Stress is an undeniably awful feeling to experience, and yet it seems almost inescapable in our modern society—73 percent of working adults in Canada report at least some level of stress, with 30 percent admitting to feeling “extremely” stressed on a regular basis.
The culprits are a mix of familiar faces and newer, more nebulous stressors: work, finances, terrorism, the state of the environment, technology. We are more connected than ever but the constant influx of information, aspiration, and obligation can sometimes leave you feeling like you’re drowning in it.
So, what’s a stressed-out, 21st-century guy or gal to do?
It turns out there’s a whole slew of small lifestyle tweaks you can make that, when added up, form a pretty powerful antidote to that vague anxiety always lingering at the back of your brain. We’ve rounded up a few of the simplest tweaks below so you can get to work building your own anti-anxiety routine (no meditating under waterfalls or going off-grid needed).
1. Practice deep breathing
Also known as belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and abdominal breathing, this simple exercise can help ease tense muscles, lower blood pressure, and calm anxiety. Check out this step-by-step guide to try it for yourself!
2. Find something active you enjoy and do it every day
We all know exercise is important for our physical health, but it’s pretty darn important for our mental health, too! Regular exercise promotes all sorts of good changes in the brain, including reduced inflammation, neural growth, and an overall feeling of wellbeing thanks to the endorphins that are released when you workout.
If you’re not a fan of the gym, however, it can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise. The solution? Try incorporating another kind of activity into your routine: walk to work, drop in on a dance class, practice yoga at home, go for a hike, toss a frisbee around with friends, give rock climbing a try, dust off your old bike, or download Pokémon GO and see what all the hype is about.
Doesn’t really matter what the activity is—the key is simply to have fun and get your blood pumping!
3. Treat sleep like your second job
We’re not exaggerating when we say that getting a good night’s rest is absolutely essential to maintaining good health.
Not only does depriving yourself of enough sleep take a toll on your body (sleep deficiency is associated with all sorts of problems, including increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity), it also affects your mental wellbeing—people who skimp on sleep can have trouble making decisions, controlling their feelings, and coping with change. Lack of sleep has also been linked to more serious issues like depression and suicide.
Make sleep a priority—your body and your brain will thank you.
4. Declutter your space
Messy homes and workspaces contribute to feelings of anxiety and overwhelm but we don’t always recognize clutter as the source of our stress, viewing it instead as an unavoidable byproduct of a busy life.
It can be hard to make time to clean when you’ve got a million other things on the go, but setting aside even a measly 5 or 10 minutes each day to tidy up a bit can help reduce the anxiety those dirty dishes or piles of laundry are generating. When you’re ready for a serious overhaul, set aside a day to go through your stuff and get rid of anything that’s no longer needed or wanted—boom, instant stress relief.
5. GET OUT
Outside, that is. Mounting evidence shows a direct link between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. The reason why isn’t 100% clear yet, but studies indicate that interacting with natural spaces calms activity in the pre-frontal cortex (an area associated with negative and repetitive thinking), lowers blood pressure, and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Hit up your neighbourhood park, take a walk through the woods, or even buy some houseplants to reap the calming benefits of the great outdoors.
6. Adopt a furry sidekick
Not only are pets adorable and hilarious (as evidenced by the thousands of goofy pet videos on YouTube), they can be a source of great comfort to their owners. Petting, cuddling, and playing with a furry little friend can reduce feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
If you have space and the means to do so, adopting a pet is an excellent way to combat stress and introduce a little more love into your life.
7. Crank the tunes
Music can have a profound and powerful impact on our emotions, and anxiety is no exception. Things like pitch, tempo, volume, and lyrics work in concert on our brain to affect our mood and can be harnessed to treat negative feelings like stress and sadness.
To bring yourself from an anxious state to a calm one, use a carefully curated playlist to transition you there gradually. Forcing yourself to listen to cheerful tunes when you’re down won’t have much of an effect, but if you play songs that empathize with your current emotional state first and slowly work your way towards melodies that reflect the state you’d like to be in, you’ll have much more success.
8. Pick up a book every now and then
Bibliophiles everywhere have been touting the benefits of reading for ages now, and for good reason—reading is great for your mental health!
Studies have shown that reading a book is one of the best ways to relax, finding that on average it took just six minutes of reading for a person’s heart rate to slow and muscles to un-tense. Regular reading has also been associated with an increase in empathy, better sleep, and improved brain health, all of which can help reduce anxiety and negative thought patterns.
Next time you’re in need of distraction, skip the Candy Crush and Netflix and pick up a good book instead (here’s Goodread’s list of the Best Books of 2018, to get you started!).