Stressed? Bust It with These 7 “Real” Solutions

Thursday Jul 23 | BY |
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Woman who work and care of house is exhausted and stressed of her workload

There are a million recommendations for how to reduce stress—which ones really work?

“Just breath deeply. You’ll feel better.”

“Here, squeeze this rubber ball.”

“Go away for a few days. You’ll be able to relax.”

There are a lot of recommendations for how to reduce stress. It’s understandable. We’re all stressed out, so we’re always looking for solutions.

According to a 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association, Americans recognize that “their stress levels remain high and exceed what they consider to be healthy.” We struggle to balance work and home life, while trying to fit in healthy behaviors, and we rarely succeed as well as we’d like.

A recent NPR survey found that about half of respondents experienced a major stressful event in the previous year, with health-related problems topping the list (including illness and disease, and the death of a loved one). Other issues included too many responsibilities, financial troubles, and work problems.

Meanwhile, stress takes it toll on our physical and emotional health. Among the most common behavioral change in stressed people? Instead of stepping up their healthy habits, they tended to sleep less, eat less, and exercise less.

It’s true that when we’re stressed out, healthy habits are often the first to go. It’s no wonder stress takes such a toll on us.

Still, it’s not easy to find stress-relieving techniques that really work. Breathing deeply and taking a vacation are both generally healthy things to do, but if you’re facing work problems or you’ve got a parent in the hospital, these activities may have little effect on your stress levels.

Certain techniques, however, have shown again and again in studies to help you take it down a notch or two, actually helping the body and mind to relax, as confirmed with biological tests.

1. Meditate.

If you wait to try this until you’re in the middle of an extremely stressful event, it’s not likely to work for you. The key is to practice it on a regular basis, a few minutes every day. Sit in a comfortable position, focus on your breathing, and bring your attention to the present moment, focusing on something like a candle flame or single image while allowing other thoughts to come and go.

A study analysis by Johns Hopkins University of 47 trials reported that meditation could help ease stress and anxiety, as well as depression and pain. The key is that the practice trains the brain to let go of troubling thoughts—which helps stop the typical cascade of stressful responses in the body. Meditation helps increase awareness of negative thoughts, so you have more control over how much they can bother you.

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told the Harvard Health Letter, “Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not part of my core self.’”

2. Listen to relaxing music or nature sounds.

Somehow, music has a direct line to the central nervous system, and can relax us like few other things can.

A 2013 study, for example, found that listening to relaxing music affected the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system, and the psychological stress response. Participants who listened to the relaxing music recovered faster after a stressful experience. Interestingly, participants had the lowest level of the stress hormone cortisol after listening to the sound of rippling water.

Other research shows that listening to songs with about 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat, resulting in a relaxed state. Most effective were Native American, Celtic, and Indian stringed instruments, drums, and flutes. Natural sounds of rain, thunder, and water were also particularly relaxing, as well as light jazz and classical music.

3. Smooch your significant other.

Kissing relieves stress—especially in certain circumstances.

Couples who kiss experience changes in the bonding hormone “oxytocin,” which helps reduce levels of cortisol. Both men and women show reduced levels of cortisol after kissing.

Kiss more often and you may experience even more benefits. A study of 2,000 couples who kissed only during lovemaking were eight times more likely to suffer from stress and depression than those who frequently kissed on the spur of the moment.

Another study found that couples who spent six weeks kissing more frequently than usual lowered their levels of stress and also decreased their cholesterol levels.

4. Drink a cup—or more—of tea.

Tea soothes stress. Green tea, for example, has a substance called “L-theanine” that can shift brain wave activity from the more active “beta” waves to the more relaxed “alpha” waves.

A 2009 study of over 42,000 participants, for example, reported that drinking five cups of green tea a day could reduce occurrences of psychological distress by up to 20 percent. An earlier 2007 study found that after 6 weeks of black tea consumption (4 cups a day), participants had lower post-stress cortisol levels and greater relaxation, as well as reduced platelet activation (indicating reduced risk of blood clots), compared to those who didn’t drink tea.

5. Unplug.

That our constant connectivity via technology is stressing us out is no longer up for debate. Our gadgets mean we can take work with us after hours, increasing our stress even when we’re away from the office. All that blue light is affecting our sleep, which in turn, increases stress, and recent studies have found that even reading a friend’s post about something stressful can make us stressed—proving stress is contagious.

Heavy cell phone use has also been connected with a type of addiction, which can increase stress and the risk of depression. A study by the University of California found that people who didn’t look at email on a regular basis at work were less stressed and more productive.

Meanwhile, researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface of how unplugging can help us, but already we have some evidence of its benefits.

We already know, for example, that using technology before bed disrupts melatonin production, affecting sleep quantity and quality. Shutting these gadgets down at least a couple hours before hitting the pillow has proven to improve sleep—which can, in turn, reduce stress levels.

Researchers are also discovering that unplugging can encourage more face-to-face encounters with people, which naturally reduce stress. “People who have their eyes on a screen are missing out on in-person connections with other people,” says Leigh Steer, co-founder of Managing People Better.

Unplugging can also improve your focus. A study by TNS Research and Hewlett Packard found that when employees were distracted by emails and texts, they suffered a larger IQ drop than if they’d smoked marijuana.

“Taking a break is a good thing for you,” said David Mintz, CEO of Tofutti Brands. “Smartphones can cloud judgment.”

6. Exercise.

You already know this one, but it’s so effective, we couldn’t leave it off the list.

The problem is that when we’re stressed, we often ditch our workouts—which is the opposite of what we need to do.

There are numerous studies showing how exercise reduces stress, and helps us cope with it better. Research has found, for example, that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression overall than sedentary people, and that exercise increases brain concentrations of norepinephrine, which helps moderate the stress response.

Harvard Men’s Health Watch reports that aerobic exercise has the unique capacity “to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress.”

If you’re going through a stressful period in your life, don’t neglect your exercise routine. In fact, exercising even more may be the key to getting through it.

7. Think about what’s important to you.

There are other ways you can reduce stress that really work. Studies have shown that laughter helps, as does massage, a nap, time with your pet, and journaling. But we wanted to include this last one, as you may not have thought about it.

When was the last time you stopped to examine what’s really important to you? Doing that when you’re most stressed out may help you to calm down.

That was the findings from a 2005 study conducted at the University of California. Researchers tested 85 participants. They had them complete either a value-affirmation task or a control task prior to going through a stressful challenge. Those who had affirmed their values in life had significantly lower cortisol responses to stress, compared with controls.

Researchers concluded that reflecting on your personal values can help you cope with stress. What personal values are we talking about? Those things that are important to you. Your loved ones, for instance, or your commitment to honesty and hard work. Think about the positive relationships in your life, and the accomplishments you’re proud of.
These can help the stressful event seem less important, which can encourage you to worry less and be able to deal with them more effectively.

What stress-reducing methods work for you? Please share your ideas.

* * *

“Stress in America Findings,” American Psychological Association, November 9, 2010,

Scott Hensley and Alyson Hurt, “Stressed Out: Americans Tell Us About Stress in Their Lives,” NPR, July 7, 2014,

Julie Corliss, “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress,” Harvard Health Letter, January 8, 2014,

Myriam V. Thoma, et al., “The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response,” PLoS One, 2013; 8(8):e70156,

“Mwah! Kissing eases stress, study finds,” NBC News, 2009,

Catherine Guthrie, “6 Surprising Stress Fixes,” WebMD,

Sean M. Horan, “The Surprising Benefits of Kissing,” Psychology Today, March 31, 2014,

Atsushi Hozawa, et al., “Green tea consumption is associated with lower psychological distress in a general popularion: the Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study,” Am J Clin Nutr, November 2009; 90(5):1390-1396,

Steptoe A., et al., “The effects of tea on psychophysiological stress responsivity and post-stress recovery; a randomised double-blind trial,” Psychopharmacology (Berl)., January 2007; 190(1):81-9,

Ruth Tam, “This is how Facebook stresses you out, according to study,” PBS, January 15, 2015,

Robin Madell, “Why You Should Unplug,” Money, May 7, 2013,

Nick Bilton, “Taking E-mail Vacations Can Reduce Stress, Study Says,” New York Times, May 4, 2012,

“Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers,” American Psychological Association,

“Benefits of exercise—reduces stress, anxiety, and helps fight depression, from Harvard Men’s Health Watch,” HealthBeat,

Creswell JD, et al., “Affirmation of personal values buffers neuroendocrine and psychological stress responses,” Psychol Sci., November 2005; 16(11):846-51,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

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