scientifically proven, expert-recommended methods we can try. Here are nine of the Cut’s favorites.
1. Spend some time meditating. While it may not be for everyone, studies suggest that meditation may, in fact, ease psychological stresses. Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, talked to the school’s health blog about meditation’s use in managing “unproductive worries.” “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’” she said. “Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that — a thought, and not a part of my core self.’”
But what do you do if you’ve never meditated before? I’m so glad you asked. Here is a helpful guide from Susan Rinkunas on how to get started in meditation at home.
2. Understand your stress patterns. Being in tune with your patterns and noticing what might trigger an increase in stress can help remind you to either alter your behavior, or at least understand why you feel the way you do. Pay attention — do you always feel more stressed out after spending a few minutes (or hours) scrolling through Twitter? Maybe try to cut back, or attempt to cut it out of your life entirely. Do you always feel stressed out at night? Understand that you’re not alone; a 2018 stress study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology Reports found that most participants were more vulnerable to stress at night than they were in the morning.
3. Make a list of concrete things you can accomplish. Times of intense stress can make you feel like you’re adrift, without any control over your life or your circumstances. It can help to make a list of things you know you can get done, and then get them done. Do the dishes, take a shower, bring out the recycling. “Think: Here’s what I can do today to keep moving and keep going,” Susan Bridges, co-author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, told the Cut. Accomplishing even tiny goals can make you feel more grounded and less stressed.
4. Try an app. There are a lot of apps available, many free and some not, to aid in relieving your stress and anxiety. Here is a list of ten great options, ranging from Happify, which includes games that are meant to increase your happiness and decrease your stress, to Moodpath, which serves as an interactive mental-health screening tool to assess your mental state over the course of two weeks.
5. Talk about yourself in the third person. According to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, putting psychological distance between yourself and your emotions by thinking of yourself in the third person can help you experience less of an intense emotional reaction. Writer Breena Kerr described using this method to manage stress during her divorce. “Thinking of myself as ‘me,’ a person wracked with guilt and sorrow, wasn’t working,” she wrote. “So I switched things up: I started making a plan of action as if I was advising a friend — someone who I knew deserved to be cared for, someone who I loved, who happened to also have my name. It worked.”
6. Think about a happy memory. As I’m sure you know, being stressed can lead to a mental loop of stressed-out thoughts on top of stressed-out thoughts on top of stressed-out thoughts. Break the chain by thinking about something happy. It’s not just hokey advice, it’s scientifically proven to work! A 2017 study published in the journal Nature Human Behavior monitored participants in stressful situations, some of whom were instructed to think of a happy event from their past and some of whom were told to think of something more mundane. Those who focused on the happy memory reported a better mood and even experienced a smaller elevation in the stress hormone cortisol.
7. Keep a gratitude journal. As Melissa Dahl has noted, spending just a few minutes focusing on gratitude can have real emotional and physical benefits. For a 2011 study, researchers asked a group of participants to keep a gratitude journal. The participants were all students who had trouble sleeping, according to the study, “because their minds are racing with stimulating thoughts and worries.” After a week of spending a few minutes per night before bed writing about things they were grateful for, participants reported quieter minds and better sleep.
Dr. Gilda Carle, therapist and relationship expert, echoed the suggestion to Katie Heaney. “You may be swayed to review a negative, ‘But, this also happened …,’” she said. “Stop yourself! Just focus on the good. Then turn out the lights.”
8. Participate in regular exercise. Honestly, it just works. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, in a posting about how physical activity reduces stress, exercising regularly has been shown to decrease tension, elevate your mood, and improve sleep and self-esteem. “Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.” Whether it’s going for a run, doing yoga, or even just taking a walk, getting up and moving can flood your body with feel-good endorphins and help clear your mind.
9. Get a good night’s sleep. As Amanda Arnold pointed out, the relationship between disruption in sleep and stress and anxiety is well known. But a recent study from the University of California pinpointed their exact link, proving that people with disordered sleep are more likely to develop anxiety. “Sleep loss triggers the same brain mechanisms that make us sensitive to anxiety to begin with — regions that support emotional processing and also regions that support emotion regulation,” Eti Ben-Simon, a researcher involved with the study, told Popular Science. So if you’re feeling both groggy and more stressed out than usual, that might be why. It can be difficult, or impossible, but it’s important to attempt to maintain a healthy, regular sleep schedule.