15 Productive Ways to Reduce Stress

By Mikey Rox on 21 October 2014 1 comment

There's no way to avoid stress altogether — unless you know something we don't know — but there are plenty of positive ways you can reduce it before it gets out of hand. Let's look at 15.

1. Take Your Business to the Golf Course

Mixing a little business with pleasure on the links is a great way to relieve stress, says Tony Gomes, president of a financial services company that helps manage wealth.

"My job can be stressful at times, like many people's, but I find one of the most productive ways to reduce stress is to go on a business golf outing," he says. "It is well known that a lot of business gets done on the golf course, but also, golf is seen as a very relaxing way to spend time. People may think that there are some emotional peaks and valleys that enter when playing a round of golf, but if you are out there for other purposes (business, exercise, etc.), then it can be one of the more relaxing activities."

2. Get Your 'Om' On With Meditation

Barb Schmidt is the author of The Practice: Simple Tools for Managing Stress, Finding Inner Peace and Uncovering Happiness, and she counts meditation among her top stress-relieving tactics.

"Starting your day in stillness and peace is setting the tone for your whole day," she says. "In a 5-minute meditation, you are training your mind by placing your attention on your breath, practicing being patient, and spending time with yourself, connecting with that deep place of calmness and strength. This time in the morning grounds you as you go into your day with the knowing you are carrying this peace with you."

If you're not necessarily into that holistic way of thinking, perhaps you're keen to know that there's scientific evidence that meditation is ideal for stress management.

3. Plan Your Tomorrow Today

You can eliminate a decent amount of stress by thinking ahead, according to Dr. Joshua Jacobi, a board certified cardiologist.

"Plan out the day in advance the night before," he suggests. "I like to think of the analogy of driving in a car. If my day is planned out, then I know where I am going. If my day is not planned out in advance, then I feel like I am lost driving around in my car. Being lost stresses me out."

Put this advice to use right now. Pick out your outfit, make your lunch, and make a to-do list for tomorrow. Your stress level is almost guaranteed to go down at least a little.

4. Sweat It Out the Old Fashioned Way

Feeling overwhelmed and a little anxious? Send those stress symptoms packing by getting that body in motion.

There are a number of benefits to working out, like increased production of endorphins (neurotransmitters that give you the feel-goods), letting your mind concentrate on something else besides your burdens, and better sleep. Have you ever noticed how upbeat your fitness-minded friends are? They're in on the secret, and you should be too.

5. Add More Yoga to Your Routine

Like meditation, yoga is beneficial when you're dealing with stress. You're able to concentrate on a positive activity while practicing yoga instead of harping on the negatives in your life.

"The benefits of yoga include decreased stress and tension, increased strength and balance, increased flexibility, lowered blood pressure and reduced cortisol levels," said Beth Shaw, Founder/President of Yogafit Training Systems.

So grab your mat, practice your Downward Dog, and let that stress slip away.

6. Put Your Problems on Paper

As a writer, I can tell you that putting my thoughts down on paper is a cathartic experience when I'm under a lot of stress. Have you heard that piece of advice that when you're mad at something, particularly a person, you should write them a letter and then burn it afterward? It's not a bad suggestion, because in most cases you'll calm down during the writing process and you'll get your issues out so you can handle them in a more positive way.

Life mastery coach Jason Treu agrees.

"Write a letter forgiving someone else," he says. "You never have to deliver it. Bottling up anger and resentment causes high levels of stress. Forgiveness doesn't take two parties — just one. You write the letter, then stand in front of a mirror and read it. It's pretty amazing at what happens."

7. Look Into the Benefits of Acupuncture

Acupuncture dates back many millennia — like way back to the BCE — so there's reason to believe that it's an effective treatment for stress relief.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Endocrinology demonstrated that acupuncture blocks the chronic effects of stress, according to Nicole Murray, a licensed acupuncturist.

"First, acupuncture regulates the sympathetic nervous system 'fight or flight' response. Second, acupuncture regulates the hormones that affect the body's reaction to stress, mood and emotions," she explains. "In our clinic, Beach Community Acupuncture in San Diego, stress is the primary reason many of our patients seek treatment. Stress also contributes to other, more serious health conditions. Patients overwhelmingly report stress relief and relaxation after receiving acupuncture. Even better, there are more and more community acupuncture clinics popping up around the country to make these treatments more affordable."

8. Eliminate the Unnecessary

A feeling of peace washes over me when I cut something out of my life that was causing me stress. I'm sure you've experienced this before, too. It's a practice we should do a bit more often perhaps.

Licensed psychologist Dr. Anita Marchesani says that all of her clients arrive stressed out — and she's ready to help them overcome it.

"The first thing we do is figure out what needs to go from their lives or businesses," she explains. "This means saying 'no' or 'not right now' to certain demands that do not align with their primary objectives, no matter what they are. Good, solid, and consistent boundaries are a foundational stress management tool. It increases focus, and therefore increases productivity. People get results when they do this… although no one 'likes' to do this."

9. Express Your Feelings More Freely

I've never been known to mince words, so I totally agree with Dr. Fran Walfish — psychotherapist and expert panelist on the upcoming WE TV show "Sex Box" — when she advocates for saying exactly what's on your mind as a way to relieve stress.

"Express your feelings in the moment," she encourages. "Do not allow anger and disappointment to build up inside you. Say what you feel clearly and respectfully. It will free you."

Bottling those feelings up will only drag you down in the long run. Let it out.

10. Activate Dance Therapy

This is one of the more interesting and super fun ways to relieve stress that I've heard: Dance! The advice comes from Kim Hardy, author of RELAUNCH!: 5 Keys to Getting Past Stuck and Stress at Work and Life.

"At the end of a stressful day, I like to go into my garage and turn up the music as loud as I can until I'm able to feel the music vibrating in my soul, and then I dance," she confesses. "My musical guests range from Michael Jackson to James brown, and sometimes I sprinkle in a little country to mix it up."

Let's get this stress-free party started!

11. Breathe, Relax, Daydream

If your day won't allow for yoga or an impromptu dance party, you can still lower your stress. Try this three-prong approach detailed by Dr. Lori Schade — a licensed marriage and family therapist who often treats patients for stress-related depression, anxiety, and relationship problems — anytime, anywhere.

  • Breathe with your diaphragm. Under stress, people have a tendency to breathe shallowly in their chest, and deep breathing begins to reverse the stress response.
     
  • Engage in a progressive muscle relaxation exercise in which you start at the top of your head and tighten muscle groups as tight as you can and then release, releasing stress in the process (moving from the top of the head to neck, shoulders, chest, arms, stomach, etc., down to your feet).
     
  • Create an image for yourself while you breathe, somewhere peaceful. Research shows that by imagining yourself relaxed, the brain will start to respond in ways as if you are participating in that scene.

12. Spend Time on an Activity That Requires Little Thought

When life gets complicated and stress starts to take over, engage in something decidedly mundane.

New York-based artist Imani Powell-Razat says that she allows her mind to "completely zone out" with boring daily tasks like washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, or stretching a canvas.

Take a cue from Imani the next time you feel stress taking over by finding something to do that requires little no thought.

13. Ditch the Diet

"A study conducted at UCLA found that dieting increases both perceived stress as well as the stress hormone cortisol," says Dr. Ellen R. Albertson, a licensed wellness coach and founder of SmashYourScale.com

The gist of this premise, according to the psychologist behind the study, Dr. A Janet Tomiyama, is that if not eating food makes us feel badly, then eating food must make us feel good. "As a stress researcher, I realized that I can empirically measure whether food can or cannot relieve stress," she says.

14. Clear the Clutter

Similar to how you can lower stress by eliminating unnecessary people and things from you life, clearing the clutter can be a beneficial tactic in finding more inner peace, too.

Modern feng shui master Dana Claudat says that "by spending even 10 minutes a day sifting through a junk drawer, weeding out a closet, eliminating extra paperwork and the like, you can dramatically decrease stress. Electronic clutter — emails, social media, files on computers — is just as important these days to clear as the obvious clutter of papers, extra stuff, piles for donation, and everyday mess."

15. Treat Yourself

Many of these suggestions on how to lower stress have come from doctors and other experts, but this one is all me.

When I'm stressed, I like to take a step back and evaluate everything that I've got going on. My stress is usually a result of being too busy. But being too busy generally means that I'm being productive — and that's cause for a little self-praise. I like to give myself a pat on the back (because who else will?) for handling my responsibilities the best way I know how and continuing to truck on.

I also like to treat myself to something special (like a piece of chocolate cake) or engage in an activity that helps me unwind (like retail therapy) to take my mind off life for a bit. If you're not taking time for yourself and treating yourself to small pleasures along the way, life will pass you by (and give you gray hair and wrinkles faster), and you might not realize it until it's too late. Step back, relax, and do something nice for yourself today. You deserve it.

Do you have other productive ways that we can lower stress? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

Working out and being outside are the way to go. Sometimes I just don't take enough time for myself. Not everything in life is urgent and it's okay to take time for yourself to think things out instead of being rushed all the time.