Reduce Stress Today With These 25 Low Cost Ideas

With Wednesday 2nd November 2016 being National Stress Awareness Day I thought it would be a great time to look at some really useful ideas to help you better manage your stress.

I have a phrase that I use with all my hypnotherapy clients who come and see me to reduce their stress:

“Start to do more and more of the things that are helpful and less and less of the things that aren’t helpful”.

As effective as hypnosis is in dealing with stress, anxiety, phobias and panic attacks it should be seen as just one of a number of strategies that a client can use to improve their well-being. There are lots of other activities that can help to reduce stress, many of them supported by research and studies.

So with that in mind, I’d like to present 25 low cost ideas to combat stress.

Some you will recognise and perhaps have tried in the past. Some you may already find helpful in making you feel calmer and more relaxed. Why not try out some new tactics and let me know how you have got on, or let me know what works for you and I can add them to the list!!!   

#1 Take a dog for a walk

Studies show that on average dog owners exercise more than non-dog owners, which by itself is beneficial in managing stress. Taking a dog for a walk also gives owners the opportunity to spend more time in nature, which is shown to increase a sense of well-being. In addition, research also shows that spending time with a dog can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

#2 Learn a new skill

Whether it is learning a new language, taking up photography or improving your flower arranging skills, studies show that learning a new skill can improve your well-being. Benefits include increased self-confidence and self-esteem, improved optimism, greater life satisfaction and a greater ability to cope with stress. 

#3 Tidy Up

Perhaps not the most exciting suggestion on this list but researchers have shown in studies that clutter reduces our ability to remain focused and lowers the brain’s capacity for processing information. If we tidy up our mind can start to focus on solving our problems and reduce our stress.  

#4 Meditate

Meditation has long been associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life. Recent studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can even reduce the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response. This in turn leads to reduced stress levels. 

#5 Write things down

Whether it is writing a daily journal or diary, a things-to-do list or updating your calendar, finding the time to get our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper can reduce our stress. Research suggests that writing a regular journal can also strengthen the immune system and decrease the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. 

#6 Talk to someone you trust

Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy are known to be effective for treating a range of issues including stress and anxiety, but calling a friend can also be helpful. Research has shown that positive social support can enhance resilience to stress, decrease the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and reduce medical morbidity and mortality. 

#7 Listen to relaxing music

Next time you’ve had a particularly stressful day turn off Radio 2 and put on Classic FM. Studies show that listening to slow, quiet classical music can slow down the pulse and heart rate and decrease our stress hormone levels. 

#8 Practice self-hypnosis

As a hypnotherapist, perhaps it is not surprising that I would suggest self-hypnosis. There is lots of scientific evidence that supports the use of self-hypnosis for the treatment of anxiety, chronic pain, habit disorders, hypertension, insomnia and depression. To find out how to start practising self-hypnosis read this blog post.

#9 Hug it out

A simple hug is shown to reduce cortisol levels, the hormone that is released during times of stress. In addition, research shows that when we hug the hormone oxytocin is released. Known as the “trust hormone”, oxytocin can help to reduce blood pressure, lower anxiety and improve memory.

#10 Catch some rays  

Although the opportunities are limited in the UK, it’s a good idea to make the most of the sunshine when it does appear. Research shows that in addition to the benefits of producing vitamin D, which can boost the immune system and improve bone growth, the body also produces nitric oxide, which lowers blood pressure. 

#11 Breathe deeply

Deep breathing, sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing, is a great way to trigger the relaxation response. Pioneered by Dr Herbert Benson, the relaxation response is shown to help with health problems that are caused chronic stress such as fibromyalgia, stomach disorders, insomnia, hypertension and anxiety disorders. 

#12 Own a pet

There are plenty of studies which show that companion animals are good for both our physical and mental wellbeing. For example one study showed that pet owners have a lower resting heart rate and are less likely to see spikes in heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations. 

#13 Get creative  

The next time you feel stressed get out your pens, paints and glitter glue. Research shows that only 45 minutes of creative activity lessens stress in the body and reduces cortisol levels, regardless of your artistic ability. 

#14 Cut out your cuppa

In our culture we tend to put on the kettle in moments of stress or crisis and have a comforting cup of tea or coffee. Unfortunately, the caffeine in your cuppa can actually increase your stress levels. Research shows that 4-5 cups of coffee a day, combined with your daily stressors, can increase your blood pressure and increase your risk of long term heart disease.

#15 Develop an attitude of gratitude

Spending 5 minutes focusing on 3 good things that have happened during your day can really help to put things into perspective. Research into developing an attitude of gratitude shows that it has many benefits including improving physical and psychological health.

#16 Get a good night’s sleep

Many people find that when they are stressed one of the first effects is a poor night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation can affect our memory, judgement and mood. Chronic sleep deprivation can even contribute to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure. To learn how to implement good sleep habits read this blog post.

#17 Work up a sweat

One of the most recommended strategies for coping with stress is exercise. Regular physical activity, particularly aerobic exercise, not only improves your physical wellbeing but also improves your mental fitness. In addition to reducing stress, exercise can reduce fatigue, improve alertness and increase cognitive functioning. 

#18 Read a book

Just 6 minutes of silent reading can slow down the heart rate and reduce muscle tension. In studies, reading was also shown to reduce stress levels by 68%. 

#19 Give something back

Volunteering can not only improve the lives of others but is shown to be beneficial to ourselves. Research has shown that volunteering can reduce stress levels, decrease the risk of depression and increase feelings of happiness. 

#20 Get some fresh air

Get out into the countryside and you can experience the physical benefits of a good walk. However, studies have also shown that a walk in the countryside can reduce our tendency to ruminate and focus on negative thoughts. This in turn can reduce stress, anxiety and ease depression.  

#21 Practice yoga

Combining a mix of postures to improve strength and flexibility, breathing techniques and meditation, yoga is a great tactic for reducing stress. Studies have shown that people who practice yoga regularly have higher levels of an amino acid which aids brain functioning and promotes feelings of calm.

#22 Put on your favourite comedy 

They say that laughter is the best medicine and that can now be backed up by scientific evidence. The benefits of having a good laugh include boosting the immune system, relaxing the body and reduces stress and tension, increasing the endorphins (mood boosting chemicals) in the body and improving blood flow.  

#23 Chew a stick of gum

Perhaps one of the strangest suggestions on this list, but research in 2008 showed that chewing gum reduced levels of cortisol levels in participants. 

#24 Get a hug

Do you need some scientific evidence to persuade friends that more hugging would be a good idea? Well, research shows that in addition to reducing stress and anxiety, hugging can also reduce blood pressure and improve your memory .  

#25 Turn on your Xbox

Despite the dangers of violent video games being reported in the media, some research shows that playing video games can actually be beneficial. For example, one study showed a correlation between playing video games and handling stress better.

Self-compassion: How Learning To Love Yourself Can Reduce Anxiety

Imagine that you approach a close friend with a problem. You’ve been struggling with a personal issue for some time and are struggling with negative thoughts and feelings about it. You tell them your story and they listen patiently. Once you have managed to open up to them and share with them your secret, they look you in the eye and respond as honestly as they can;

“What an idiot!!! I can’t believe you did that, what kind of a fool would do such a stupid thing. You are always making mistakes like this, when will you ever learn. No wonder no-one likes you, you make such a mess of your life!!!”

Chances are, that person wouldn’t remain a friend much longer. We trust in our friends to support us during our difficult times, to be understanding and caring. But think for minute about how we treat ourselves. The negative phrases we say to ourselves, the way we beat ourselves up for our own mistakes. The lack of compassion we show when we suffer or fail or don’t meet the high standards we set ourselves. We wouldn’t accept it from a friend, so why do we accept it from ourselves?

Developing self-compassion is a great way to to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression and start to feel much better about yourself. As part of the hypnotherapy treatment I offer to clients I include positive hypnotic suggestions to start to develop an attitude of self-compassion. Many clients report that learning to accept themselves, warts and all, is the start of reducing their negative thoughts and feelings.

What is self-compassion?

Although the idea of self-compassion has been around for many years, particularly as part of Buddhist teachings, it has only recently been the subject of serious scientific research. Dr Kristen Neff, in particular, has conducted studies which show that increases in self-compassion were associated with increased psychological well-being as well as being a helpful “buffer” against anxiety.

A good definition for self-compassion comes from Dr Neff:

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?

Self-compassion has 3 elements:

  1. Self-kindess – being warm and understanding to ourselves and accepting reality with sympathy and kindness
  2. Common humanity – recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience
  3. Mindfulness – learning to be more present, in a non-judgemental way. Learning to observe our thoughts and feelings without becoming attached to them

What self-compassion is not

Self-compassion isn’t the same as self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to how much we like or value ourselves – our general sense of self-worth. While increasing self-esteem is often seen as a solution to improving well-being, it can also be problematic. Self-esteem tends to fluctuate, based upon our latest successes and failures. Too much self-esteem can also lead to narcissistic behaviour or cause us to ignore or distort personal shortcomings. Self-compassion on the other hand focuses on being accepting of ourselves, regardless of our mistakes and failings.

Self-compassion also isn’t the same as self-pity. Whereas with self-pity we get wrapped up in our own problems, self-compassion is about recognising that other people are dealing with same problems. Self-compassion allows us to develop that “mental space” to understand our problems in a wider context and gain a much better perspective.

Practicing self-compassion

There are loads of really helpful resources at Dr Neff’s website including a number of guided meditations that you can practice at home. Here are 3 simple exercises that you can also try:

How would you treat a friend?

  1. Write down what you would say to close friend who approached you with a problem or something they were struggling with.
  2. Write down what you say to yourself when you are struggling with a problem. Think about the words you say to yourself and how you say it.
  3. Identify and write down the differences and think about why it happens. Think about what factors or fears that lead you to treat yourself differently.
  4. Write down how you think things would change if you responded to your own needs the way to respond to helping others
  5. Practice speaking to yourself like a good friend and see what happens

Self-compassion break

  1. Think about a situation that is causing you stress in your life now. Let the feelings of stress come up.
  2. Say to yourself “This is a moment of suffering”
  3. Say to yourself “”Suffering is a part of life”
  4. Put your hand over your heart and say “May I be kind to myself”
  5. Ask yourself “What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself?”  
  6. Create a phrase that will help such as “May I forgive myself” or “May I be strong”

Identify what you really want

  1. Think about the times and the ways that you use self-criticism to motivate yourself eg “I’m too lazy to exercise”
  2. Find a kinder, more caring way to motivate yourself to make that change. Think about what a friend or relative might say to encourage you to make that change
  3. Every time you catch yourself using the negative self-judgemental statements notice the pain it causes and give yourself compassion. Then reframe the words so they are more encouraging and supportive.