The 10 Best Non-Exercise Stress Busters

Here’s how to relax when you're too busy to hit the gym.

You probably know that stress is terrible for your health. But what you may not know is that stress is also really, really terrible for your metabolism. In a four-year study whose findings were published last year in the journal Obesity, researchers measured the cortisol levels (note: cortisol is the "stress hormone") contained in the locks of hair they'd plucked from 2,527 men and women. They also tracked the subjects' "weight, body mass index, and waist circumference." Ultimately, they discovered a direct correlation between chronic stress and all three of those obesity-related factors.

Another study published in 2016 in the journal Currently Opinion in Behavioral Sciences made an equally stunning case for a straight-line connection between your metabolism and your body's stress response. "Chronic stress can lead to dietary over-consumption, increased visceral adiposity, and weight gain," the researchers, from the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, in Sweden, write in the report.

Now, doctors tend to agree that exercise is one of the best forms of medicine out there: A boost of endorphins leaves us a calm kind of energized, a "runner's high" boosts our moods, and a habit of movement can keep debilitating diseases like depression and anxiety at bay. But sometimes, we simply don't have time to sweat. Fortunately, there are other great stress busters for fighting everyday stressors—and can also help us stay even-keeled no matter what life throws at us. Start with these 10 stay-calm techniques. And for more great advice for keeping your cool, here are The 10 Best Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure. 

Meditate, Meditate, Meditate

Meditation, one of the best stress busters.

Why It's Effective: How many times do you have to learn about the merits of meditation? Chilling out has a direct impact on stress. Research out of Georgetown University Medical Center finds that after an eight-week course in mindful meditation, people with anxiety disorders lowered inflammatory markers and stress hormones in their blood by 15 percent.

How to Do It Right: You don't need to be solo in a studio with your legs crossed to meditate (though that certainly works). Meditation is about being present, focusing on your breath, and calming the mind by allowing thoughts to pass without judgement. Can't do that on your own? No biggie. Download an app like Calm or Headspace, which will walk you through guided stress busters, work to improve you breathing and, in turn, bring your cortisol levels back to normal. Meditation is also a great way to be happier now.

Sit Up Straight

Good posture, one of the best stress busters.

Why It's Effective: Research published in the journal Health Psychology finds that—compared to a hunched over position—sitting upright in the face of stress can boost self-esteem, fending off further angst. The idea boils down to something called embodied cognition, an idea that our bodies impact our emotions (and vice versa). And it could be that simply feeling taller boosts confidence, shooing stress away, researchers say.

How to Do It Right: Plant both feet on the ground, look straight ahead, straighten your back while sitting tall, and feel your shoulder blades pull back and down. Now, for more ways to deal with stress at the office, here are ten workplace stress-busters.

Breathe the Right Way

Woman Doing Breathing exercises, great stress busters.

Why It's Effective: There's a reason docs sometimes prescribe breathing exercises to people struggling with truly stressful times. Deep breathing—which encourages the full exchange of oxygen in the body—activates your body's calming parasympathetic response, lowering levels of inflammatory compounds linked to stress.

How to Do It Right: Most of us breathe all wrong. Take a deep breath. If your shoulders rise on your inhale, it's time to reassess. Try again. This time, on the inhale, push your belly out. When you exhale, contract in. Your belly should rise when you breathe in and shrink when you breathe out. Take a few deep breaths with a hand on your stomach to make sure you're doing it right. And we have more ways to avoid getting stressed out here.

Seek Out Nature (and Sunshine)

Man outside in nature, one of the surefire stress busters.

Why It's Effective: A 90-minute walk in the park can calm the mind, lowering activity in a brain region linked to depression, finds Stanford University research. It's not just the walking either: People strolling urban settings filled with traffic instead of trees didn't reap the benefits. Our bodies were designed to be in and near green spaces, forests, or the ocean, researchers say. Thus, studies confirm that these spaces are inherently relaxing.

How to Do It Right: Take your lunch break to the park near your office. Walk that tree-lined street in your neighborhood. Take your evening run off of busy main roads. Can't get outside? Some research suggests that even looking at photos of nature can calm stressed minds (hello, new desktop background). Now, if you're really ambitious about exploring nature, check out these amazing hikes!

Say Thank You

Man saying Thank You, one of the surprising stress busters.

Why It's Effective: Scientists are no strangers to the powers of gratitude. In fact, gratitude is linked to 23 percent lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Even more: A study out of the University of California San Diego's School of Medicine found that grateful folks were happier, slept better, had more energy, and had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers—some of which correlated with heart health.

How to Do It Right: Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of every day, write down three things you're thankful for. Some research finds that reflecting on the good at day's end can work to improve health (and sink stress). Next, check out one of the best tricks for beating stress at work.

Sleep It Off

Sleep, one of the best stress busters.

Why It's Effective: While you snooze, your brain processes all of the emotions and happenings from the day—helping your mind remain even-keeled and keeping stress levels from boiling up. That's why a lack of shuteye can impair your ability to control your emotions, including anxiety and stress.

How to Do It Right: Simply can't log your eight to nine hours in the sack? A nap can help. A study from the Endocrine Society found that just 30-minutes of shuteye can be one of the best stress busters for reversing the damage of a terrible night's rest. You should also check out these tips for how to have your best sleep ever.

Phone a Friend

Bromance friendship, one of the best stress busters.

Why It's Effective: The healthiest (and calmest) among us tend to have something in common: a huge social life. Because friends and family can help us talk through and manage life's stressors, a strong support system is often linked with being more resilient in the face of stress itself.

How to Do It Right: Focus on quality rather than quantity. One study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that simply being around one close friend can decrease cortisol levels, making it one of the more effective stress busters. That could be one of the reasons married people tend to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Not sure you have a friend you can call in tough times? Then check out our advice on how to build a strong bromance.

Stop the Snowball Effect

Man stressed at work, in dire need of one of the best stress busters.

Why It's Effective: Dwelling—or ruminating over things that have happened or things that may happen—is dangerous. Research published in the journal PLOS One finds that brooding over negative events is the No. 1 biggest predictor of issues like depression and anxiety and plays a huge role in how much stress you experience.

How to Do It Right: Instead of stewing over all of the ways life could go wrong, ask yourself: Is there anything in my control that I can change about this situation? If there are things you can change, change them; otherwise try to accept the present scenario without projecting into the future—a habit that can further a spiral of negativity.

Have Sex

Couple having sex, one of the best stress busters.

Why It's Effective: Sex often comes with a chemical cocktail of hormones like 'feel good' oxytocin as well as a release of endorphins. When running through the bloodstream these molecules can help us chill out.

How to Do It Right: Research has shown that having sex with someone else is often linked to a drop in stress levels, when masturbation is not. One study in particular found that intercourse lowered systolic blood pressure. How's that for a prescription? But if you need help spicing up your sex life, we've got you covered.

Eat Your Greens

Kale, one of the best stress busters.

Why It's Effective: Comfort foods aren't so comforting. It's the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in healthy eats that lower your stress levels. Take a study from the University of Otago—it found that students who ate more fruits and vegetables also tended to feel calmer and happier.

How to Do It Right: For the most bang for your (buck)mood, aim for a variety of different colored products—so that you're getting a mixture of different nutrients. Think: a smoothie with kale or spinach, blueberries, raspberries, and bananas. And for more amazing ways to de-stress and boost your metabolism, order a copy of The Super Metabolism Diet: The Two-Week Plan to Ignite Your Fat-Burning Furnace and Stay Lean for Life today!

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David Zinczenko
Dave is a globally recognized expert in health, fitness, nutrition, and weight loss and is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 25 books in 15 languages. Read more