12 Unexpected Ways to Reduce Stress Right Now

People are really stressed out. In fact, according to The American Institute of Stress, 77 percent of people surveyed in the U.S. regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 73 percent of Americans regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. Further, 83 percent of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress and businesses have lost up to $300 billion in yearly revenue as a result of workplace stress. So, I guess it wasn’t too surprising to see this recent headline in The Washington Post: “Lego sets its sights on a growing market: Stressed-out adults.

It makes total sense that brands would count on “wellness” and “mindfulness” to try to reach consumers in 2020. Considering that Americans aged 30-49 rank as the “most stressed” age group (according to Gallup), perhaps the nostalgia and the mild escapism of assembling tiny interlocking blocks could be just the thing to help some folks relax. Remember when coloring books for grown-ups took off for similar reasons? You can combat stress and anxiety with typical approaches, including listening to music, taking a walk, taking a deep breath, or writing in your journal. But, here are a few other ideas you may not have tried yet.

1. Head to the toy store

While we’re on the topic of toys (and if the abovementioned Legos aren’t your thing), start thinking about what your “thing” miught actually be. Pick up a Rubik’s Cube, Brain Teaser Puzzle, some Silly Putty, or another toy that you remember from your childhood. Tinkering away at something that triggers fond memories and nostalgia is an easy way to give yourself a pick-me-up just when you need it the most.

2. Start cleaning

Say what? Many people may think of housework as a chore, but for some, tidying your workspace or washing the dishes are quick and easy ways to be productive while expelling nervous energy. The small accomplishment of “making something clean again” could give you just enough of a boost to get started on something bigger you’ve been putting off. Baby steps, right?

3. Smile or laugh for no reason

“Laughter Yoga” is an exercise involving prolonged voluntary laughter that is meant to provide similar physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. The idea is that “fake” laughter can create the same chemical responses in your brain as the real thing. Before you dismiss it out of hand, just be aware that there are about 5,000 Laughter Yoga clubs worldwide. They can’t all be wrong!

4. Eat healthy (and if you don’t eat healthy, take your vitamins)

Most Americans don’t get all the nutrients they need from daily food intake, and it could be impacting your mood. For example, Vitamin C helps relieve stress and enhances your overall mood, but half of Americans fall short of meeting their daily average requirements.

According to The Council for Responsible Nutrition, most Americans fall short of average requirements for Vitamin D and E, while more than a third of Americans fall short of the average required intake for calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin A.

Talk to your medical professional to see if a daily multivitamin could be just what the doctor ordered. In the meantime, eating a banana can’t hurt; potassium is a big energy- and mood-booster.

5. Turn off your phone (if you can)

Don’t worry, it’s just for a little while. The constant barrage of alerts coming from your mobile device can be stressful. After all, social media apps are designed to be addictive and obsessive scrolling can feed your FOMO (fear of missing out) or even trigger urges and unhealthy behaviors that you’re trying to avoid. Guess what! It’s OK to turn your phone off for an hour a day just to take a breather. The messages will still be there when you turn it back on.

6. Chew a piece of gum

According to a study by researchers at Melbourne’s Swinburn University, the act of chewing gum while working was associated with increased focus and reduced anxiety, stress, and salivary cortisol. (Cortisol triggers your fight-or-flight response, which is generally useful. But for some folks, excessive secretion can cause undue stress.)

7. Talk to yourself…nicely

Researchers at Michigan State University found that addressing yourself out loud is an effective way to manage emotions in stressful situations. Specifically, get to a private location where you can relax and speak freely, then try addressing yourself in the third-person. Why? This allows you to speak of yourself as you might speak of a friend and could help to stamp out the negative self-talk that many of us get used to in our internal dialogue. Sometimes, hearing yourself say something out loud can make it more tangible and perhaps help you to achieve a level of clarity that silently thinking and worrying may not allow.

8. Sniff a green apple (or any scent you like, really)

Aromatherapy can have instant mood-lifting effects, and according to one study it can even calm tension headaches and migraines. Using green apple-scented pens, researchers at The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation found that the scent drastically reduced discomfort from migraines (for subjects who liked the smell of green apples, that is). Following that logic, perhaps you can see if your favorite scents have similarly healing or relaxing effects. As far as essential oils go, a whiff of peppermint oil is said to calm light-headedness and lift mood. Meanwhile, lavender is a calming choice for bedtime. What aromas have a calming effect on you? Once you nail down your favorite scent, consider carrying around a small bottle of essential oil or using an aromatherapy diffuser.

9. Write a to-do(ne) list

Combat that “Imposter Syndrome” by not only writing down the things you have to do, but the things you’ve already done. Go a step further and make a list of goals, but also include the achievements and milestones that have brought you to where you are now. Truth is, sometimes to-do lists can be daunting; a To-Do(ne) list will remind you how far you’ve come and could give you some motivation to keep pushing forward.

10. Edit your social media feed

We mentioned earlier that you should turn off your phone sometimes to avoid obsessive scrolling through social media feeds. We also mentioned that social media platforms are designed to be addictive, but always remember that you can “edit” your feed by taking the time to get to know your settings. Consider silencing accounts that stress you out and prioritize accounts that show motivational, encouraging messages. InStyle did an informative deep dive called “How to Make Social Media Less Depressing (Without Quitting Entirely).” Tip #3? “Use all the tools in your toolbox: share, follow, mute, and unfollow.” Of course, realizing that there can be real-world ramifications to unfollowing friends and relatives online, I’ve personally become a huge fan of “hide” and “mute” features on certain platforms. Next time you’re online, be mindful of how you feel before and after your screen time and ask yourself whether it might be worth editing your social media feeds.

11. Get artsy

You don’t have to be Picasso to paint! Graduate from coloring books to watercolors and dare to create some abstract, therapeutic art that’s inspired by your feelings. Like journaling puts thoughts on paper, painting can be a calming way to externalize inner struggles and expel nervous energy.

Get inspired by watching the godfather of Zen, painter Bob Ross, on old episodes of the PBS classic television show, The Joy of Painting. It’s free on YouTube.

12. Make slime

Along the same lines as squeezing a stress ball or using therapy putty, it turns out that slime, floam, and other “mushy” sensory toys can have similarly de-stressing effects. DIY slime videos and “satisfying” videos of people kneading wads of “gloop” are extremely popular online and it’s easy to make the stuff yourself. This is a great rainy-day or weekend activity for kids, too.

Your turn

How do you relax when you’re stressed out? Tell us by leaving a comment below!