Conditions & Wellness

7 Ways to Relieve Stress

Boost your mental health and feel less stressed.

It’s normal to experience occasional jitters or a case of the blues. But if you’re one of the millions of people who struggle daily with sadness, anxiety, tension, stress, or mood swings, you don’t have to feel bad. Natural whole-body solutions can help boost mood and bolster your mental health. Here’s what to do:

1. Go ride a bike.

Exercise improves mental and emotional well-being, relieves stress, increases blood circulation to the brain, and releases endorphins—brain chemicals that improve mood and boost energy. Additionally, aerobic exercises like bike riding, jogging, swimming, walking, dancing, and even gardening can reduce anxiety, stress, and depression, and may improve self-esteem and cognitive function. Recommended: 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, three times a week. If you’re not into cycling or running, a brisk walk has the same effect. It doesn’t have to be continuous; three 10-minute walks are thought to be as
beneficial as a 30-minute walk.

2. Practice mindfulness.

Chronic stress takes a heavy toll on mental health; it’s linked with depression, anxiety, and mood disorders, and has even been linked with increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. You can’t control the world around you, but you can learn to cope with your personal triggers. Techniques that have been proven to work:

  • Meditate. Mindfulness-based meditation is especially effective at reducing stress, burnout, depression, and anxiety, and meditators may also experience greater attention, awareness, and improvements in cognition.
  • Ignore the inbox. One study found that checking emails more frequently increased anxiety and stress; limit visits to your inbox to three times a day, and respond to your email in chunks, instead of every few minutes.
  • Focus on your breath. Deep breathing can lower cortisol levels, reduce stress and anxiety, and cause a temporary drop in blood pressure. Try a simplified version of the 4/7/8 breath: inhale to a count of 4, hold the breath for 7, and exhale for 8. The longer-exhale pattern acts as a natural tranquilizer.
  • Light a lavender candle. The scent of lavender has been shown in several studies to reduce workplace anxiety and relieve stress. Other calming essential oils: chamomile, rose geranium, bergamot, and clary sage.
  • Try Holy basil. This Ayurvedic herb has strong anti-stress benefits. Scientists report that holy basil is an antioxidant with a high flavonoid content, so it helps to heal damage from chronic stress. Indian researchers found notable anti-stress effects that balanced hormones.

3. Sleep more.

A chronic lack of shut-eye can mess with your mental health by impacting levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, impairing thinking and emotional regulation. In one study, mood disorders were found in up to 50 percent of people with chronic sleep problems. Sleep more, now: start by avoiding caffeine, excessive alcohol consumption, or screen time before bedtime; keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet; and ban bedtime snacking. If you still struggle, try these supplements:

  • Passionflower, in capsules or tinctures, has been shown to help gently induce sleep while also improving sleep quality; it’s also known to help ease anxiety and depression, so it’s ideal for anyone dealing with both issues. It’s often combined with skullcap, hops, and/or lemon balm, equally calming herbs.
  • Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system, relaxes muscles, and may decrease the release of cortisol. It plays an important role in getting a deep sleep.
  • 5-HTP, made by the body from tryptophan, can help you sleep better, help lift depression, and treat mood disorders.

4. Treat pain.

Low-level chronic pain is a drain on mood: some studies suggest that if physicians tested all pain patients for mood disorders, as many as 60 percent might be diagnosed with depression. Managing pain can go a long way toward boosting mental health. Some of the best ways to soothe:

Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory used to treat many kinds of pain; it also acts as an analgesic for joint inflammation and osteoarthritis pain.

  • Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory used to treat many kinds of pain; it also acts as an analgesic for joint inflammation and osteoarthritis pain.
  • Vitamin D helps decrease the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, and can ease chronic pain, especially in the elderly; low levels have also been linked with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain disorders.

5. Find your purpose.

Studies show a sense of meaning and purpose is critical to well-being, and higher levels of perceived meaning are linked with reduced need for therapy and lower levels of depression. Find your purpose: it may be anything from connecting with nature through rock climbing to painting landscapes to raising a family—whatever makes you feel needed, inspired, and engaged with life. And there are some tangible biochemical reasons: for example, the feeling of being in love deactivates the neural pathway responsible for negative emotions.

6. Try supplements.

Certain supplements can make a big difference when it comes to improving mood and helping you find happiness. Some to try:

  • St. John’s wort, a flowering herb that may be as effective as antidepressant drugs, with fewer side effects.
  • Selenium, an antioxidant found in Brazil nuts and other foods, can boost mood and reduce anxiety; deficiencies are linked with depression.
  • SAM-e, a chemical involved in neurotransmitter function, can have significant effects in relieving mild to moderate depression.
  • Saffron, from the stigma of the crocus flower, has traditionally been used to boost mood; in one study, 30 mg a day was as effective as Prozac.
  • B vitamins, particularly B6, B12, and folate. B6 is a major cofactor in the synthesis of serotonin; B12 may form SAM-e, which, as mentioned above, is a compound linked with mood. Folate is also a factor in forming serotonin, norepinephrine, and SAM-e, and deficiencies of folate have been found in people with depression and anxiety.
  • Zinc is necessary for producing GABA, a compound that fights anxiety and irritability associated with depression; low levels of zinc are also common in people with depression, especially those who don’t respond to antidepressant drugs.
  • Rhodiola shows promise as a mood-supporting herb. Preliminary research has demonstrated that rhodiola increases the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin, banishing those blues as it promotes the transport of important building blocks such as 5-HTP.
Saffron, from the stigma of the crocus flower, has traditionally been used to boost mood; in one study, 30 mg a day was as effective as Prozac.

7. Connect with others.

Facebook isn’t the same as face-to-face time. Electronic connections can’t capture subtle nuances like facial expressions, eye contact, and body language that convey warmth and bonding. That’s important to mental health; studies show people who isolate socially are more likely to be anxious and depressed. Stay connected, with these simple tips:

  • Get an exercise buddy. You’ll accomplish two goals: moving more, and you’ll establish a regular time for connecting.
  • Go to church. If you’re even a little bit religious, churches can be a deeply fulfilling way to connect. Or look for weekly meditation groups or gatherings in another spiritual practice.
  • Get to know your co-workers. Bring muffins for breakfast, invite your desk mate to go for a walk, set up a carpool, celebrate birthdays.
  • Volunteer. Get a regular gig at a library, answer questions at a museum, or join the board of a local symphony or nonprofit organization.  

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