5 Simple Stress Reducers to Try Now

Stress Reducer #1: Calm Your Physiology With Breathing

Breathing exercises can calm your body and mind in mere minutes. webphotographeer/ Getty Images

I'm often asked this question: "If I were to only do one thing to relieve stress, what's the best thing to do?" This is a great question, because not everyone has the time or energy for an attitude and lifestyle overhaul in a short amount of time, especially when they're at their most stressed (which is usually when they start looking for answers with stress management). The "best stress reducer" question cuts to the heart of stress management: "Is it possible to effectively relieve stress by just changing one thing?"

You'll be happy to know that it is possible. There are a few simple, stand-alone stress reducers you can try that could have a significant impact on your overall stress levels. The following five strategies can help you cut down on stress—especially chronic stress, the really damaging kind—in several ways at once, and bring lasting results. I invite you to adopt one of these stress reducers into your stress-relief repertoire today and see what changes you experience. (You can even keep adding stress reducer strategies until you’re doing all five at once, but don’t feel you have to do it all now—one stress reducer is enough.)

Stress Reducer #1: Calm Your Physiology With Breathing

Learning stress relief breathing may just be my number-one stress reducer recommendation because it can be used quickly and easily by just about anyone, at any time and in any place. You can use stress-relief breathing when you’re still in the middle of a stressful situation, and in doing so you can reverse your stress response and change your whole experience of a stressful situation. You can also do breathing exercises at any time during the day when you realize that you’re stressed, and calm your body right then and there. Breathing exercises are a great overall stress reducer for the following additional reasons:

  • Chronic Stress Relief: Breathing exercises can mitigate the effects of chronic stress. The danger of chronic stress comes from a body that’s always under fire and a stress response that’s constantly triggered. Breathing exercises can put your body back into equilibrium with the relaxation response.
  • Clearer Thinking: When your stress response is triggered, some of your body’s stress response-driven changes make it more difficult to think clearly. When you’re not thinking clearly, there’s a cascade of additional stress that can be created because you may make mistakes that cause more stress, or fail to see creative solutions that could relieve stress.
  • Lower Overall Stress: When you’re already stressed, you may feel more emotionally reactive to additional stressors. Using breathing exercises as a stress reducer can help you to feel less stressed overall, and therefore less reactive to future stressors.

Here's how to get started with breathing exercises.

Reduce Stress With Exercise

Knowing that you have others supporting your goals can help you to stay more motivated; maintaining closer relationships can help you to feel less stressed. David De Lossy/ Getty Images

Stress Reducer #2: Exercise

Exercise is a fantastic stress reducer and overall wellness enhancer. Exercise can help you to keep your weight down and your longevity up, but is a heavy-duty stress reducer for a few different reasons:

  • Outlet: Exercise provides you with a physical outlet for frustrations and stress. When you're pounding the pavement with a good jog, or kicking your frustrations out in martial arts classes, you get better exercise than you probably would if you were punching a pillow at home, and it's usually more effective because you're using your whole body to release frustrations.
  • Distraction: Exercise can work as a distraction tool, to get you out of the environments that cause stress, and into more controlled environments (nature, spin classes, surrounded by others who also want to relive stress) that are more conducive to stress relief. Just getting out of a stressed space can do wonders for your mood!
  • Natural High: Exercise also releases endorphins, which can help you feel good—or great! Changing the physiological mix inside your body can be a very powerful stress reducer tool because it can change your whole experience of stress.
  • Long-Term Stress Relief: Exercise can actually make you less reactive to stress in the long run, so you feel less stressed overall.

See this for ideas on getting started with exercise as a stress reliever.

Shift Your Perspective with Gratitude and Optimism

There are many ways to cultivate gratitude and change your perspective, and they can help you minimize stress. Carlina Teteris/Getty Images

Stress Reducer #3: Shift Your Perspective with Gratitude and Optimism

Research shows that optimists finish first. It’s not just that people who have good things happen to them tend to be more optimistic—optimists experience the same stressors that pessimists experience, but they tend to feel less stressed. There are other benefits to optimism, too, that make this habitual thought pattern a powerhouse stress reducer:

  • Health: Optimists tend to stay healthier, and get sick less often. This could be due to their tendency to stress less—stress is linked with immunity--or perhaps it’s linked with an optimist’s tendency to be proactive (and, thus take better care of their body).
  • Perspective: Optimists are less reactive to stress because they see things differently. One very important factor that determines how stressful a situation seems to be is whether it’s perceived as a threat or a challenge. Threats tend to trigger our stress responses and put us in a state of reduced creativity and greater tension; challenges tend to engage our creative problem-solving abilities as well as our motivation. Optimists see stressors as challenges.
  • Success: Optimists see opportunities where pessimists see losses, so they remain more hopeful and less stressed, and they are able to turn negatives into positives.
  • Changes: Optimists are more likely to believe they can make changes, so they try more often, and actually do make more changes and meet more challenges. This is a key ingredient to their success. By becoming an optimist, therefore, you may be able to make other stress reducer habits stick more easily.

Read more about the traits of optimists, and find ways to become more of an optimist.

Practice Meditation Regularly

Meditation can build resilience and lower stress levels. Tetra Images/ Getty Images

Stress Reducer #4: Practice Meditation Regularly

We’re just beginning to learn the amazing benefits of meditation, but we know enough to say that this is one powerful stress reducer. Meditating for even just a few minutes may immediately put you in a more calm, present state, with your stress response turned back to pre-stress levels. Those who practice meditation regularly can find even greater benefits, including but not limited to the following:

  • Perspective: Those who meditate regularly become well-acquainted with a quiet part of themselves, and become adept in shifting their perspective from being heavily focused on the challenges they face to being focused on the present moment. When people stop worrying about the future and fearing what might happen, they can often come up with more creative solutions and confidence to carry them out, because they are operating from a place of strength rather than from a stressed state.
  • Reduced Stress Reactivity: Studies on those who practice regular meditation have found actual changes in brain reactivity and stress response that enable frequent meditation practitioners to be less reactive to the stressors that they experience. That’s part of what makes this stress reducer so powerful — meditation reduces stress in the moment, and in future moments.
  • A Host Of Other Benefits: Meditation can bring a host of other physical and psychological benefits as well. See this article on the benefits of meditation for a more thorough list.

In order to take advantage of the stress reducer benefits of meditation, you need only have a few uninterrupted minutes to sit. This list of meditation techniques can help you to get started.

Cut Out Major Stressors

How many stressors do you have in your life? How many can you cut out?. Paul Harizan/ Getty Images

Stress Reducer #5: Cut Out What You Can

Sometimes a large proportion of our stress comes from one situation in our lives that causes chronic stress. This could be a difficult job, an unhappy relationship, a too-packed schedule, or another situation that continually causes stress. Do you find yourself stressing over the same situation constantly? It could be a powerful stress reducer strategy to address the specific situation as much as you can, and stave off the level of stress produced in your life. The following resources can help with common chronic stress-inducing situations:

  • Job Satisfaction: Job stress is a significant source of overall lifestyle stress because we spend so much time at work, and a negative experience on the job can put us in a bad mood when we get home, and instill a feeling of dread when we wake up in the morning. That’s no way to live! Read on for more about job stress and how to manage stress at work.
  • Relationship Stress: Our relationships can be our greatest source of support and meaning in life, but can also cause the greatest levels of stress. If you have an unhappy marriage or if your other relationships are conflicted, it can color your experience in life. Altering or eliminating stressful relationships in your life and replacing them with harmonious, supportive ones is a very valuable stress reducer strategy. It may take a little work, but the payoff is huge. Here are some communication skills to try.
  • Too Busy: Many of us are busier than we’d like to be, and, even when we’re busy with exciting activities, if we stay too busy for too long, it can become too stressful. If you have an already-busy schedule and there’s an emergency or unexpected additional demand that comes up, things can become overwhelming quickly. If you live your life on the verge of being overwhelmed, it’s probably time to cut some activities out of your schedule to make room for quiet moments, spontaneity and stress relief. Here are some strategies for creating a new life plan.

Research on Stress Reducers

The following research was used in this article on stress reducers. For more recent research on stress, as well as links to more resources, please scroll down.

Adler MG, Fagley NS. Appreciation: Individual Differences in Finding Value and Meaning as a Unique Predictor of Subjective Well-Being. Journal of Personality February 2005.
Astin JA, Shapiro SL, Eisenberg DM, Forys KL. Mind-Body Medicine: State of the Science, Implications for Practice. The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice March / April 2003. Bonadonna, Ramita PhD. Meditation's Impact on Chronic Illness. Holistic Nursing Practice. November/December 2003.
Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of personality and social psychology February 2003.
Rimmele U, Seiler R, Marti B, Wirtz PH, Ehlert U, Heinrichs M. The level of physical activity affects adrenal and cardiovascular reactivity to psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology. October 13, 2008.

Happiness Research

Have you ever wondered how to truly bring greater happiness to your life with research-proven strategies? What do the studies actually say about happiness and stress? Read more about happiness and stress research.

Stress and Health Research

Stress has a major impact on health, and research can show you exactly how. Read on for the wisdom of numerous research studies on stress and health.

Relationship and Stress Research

Our relationships can greatly impact our stress levels, for better or for worse! Learn what research has to say about stress and relationships, and use this information to reduce stress and strengthen all of the relationships in your life.

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