Everyone feels anxious or stressed from time to time. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, these are our top recommendations to help calm and centre you and help you stop worrying.
We’ve gathered 18 of our favourite simple tips to reduce stress and anxiety, from breathing exercises to eating dark chocolate. Everyone is different, but we hope that you’ll find a tip or two in here to help you reduce your tension and get through a bad day.
And remember, if you’re feeling stressed or anxious on a daily basis and don’t feel you can manage the symptoms, it’s time to talk to someone.
This is one of the most common techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety. Breathing exercises take just a few minutes and you can do them anywhere. Many people find them very helpful.
You can follow the guide below or simply focus on breathing in and out, in and out. Sometimes the simple fact of focusing on your breath can reduce your stress symptoms.
- A calming breathing technique for stress, anxiety and panic attacks
The NHS suggests this breathing exercise to help calm you if you’re feeling stressed or anxious. It’s most effective if you do it regularly and not only when you most need it.
You can do this while standing, sitting or lying down. If you’re sitting or lying, make sure your back is supported and you’re as comfortable as possible. It’s best not to wear restrictive clothes.
Whatever position you’re in, make sure you feel grounded and place your feet roughly hip-width apart.
1. Let your breath flow as deep down into your belly as is comfortable, without forcing it.
2. Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
3. Breathe in gently and regularly. Some people find it helpful to count steadily from 1 to 5. You may not be able to reach 5 at first.
4. Then, without pausing or holding your breath, let it flow out gently, counting from 1 to 5 again, if you find this helpful.
5. Keep doing this for 3 to 5 minutes.1
Forcing a smile might be the last thing you want to do when you’re stressed but the physical act of smiling can actually boost your mood.
If you’re struggling to smile, try thinking of a recent time when you were happy or laughing and remember how you felt then.
3. Write it down
Some people find it helps to write down what they’re stressed about. Seeing things on paper can make them feel more ordered and easier to face.
Other people find it helps to write a list of what they’re grateful for or proud of.
Exercise releases endorphins, which are hormones that naturally boost your mood. Research has shown that regular exercise can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.3
If you feel like starting a regular exercise regime is too much, start small. Even a 10-minute walk each day could make an impact.4
5. Try yoga
As well as being great for your fitness, flexibility, core strength and balance, regular yoga can also improve your mood.5
Beginners’ yoga classes are available across the UK, but you can also do yoga at home. Guides are available in books or DVDs and there are countless free videos online.
6. Get a good night’s sleep
Stress and anxiety can make it more difficult to sleep, and in turn lack of sleep can exacerbate stress and anxiety.6
Make sure you’re getting around eight hours of sleep a night. If you struggle to fall asleep, we’ve put together our top tips for getting a good night’s sleep.
7. See your friends
Whether you talk to them about how you are feeling or talk to them about what you watched on TV last night, seeing friends and loved ones is an important part of looking after your mental wellbeing.
And remember, while modern technology is a wonderful thing, a text or call is not the same as speaking to someone face-to-face.
8. Light a candle
Smell is a powerful sense and certain aromas have the power to affect our mood. For some people, the right smells can reduce anxiety and help them sleep better.7
Choose a candle with a scent you love and light it while you relax.
9. Look after yourself
Sometimes when we’re stressed, we start to neglect ourselves. Try not to let the small things slide.
Something as simple as having a relaxing bath or shower, brushing your teeth properly, or making sure your shirt is well-ironed, can genuinely make you feel better and more ready for the day ahead.
10. Look after your home
Similarly, it’s easy to neglect things like tidying, laundry or washing up when you feel overwhelmed. But the old adage, ‘tidy house, tidy mind’ has some truth to it.
A cluttered home can add to your stress levels, while a clean and tidy space can make you calmer.8
11. Try mindfulness or meditation
There’s no guarantee that meditation or mindfulness will help you deal with anxiety or reduce your stress, but for some people they really work.
Mindfulness is about actively paying attention to the present moment – your thoughts and feelings and the world around you. It can help you to enjoy things more and to be more self-aware.9
Meditation tends to involve sitting quietly and focusing on your thoughts. It aims to make you calmer, less easily distracted and more focused on the present.
You can find more on mindfulness and meditation here.
12. Treat yourself
Stress and anxiety can lead to self-doubt and negativity. Combat these feelings by treating yourself to something nice. You might have had a bad day, but you’ve got through it.
Get a haircut, watch your favourite film, cook your favourite food… Doing something nice for yourself can really boost your mood.
13. Drink water
Staying hydrated is important for many reasons, but did you know that not drinking enough water encourages stress hormones?
When you’re dehydrated, even a little, your body releases more cortisol: the hormone triggered by stress.
Add to this the fact that being dehydrated makes you tired, and being tired makes you stressed, and drinking water becomes one of the most important – and simplest – pieces of stress advice.10
14. Cut down on caffeine
A tea or coffee might be the first thing you turn to if you’re having a bad day, but too much caffeine can actually increase feelings of anxiety.11
Although everyone’s caffeine tolerance is different, cutting back is an easy thing to try and see if it helps. Reducing your intake will have the added benefit of helping you fall asleep more easily at night.
15. Cut down on sugar
Similarly, while a sugar hit might make you feel good in the short term, it probably won’t help your anxiety in the long run.
When you eat sugary foods, you’ll get a quick energy boost followed by a ‘crash’. This can negatively impact your mood, especially if you’re someone who suffers from low moods anyway.
If you really need that sugar hit, try fresh fruit.
16. Eat dark chocolate
Yes, too much sugar encourages stress, but a square or two of good quality dark chocolate could actually improve your mood.12
Choose a bar that’s at least 70% cocoa.
17. Listen to relaxing music
Actually, listen to any music. Calm and relaxing music is often recommended, but studies have found that any music can have a positive effect on your mood and mental health so long as it’s music you enjoy.13
18. Tick something off your to-do list
When tasks mount up, it can be difficult to know where to start and what to prioritise.
Making a to do list may sound like a simple or even unhelpful thing to do, yet studies have shown that the very fact of writing our tasks down on paper can help to reduce the stress we feel about facing them.14
It can also be helpful to think about your list of tasks in order of two things: priority and ease. This can help you make a plan of action.
If you don’t feel ready to tackle your biggest tasks, choose a small one you know you can complete quickly and easily. The simple act of crossing the first thing off your list can make the whole thing seem more manageable.
What to do if you can’t manage your stress and anxiety on your own
Most people feel stressed or anxious from time to time, but for some people it becomes more of a problem and simple relaxation or stress management techniques aren’t enough.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. About one in four people suffers from a mental health problem each year and anxiety is among the most common.15
Speak to your GP or make an appointment to see a therapist or counsellor. It’s important to look after your mental health just as you would look after your physical health.