The 50 Easiest Ways to Beat Stress in 2020
These simple stress relief tips will help you make this your most relaxed year yet.
Raise your hand if you’re stressed out pretty much all the time. In a 2019 Gallup poll, 55 percent of U.S. adults said they experience stress during the majority of the day, making it clear you’re anything but alone. “In today's fast-paced world, stress is extremely common. Unfortunately, very few people recognize the toll stress takes on both the mind and body,” says Danielle Sassone, a certified integrative nutrition health coach at EMP180. “Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress, but we’re not equipped to handle constant, long-term, chronic stress.” To make sure you’re staying stress-free and healthy in 2020, jot down some of these easy ways to beat stress.
Go on a walk.
Any sort of exercise is great at relieving stress, including something low-impact like walking. A 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that a 20-minute walk a day can help reduce your stress hormones. “Exercise is a great way to release stress on the daily, even if it’s just going for a walk around the block,” says Kelly Noonan Gores, a Los Angeles-based wellness expert. “Exercise not only burns calories, but it gets stagnant energy moving through the circulation and detoxification systems. Exercise and movement also release endorphins from your brain, which has a calming and positive effect.”
Unless you live in an area that is warm year-round, you may have to hold off until summer for this technique. But it’s certainly worth the wait. “Stick your bare feet on the grass for 20 minutes, or go to the beach and walk barefoot in the sand. This is called grounding or earthing,” Noonan Gores says. “Our ancestors used to walk barefoot and sleep on the ground, giving them constant connection to the Earth’s negative ionic charge. This negative charge has tremendous health benefits for us, from lowering blood pressure to reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.” It checks out: A couple smaller studies have shown the benefits, as well as a 2019 study published in the journal Explore.
Do some people watching.
People watching to relieve stress? It sounds odd, but don’t knock it till you try it. “People watching can be a powerful exercise of relativity. I can sit on a park bench and watch people from a distance and know they all have their own set of stress-related issues they carry with them,” says mental health expert KC Gooding, the director of business development at New Method Wellness. It can also be very eye-opening. When you see the problems others are dealing with, it can sometimes make yours seem very small.
And listen to your surroundings.
Sometimes relieving stress is as simple as sitting quietly and listening to your surroundings. “Keep your eyes closed and listen to the closest noise to you. It may be your breath, or the person sitting near you. Then let you ears follow out to the next noise. Really hear it. Then the next and the next,” says California-based celebrity trainer Juliet Kaska. “Discover what the furthest away sound is you can register.” Even a few minutes will help calm your body down and allow you to relax.
Laugh it out.
Laughter is truly the best medicine for stress. Whether you’re watching your favorite comedy or spending time with friends, laughing it out will instantly help you feel a little better. “The benefits of laughter cannot be understated,” cardiologist Benico Barzilai, MD, told the Cleveland Clinic. “Laughter leads to an immediate reduction in the body’s negative response to stress and causes the blood vessels of the body—including the heart—to increase blood flow as needed.”
Have a karaoke sesh.
A 2018 pilot study from Iowa State University found that those who sing feel positive and less stressed while doing so, as well as more relaxed afterward. “Like laughing, belting out a tune produces those feel-good hormones,” Sassone says. “The elation felt when singing may come from endorphins, or it might come from oxytocin, another hormone released during singing that’s been found to alleviate anxiety and stress.”
Eat some chocolate.
Name a more delicious way to combat stress. Findings from two 2018 studies from Loma Linda University found that eating dark chocolate—the kind that's at least 70 percent cacao—can help relieve stress, as well as help with memory, mood, and immunity. That's due to all cacao's flavonoids, which are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that can benefit the brain.
Get a massage.
Feeling overwhelmed at work? Use your lunch break to go get a massage. Never underestimate the healing and stress relieving power of touch, especially when it comes from someone who knows exactly what they're doing.
Or give yourself one.
Of course, you don’t need to pay big bucks to get a massage. You can relieve stress by giving yourself one at home. “Give yourself a daily abhyanga oil ‘massage,’” Kaska says. “Start at your toes and slowly move up your body. In addition to helping to fight off dry skin, it will help calm the nervous system and improve the long-term elasticity and aging of your skin.” She recommends using grapeseed oil after a shower, or using sesame oil before a shower.
Sniff some calming scents.
Sometimes you can make your stress disappear as easily as sniffing a soothing scent. “Inhale calming scents, slowly and deeply, a few times in a row,” Sassone says. “Lavender or peppermint oil, fresh laundry, fresh air, your child’s blanket… whatever helps you relax.” The Cleveland Clinic says scents can also affect everything from your anxiety levels to your mood, so get to sniffing ASAP.
Hang out with furry friends.
Pets are great best buddies—especially since they can help you fight off stress. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, "the pet effect" is real. Owning pets has been shown to help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and to make you healthier and happier overall. But even after spending five minutes with a pup, you don’t need any research to tell you that. “Pet lovers know how having a pet can help reduce stress and improve your mood. Their fur is so soft and cuddly, which instantly calms you,” Sassone says. “Lovingly interacting with pets also helps release oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.”
Get your cuddle on.
The best part about cuddling is that it helps you get rid of stress with literally no effort at all. A 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that getting close and hugging could help with stress.
Blast some upbeat tunes.
How good do you feel after listening to your favorite playlist? Probably pretty darn great. A 2013 study published in the journal PLOS One found there’s a simple reason for that: It helps reduce stress. “Music can have a profound effect on both the emotions and the body, making it an effective tool for stress management,” Sassone says. “Faster music can make you feel more alert and concentrate better, upbeat music can make you feel more optimistic and positive about life, and a slower tempo can quiet your mind and relax your muscles, making you feel soothed while releasing the stress of the day.”
Be more mindful.
Mindfulness—focusing your attention on your emotions instead of ignoring them—can do wonders in relieving stress. “Even short periods of mindful attention can have a positive impact on health and well-being,” psychologist Rezvan Ameli, PhD, told the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “No matter what we’re doing, we can always make time to bring our attention to our breath and body and stay there for a short period of time.
Accept your lousy mood.
Mindfulness means getting in touch with your emotions, and sometimes that can be challenging. If you're feeling low, don't let that stress you out. "Everyone gets down," says Allison Kanter Agliata, a licensed psychologist and executive leadership coach. "It is a normal feeling to experience and you have to have a few lows in order to enjoy your highs. Rather than avoid it, try to sit in it and figure out the cause of your bad mood. Take time to reflect and examine the areas of your life that need improvement so you have a better understanding of what is impacting your feelings."
Give yourself a boost of endorphins.
You don’t need to do typical exercise—like running or a HIIT class—in order to get an endorphin boost. It’s as easy as dancing, bicycling, doing yoga: whichever activity you prefer. “Virtually any form of exercise or movement can help to decrease stress,” Sassone says. “Movement increases endorphins, and endorphins bring about feelings of euphoria and general well-being, which is why exercise is often associated with stress relief.”
Before you do any kind of exercise, you should be stretching. Stretches "help you get your blood flowing to your muscles," explains fitness trainer Carol Michaels. "This releases those endorphins mentioned earlier. Stretching and yoga also helps you become mindful and focused. It pulls you into the moment. Instead of worrying about tomorrow or regretting yesterday, you're in the present moment. You can feel calm, in control, and centered."
Any form of exercise is beneficial for stress relief, but yoga has special benefits of its own. "I have never finished doing a yoga class or my own yoga practice and felt worse than before," says Shawn Radcliffe, a yoga teacher and health writer. "Like other forms of exercise, yoga boosts endorphins. Meditation and the mindfulness associated with yoga also have proven benefits for improving mood."
Do a high-intensity exercise.
While yoga is great and has certainly been proven to help relieve stress, sometimes you need something high-energy to really take that weight off your chest. “When I’m really riled up about something and can’t get my brain to stop obsessing, I go for a run,” Kaska says. “I need it to be more than a jog. It must include some sort of challenge—like hills or sprints—that forces my brain to focus on something other than what I’m stressed out about.”
Or do a quick exercise.
The fastest way to deliver a burst of pleasure to your brain is with some quick physical exercise, and that doesn't have to mean a trip to the gym. "I tell all my clients, if you can do a quick 10 squats wherever you are—at your desk, at Starbucks waiting in line, or even in Target while you're shopping—it will release dopamine and serotonin directly to your brain and you will instantly feel happier and be in a better mood," says addiction therapist Cali Estes, founder of The Addictions Coach. "I find it to be the quickest, cheapest, and most effective way to get that serotonin dopamine boost naturally."
Go for a run.
As Kaska notes from personal experience, running can do wonders for stress. Michaels also extols its virtues. "Running is a fantastic calorie burner and it's great for improving your fitness. It's also something that almost everyone can do," she says. "It doesn't have to be about performance, speed, and distance. You can simply embrace the sport as a fitness jogger. The health benefits are the same. If you're new to running, combine it with periods of walking. The goal is to help boost your mental and physical health."
Do some goal setting.
Sometimes stress can come from the unknown. By taking the time to set goals for yourself, you could better your mental health in more ways than one. “When people set goals for themselves, they have a positive sense of commitment, feel they're in control, and are optimistic," health psychologist Ann Webster, PhD, told Harvard Medicine. Those goals can be in your career, relationships, health—really anything you want.
And quit procrastinating.
It might feel good in the moment to push off things you need to do, but you know you'll be stressed out once it comes time to catch up. To make sure you put an end to your bad habits, have a plan. Kati Morton, a licensed therapist based in Los Angeles, said in a YouTube video that she recommends keeping your to-do lists short and working on them every day, which "ensures you get going on a project sooner rather than later." Also, reward your progress along the way.
But stop multitasking.
A major source of stress for the average person in these days of constant demands and distractions is the impulse to multitask. While juggling a number of projects might make you think you're getting plenty done in the moment, it's more likely just draining you. "Multitasking has become the norm which has led to people feeling exhausted without [accomplishing] much," says Joe Bates, author of Making Your Brain Hum: 12 Weeks to a Smarter You. "Why? Because their focus is split out on too many things to do one thing excellently. Mediocrity or ‘just getting by' feelings can begin leading to feeling overwhelmed." Instead, concentrate on one task at a time, and give yourself time to rest between projects.
Declutter your space.
When your space is cluttered, whether that’s your home or your office, you’re bound to feel uneasy. “When we have these physical representations of incompleteness—like a pile of paperwork or laundry—it activates little messages of worry in our subconscious. This shows up as stress,” Kaska says. To stay stress-free this year, take a day and rid yourself of the clutter in your life by cleaning, checking tasks off your to-do list, and getting rid of anything you don’t need.
Study upon study has shown how much meditation can help benefit your mental health. That’s why Noonan Gores describes it as daily mental hygiene. “Just as important as showering the accumulated dirt, sweat, and energy off of our physical bodies every day, so, too, must we shower and wash away the mental stress, tension, and negativity that we accumulate in our minds,” she says. To get rid of your stress, Noonan Gores recommends working your way up to 20 minutes of meditation a day. “Your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops, your brain and heart enter a coherent state, and your brain releases all kinds of healing chemistry into your body.”
Practice deep breathing.
According to Michigan Medicine, deep breathing is one of the most effective (and easiest!) ways to destress. “When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body,” Sassone says. “Symptoms of stress—such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure—all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.”
When you’re feeling stressed, Sassone says to close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose, counting to 4, 6, or 8 as you inhale. Then pause at the top of the breath, and release into an exhale for 4, 6, or 8 seconds. “Do this three to five times when tensions are high,” she says. “After several repetitions, you should feel more relaxed and be able to move forward with a much calmer state of mind."
And mindful breathing.
Of course, it's not just about breathing deeply. Try combining that practice with mindfulness. Lifestyle expert Jennifer Winsor, who writes wellness blog Waves and Willows, suggests that you "find a quiet space and get comfortably seated, if possible. Close your eyes, take a deep inhale and a slow exhale, and observe how your body is feeling. Try to consciously relax your shoulders and any other areas where you are feeling tension. Continue to take deep inhalations, holding each one momentarily and then long, slow exhalations." Observe and be mindful of the positive changes in your body and release of tension and stress that is occurring.
Spend time with the people you love.
When you’re really stressed out, spending time with the people you love can make a huge difference in helping you feel lighter. “We know from a lot of different studies that having close personal relationships—people with whom you can talk, with whom you can share your feelings—can be helpful,” stress researcher Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, told the NIH. “Spending time with family and friends in order to maintain those relationships is perhaps one of the most crucial things you can do as a stress reducer.”
Go out and be social.
Spending time with friends might mean leaving the house, which can be difficult when you're feeling overwhelmed. "People who often turn down social opportunities because they ‘don't feel like it' are letting their mood affect their behavior," says Agliata. "But behavior can actually influence your mood if you force yourself to get out there. Remember that time your friends had to drag you out and you ended up having fun?"
Or phone a friend.
Feeling too stressed to get out there, but still eager for the tension relief of human interaction? Give a friend or family member a call just to see how they're doing or talk about your day. Hearing a voice on the other line is a great way to push yourself into a better state of mind. In some cases, even a text message can be enough to get you back on track.
Chat with a stranger.
Or maybe you can talk to someone you don't know. The mere idea might sound stressful, but it could actually lessen your anxiety. "Talking to strangers is scientifically proven to enhance mood, increase happiness, and pay it forward: the joy of connection is contagious," says Jennie Ann Freiman, MD. "Humans are social animals in need of human engagement—the kind that's lost with digital connections. The daily commute, grocery shopping, or walking the dog are great opportunities to bank new perspectives, fresh ideas, and network, all of which pay dividends to mood."
Talk it out.
Sometimes stress piles up because you have no one to talk out your problems with. Even though it can be hard, Gooding says an effective way to relieve that pressure is sharing the burden. “It’s OK to let others know how we feel. There should be no shame in being human,” he says. “Pick up the phone, talk to your friends or spouse, or perhaps speak with a therapist.”
Show kindness toward others.
When you help others, you're also helping yourself. And that phrase couldn't be any more accurate than when it comes to stress relief. In a 2015 study from Yale, researchers found those who performed acts of kindness every day were less stressed. “Simple, kind acts of service to others is an effective way to relieve stress and focus on others’ needs,” Gooding says. “When you take the time to truly consider someone else’s needs and what you can do to help them, the burden of your stress-related issues becomes secondary.”
Learn how to say no.
Turning down plans, more work from your boss, and family obligations is difficult—and the more you say yes to, the more stressed out you’ll be. Make it your mission this year to say “no” a little more often. According to the Mayo Clinic, putting too much on your plate is a recipe for disaster for your mental health, and saying no isn't selfish. If you need a break, be honest with the people in your life. You should never feel guilty for taking care of yourself.
Disconnect from technology.
Disconnecting from your phone, laptop, and other technology as often as you can will help you destress in record time. “We are inundated with information these days and the majority of it is negative and disempowering. That’s why it’s so important to disconnect from all of our electronic devices. Our minds just can’t handle the stress that comes with the constant info stream from social media and 24/7 news,” Noonan Gores says. “Limiting screen time, taking fresh air breaks throughout the day, and turning off tech devices at least an hour before going to bed will all reduce stress and improve mental and physical health.”
Get some green.
This isn’t easy year-round, but once the weather gets nice, take full advantage of spending time in a green space. According to the University of Washington, spending time in parks and other green locales—even if they're small—can help alleviate stress. Breathe in that fresh air any chance you get.
Look at nature.
While being outside among the trees and the grass offers plenty of mental health benefits, that isn't always an easy option logistically. Luckily, simply looking out the window at natural surroundings, or even just looking at images of nature, can help relax you and put you in a better mood.
Give yourself a burst of cold.
A warm shower can work wonders on stress, but so can a burst of cold. "No snow? Pour some very cold water into a bucket and step in it for a few seconds," says author Milana Perepyolkina. "Not at home? Open the faucet with cold water and keep your hands under the water for a few seconds. Splash some of that water on your face. You will feel refreshed, energized, and in a better mood."
Take a nap.
The mental (and physical) health benefits of taking a brief power nap in the afternoon have been widely documented. If you're feeling drained and overwhelmed, a 10-minute rest is usually enough to recharge your batteries and help you feel significantly better for the rest of the day.
Practicing gratitude makes you feel better all-around—including less stressed. According to UC Davis Health, practicing gratitude has been linked to a 23 percent reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. “In the morning or the evening, take out your gratitude journal and write down what you’re grateful for,” Noonan Gores says. “A gratitude practice will take you out of the stress response and create new positive neural pathways. It trains your brain away from that worst case scenario tendency. This creates better mental health and emotional resiliency, which means better ability to remain calm and handle stress.”
It's so simple, you'd think it couldn't work as well as it does. "Research has shown that when we smile, whether it's a fake smile or one that's the real deal, our brain releases feel-good endorphins throughout our bodies," says Winsor. "Use your body's automatic response to your advantage and trick your brain into making yourself feel happier. It might feel awkward at first, but try putting on a big, huge smile and see for yourself the way your mood is instantly boosted." Don't you feel calmer already?
And make sure you start the day with a grin.
Just as you should do a little stretching and exercising in the morning, Winsor suggests beginning your day in the right place emotionally by doing some smile stretches. "Start the day off with some big grins first thing in the morning, and you'll give yourself a positive energy boost and start the day feeling energized," she says. That will leave you in a better position to deal with any stress that comes your way.
Drop your jaw.
You might want to make sure no one is watching you when you do this one. "Drop your jaw suddenly," says corporate trainer and author Marlene Caroselli. "Breathe in as you do so. Shrug your shoulders and rotate them fully—back, front, up, down—in generous smooth circles as high, wide, and gorgeous as you can make them. Then bring your shoulders back to normal position." It might seem weird, but give it a try. You will feel better and more relaxed when you're done.
Find a hobby you love.
If you don't have a hobby outside of your day job, it's time to find one. A 2015 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that those who engaged in hobbies were 34 percent less stressed while doing them, and those feel-good vibes lasted for hours afterward. “Cook, paint, draw—whatever you enjoy. Using your hands to create is a great way to distract your mind and help you enter into a calmer state of being,” Sassone says. “No matter a person's skill level, taking time to create is likely to reduce stress hormone levels. So find the thing you love and do more of it.”
Eat healthier fats.
Your diet can have a major impact on your mood and your stress level. Elizabeth Trattner, who practices integrative medicine, points to numerous studies that show the connection between "good fats and moods." According to Trattner, researchers have found a significant reduction in the risk for depression in those who maintain a Mediterranean-style diet. "Conversely, low intake of the prominent components of the Mediterranean diet, such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids, was associated with higher rates of depression in a study," she says. "So, when you start eating healthier fats, your mood improves."
Cut back on the caffeine.
Coffee might help you wake up in the morning, but it also stresses your body out. According to Ohio State University, past research has shown caffeine can more than double the levels of cortisol, increasing your stress levels. On top of that, drinking too much coffee can result in worsening anxiety, nervousness, and other issues. While this isn't the case for everyone, it might be worth considering taking a break to see if you notice any changes in your mental health.
And have a green drink.
Few health foods deliver as much good stuff to your body as quickly as a green drink does. Filled with fiber and other beneficial vitamins, one of these will boost your mood in a lasting way. It might take some getting used to, but it could be a surprising path to stress relief.
Take a shower.
If you have yet to experience the stress-relieving power of a shower, you're missing out. Even a quick shower can give you a mental restart and have you feeling like you've begun a new day, washing away some of the anxieties and frustrations you've been feeling.
And take some time for yourself.
Don’t ever feel guilty about taking time for yourself, whether that’s a 10-minute break at work or canceling plans for a relaxing night at home. According to the American Institute of Stress, "me time" can look like whatever you want it to. It can be exercising, watching a movie, or drinking your favorite tea—whatever makes you happy and helps you find your calm.
Additional reporting by Alex Daniel.