Sometimes life can be pretty stressful. It’s unavoidable. And it can certainly be really difficult to work through.
But that doesn’t mean that we are completely powerless in the face of stress.
Stress managing activities give us the power to work through difficult times. Learning how to reduce stress and creating coping mechanisms that work for you makes an incredible difference! That helps you feel relaxed and calm during stressful times after all. And isn’t that golden?
Good stress management is everything! And who better to guide us in the right direction than the mental health professionals who know what really works?
Let’s dive into 6 wonderful (and totally simple) tips on how to reduce stress from the psychiatrists, therapists and mental health professionals who know where it’s at:
Mental Health Professionals Can Teach Us How to Reduce Stress
I’ve personally spoken to counselors at different points in my life. And I highly recommend it to anyone going through a stressful time. Their unbiased care can be so incredibly useful. And they often help us to develop tools that allow us to better cope with stress long after we’ve stopped working them. It’s an amazing gift!
I’m still grateful for the early lessons on how to reduce stress from my middle school child psychologist. And to put that into perspective, it’s been 20 years since I last spoke to him!
Years of being bullied had led to me to develop a full blown school phobia. Yes that’s a real thing! And it included anxiety, panic attacks and even becoming physically ill at the thought of attending school. Not what I’d call fun. (source)
The experience was amazing! My therapist was the first completely unbiased person that I was able to talk to about my experiences. He not only listened to me, he helped me develop coping mechanisms that I still use to this day.
My therapist introduced me to body scan meditation. He taught me breathing techniques that create an immediate sense of calm. He inspired me to prioritize self-care, specifically the things that helped me feel more relaxed.
His goal was to teach me how to reduce stress when I could and how to cope when things were difficult. A truly important life lesson.
His support helped me move past my school phobia. But he also gave me some fabulous stress management tools that I’ve taken with me into adulthood.
And if he had so much goodness to offer, you can bet your bippy that there’s more where that came from! Mental health professionals are happy to teach us how to reduce stress and work through difficult times. That’s often one of their main goals!
Let’s look at some of the advice that they have to offer and how it can help us…
6 Fantastic Tips on How to Reduce Stress
1. Make Time for Self-Care
Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., researcher and therapist, highly recommends that you make you time a priority:
“Make sure that you schedule some me-time for self-care. It will reduce your stress, increase your productivity, and boost your happiness!” (source)
And I couldn’t agree more! You deserve the same time, dedication, love and respect that you give to those around you. And yet self-care often falls to the way side in times of stress. Which only makes things more difficult.
Self-care is about taking care of yours personal needs – mentally, physically and emotionally.
It can be simple things like making sure that you have a nutritious, filling breakfast or taking a moment to simply breathe. Or you can be more indulgent, like a home spa day or a massage.
Self-care doesn’t have to cost you a penny. Nor does it need to involve a lot of work. But it most definitely needs to be a priority!
The best part about self-care is that it allows you to find personal outlets that allow you to self-calm.
Dan Mager, MSW, a Certified Diplomate in Clinical Hypnotherapy and who has worked as a psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, and clinical director, shares that self-calming self-care activities should be our go-to’s when we’re looking to relieve stress:
“There are many methods and practices that can help you manage and reduce your level of stress. All of these represent tools to help you self-calm. […] The relaxation response helps to reduce and even reverse the physical, mental, and emotional effects of stress. Activating the relaxation response helps to facilitate the experience of that all-important, but often elusive, quality: serenity/inner-peace/peace of mind.” (source)
He highly recommends trying intentional breathing and focused attention to help you feel more relaxed and quiet the mind. And he isn’t alone. Mindfulness meditation (which is all about intentional breathing and being focused on the moment) is awesome! In fact, we’ll be talking about it next. 😉
Personally, meditation, hot baths, walking and reading are a few of my favourite simple, self-calming go-to self-care activities. I make sure to make time for them not only when I’m feeling stressed, but as a stress preventative. We all need to relax and unwind, in ways that work for us, on a regular basis.
Of course, what works for me might not work for you. Take the time to indulge in the activities that make you feel more relaxed. And if you aren’t so sure what works, go on a self-care discovery mission. Try different things and see what makes you feel right. Relaxing self-care activities are golden and should be high on your priority list!
2. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Whenever I talk about how to reduce stress I’m always giddy to talk about meditation. It’s one spectacular form of stress relief.
This study found that meditating can reduce anxiety by as much as 39%! It was just as effective as some prescription anxiety medications, which completely blows me away!
One of the amazing ways that mindfulness meditation helps is by activating the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, a part of the brain that controls thinking and emotion, as well as the Ventromedial Prefontal Cortex, which controls worrying. These two babies working together help to reduce anxiety, leaving you feeling more relaxed. (source)
Super bonus! Meditation may also lower cortisol levels, a hormone that’s associate with mental and physical stress (source). Which makes you even more relaxed!
And it may even help to lower your blood pressure. Total win! (source)
Psychologist Karen Kissel Wegela Ph.D. is happy to gush about mindfulness meditation:
“The sitting practice of mindfulness meditation gives us exactly this opportunity to become more present with ourselves just as we are. This, in turn, shows us glimpses of our inherent wisdom and teaches us how to stop perpetuating the unnecessary suffering that results from trying to escape the discomfort, and even pain, we inevitably experience as a consequence of simply being alive.” (source)
Dr. Wegela feels that learning to be mindful helps us be more present in our lives. It allows us to accept our reality and develop more compassion. And in turn it better equips us to care for our needs and the needs of those around us. Makes complete sense that this goodie is on our ‘how to reduce stress’ list, doesn’t it?
Looking for a great boost in your mood? Then get jiggy with it baby!
Monica Starkman, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry emerita at the University of Michigan, says that exercise is her top self-care recommendation for her patients:
“This is my number one recommendation. Scientific experiments as well as clinical observations show its efficacy in treating depression. In less severe depression, some studies have shown exercise alone to be equal in effectiveness to anti-depressant medication.” (source)
When you work it on the regular the stress management effects are incredible!
That’s because regularly working out actually changes your brain! Specifically the parts that regulate stress and anxiety. And it’s also been shown to positively affect your mood and reduce stress (source). Isn’t that so cool?
One of the ways that exercise helps is by boosting the production of feel-good endorphins. And those babies make us feel more positive and reduce pain perception! (source)
If that wasn’t already enough goodness for ya, it also ups your brain’s sensitivity to serotonin and norepinephrine, two hormones that help to relieve depression! Which I think is pretty mind blowing! How about you? (source)
It doesn’t matter what form of exercise you choose!
Choose whatever form of exercise that you enjoy! Because those mood boosting benefits are yours for the taking, no matter what form you choose. Intensity doesn’t even matter! You’re still going to feel awesome. (source 1, source 2)
4. Talk it Out
You know that saying “it takes a village to raise a child”? The idea that the community of people that surround a child and care for them are all involved in raising them? Well… it kind of takes a village for us grown ups too.
We cannot go it alone. Emotional and social support are not only important aspects on how to reduce stress… they are everyday necessities for our mental well-being.
Why are social and emotional support important?
We all need to feel loved, cared for, reassured and part of a community. Our formal and informal relationships matter. It makes us feel valued and like we belong. We feel it when we talk with our friends or family or when someone shows us empathy.
And if it seems strange that informal relationships matter, think about the value of your doctor’s care. Or the wonderful, unbiased aid of a therapist. These relationships are necessary. And it’s so important that we remember to reach out! (source)
Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist, highly recommends that we talk it out:
“My most effective stress relief comes from speaking with friends, but only the ones I know have my best interests at heart. They are great listeners, supportive, and almost always come up with strategies to cope with the stressor or, at the least, put it in perspective for me. If nothing else, they point me in a better, less stressful direction.” (source)
And while it’s wonderful to tap into your emotional support network, speaking with a therapist can provide amazing stress relief too.
Why Talk to a Therapist
Therapists create a safe space free from judgement. Everything is confidential. And the relationship is unique to your needs.
As Philip J. Rosenbaum, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and is the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Haverford College, puts it:
“The therapist-client relationship is central to helping people learn how to change their problematic behaviors. Therapists engage with their clients’ lives without becoming a daily part of it. Well-defined boundaries allow therapists the perspective from which to observe behaviors that friends who are involved in a client’s life may be too close to see.” (source)
Therapy can be so useful and isn’t something to be afraid of or embarrassed by. When you sit down with a professional, they’re neutral. They have absolutely no agenda in your life and can be completely unbiased.
Almost everyone experiences mental health related difficulties in their life (this lady included). And when that happens we can all benefit from therapy.
It’s even possible to find an online psychiatrist.
BetterHelp offers affordable, private online counseling. They provide access to licensed, trained, experienced, accredited psychiatrist and therapists and match you with the right counselor. You could start counseling as early as today!
You can learn more about finding an online psychiatrist right here: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/psychologists/reasons-to-choose-an-online-psychiatrist/
If you or someone you know are in a crisis or may be in danger please seek immediate help. Here is a link to resources can provide help right away.
5. Listen to Music
Music is magical. I think it speaks to every single one of us. And I’m honestly not surprised that it knows how to reduce stress.
I like to say that I grew up in a musical. My family breaks out into song on the regular (lots of Disney classics are belted out in the Flanagan house). It’s a tradition I keep up on my own too.
That feel-good vibe many of us associate with music is 100% real!
According to the smarties over at Harvard:
“Today’s doctors tell us that music can enhance the function of neural networks, slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduce levels of stress hormones and inflammatory cytokines and provide some relief to patients undergoing surgery, as well as heart attack and stroke victims” (source)
That’s a heck of a lot of goodness, am I right?
Music makes us feel happy. It energizes us and boosts our mood. Music therapy may even help to reduce symptoms of depression and pain. And it can help us feel more relaxed and lead to a better quality of sleep. Boom! I told you music was magical. (source)
Art Markman, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, absolutely recommends music as an option when asked how to reduce stress.
“Music is a great tool for stress relief. Pop in your headphones and listen to something that will transport you somewhere else. And if you can, learn to play a musical instrument and use that as part of your own personal therapy program.” (source)
If you’ve been dreaming about learning to play the guitar, here’s your sign from the universe! It has nothing but goodness to offer you!
6. Work on Self-Love
Self-love is amazing! And I will forever tell you that it’s the true foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Everything comes together in a sustainable and healthy way when love for yourself is the true driving force.
And the proof is in the pudding. Self-love changes your brain!
People who love and accept themselves wholeheartedly tend to have more grey matter in the parts of their brains that control emotion and stress. Which means that self-love makes us better able to cope with stress and negative emotions. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?! (source)
But wait, there’s more!
Self-love’s goodness extends even further to the parts of the brain that processes anxiety! Which means that during times of stress your much loved brain will be better able to help you work your way through it. Go self-love! (source 1, source 2)
And if there are any other chronic illness warriors out there, studies show that self-love can even help to reduce health-related anxiety too. I’m extra grateful for that bonus! (source)
Oh and I almost forgot to mention that changes in self-esteem (a huge self-love bonus) have an almost immediate positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and it’s influence on the heart. (source)
The parasympathetic nervous system basically creates the opposite of the fight of flight response. It slows and calms the heart, eases stress and reduces inflammation. Making us feel totally chill and so good!
Deborah Khoshaba, who has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, with a specialization in Health Psychology, cannot stress enough how important it is to make self-love a priority:
“Self-love is important to living well. It influences who you pick for a mate, the image you project at work, and how you cope with the problems in your life. It is so important to your welfare that I want you to know how to bring more of it into your life.” (source)
See what I mean when that self-love paves the way towards a healthy lifestyle?
Self love isn’t always easy.
Some days you might feel awesome and love yourself wholeheartedly. Other times your inner mean girl might talk a bit louder than usual, leaving you feeling less than fantastic. Your relationship with yourself is just like any other relationship. It takes time, effort and care. There will be good and bad days, and that’s ok.
What matters is that you make it a priority.
If you need a little help, I have a whole post on the benefits of self-love and how to work on it right here.
Make time for the things that make you feel good, tap into your social support system, know that your needs are just as important and everyone else’s and deserve to be addresses. And, most importantly, be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can. <3
What did you think about these 6 tips on how to reduce stress? Did any of them surprise you? What stress relieving activities would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments below!
Health and love,
Thought of the day: I will be kind and gentle with myself.
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