Are you looking for stress management techniques that get results?
If so, you’re going to LOVE this infographic I’ve made for you. That’s because it highlights 21 relaxation techniques that have been put to the test by academic researchers – and found to actually work.
Of course, you’ll need to try them for yourself to see if they bring your stress levels down. But armed with this list, you’ve got a menu of practical strategies you can road-test today.
Here’s my take on the relaxation techniques in the infographic…
1. Get enough sleep
When it comes to stress relief, there are zillions of studies showing how important sleep is.
But how do you get a better night’s sleep?
You might find these tricks of mine helpful…
- Not consuming caffeine after about 12pm. The idea here is that caffeine can stay in your system many hours after your last sip. By avoiding it after about midday, you stop it from trashing your sleep.
- Avoid screens in the half hour before going to sleep. The blue light emitted by your smart phone, tablet, PC and TV is thought to stop you from getting the quality of sleep your body needs. That’s because the blue light messes with your melatonin levels – which are vital to sleeping properly.
- Minimise exposure to bright lights before bedtime as they also reduce your melatonin levels. Before I get into bed, I turn off the main lights around the house so leaving only calm, low level lighting (e.g. bedside lamps) on.
- Having an Epsom salt bath before bed. If you’ve had one of these before, you’ll know how relaxing they are – a great way to unwind before hitting the hay.
- Creating ‘white noise’ to block out noises that interrupt sleep. I live under the Heathrow flightpath. That means low-flying planes every 60-90 seconds starting at about 6AM. On top of that, there are an array of noises that penetrate our home. Like babies crying next door, foxes fighting in our garden, sirens from ambulances and police cars, etc. To hide these noises, I turn on a bedroom fan – even when it’s not hot. The constant sound created by the fan blocks out all those other sounds. The result? A wonderful, uninterrupted sleep.
- While in bed, don’t read stuff that stimulates your brain. After all, you’re trying to wind down. Which means that catching up on the day’s news is a bad idea. Go for something light instead.
- Force yourself to recall all the things that are going well in your life. It’s so easy – especially before bed – to dwell on your problems. But the truth is that there are lots of things going right in your life, too. Spending a moment thinking about these – even the small things that are going well – is a great way of feeling good about your life – and that really helps you get a good night’s rest.
- Get to sleep by 11PM. I don’t always succeed with this one – but I know that the earlier you get to bed, the more sleep you get – and the better you feel.
- Don’t get angry about having a bad night’s sleep – it’s gonna happen from time to time. Just focus on slowly becoming more expert at how to sleep well.
2. Stop watching the news
As an ex-journalist (BBC and ABC), I can tell you that the news is DELIBERATELY packed with bad news. For example, terrorism, political battles and disasters.
Because stories involving conflict draw a bigger audience than stories that have no conflict.
Why do media businesses want a bigger audience?
Because the bigger your audience, the more you can charge advertisers. Or the more people you can get to pay you a subscription.
Even not-for-profit organisations like the BBC need to emphasis conflict to get more people consuming their content.
That’s because their audience size is the main factor that funding bodies (e.g. government) look at when deciding how much money to doll out in the next funding round.
Unfortunately, consuming an endless diet of bad news tends to make us anxious.
In the process, it’s easy to forget that the world is actually a much happier and safer place than the general news media imply.
Don’t believe me?
For proof, take a look around you. Are the places you hang out as scary as the news suggests?
To avoid the stress that all this fear-inducing news can provoke, I suggest you avoid general news altogether. By that I mean the stuff that gets tossed around on social media, the TV, newspaper websites, etc.
Of course, ditching general news doesn’t mean you have to cut out all news.
Personally, I still consume lots of specialist news. In my case, the Financial Times and The Economist – along with loads of specialist blogs focused on the stuff that interests me.
Specialist news media make their money (for which they charge a premium) by trying to portray the world as it really is – rather than by creating unrealistic horror shows.
3. Minimise your caffeine intake
If you’re like me, you probably LOVE coffee. After all, it’s a great way to boost your mental energy. And get a nice shot of optimism.
The flipside, of course, is that it can make you feel anxious.
That’s why, as I mentioned above, I suggest you consider avoiding it after 12pm (along with other caffeinated products like sports drinks).
4. Watch your booze consumption
I love a drink. But as the research shows, once you start drinking more than you should, you can start feeling anxious.
But it’s not just the direct effects of the alcohol that can make you feel anxious. The side effects can also lead to you feeling more stressed.
For example, drinking can stop you getting enough quality sleep. And that lack of sleep can leave you feeling more on edge.
5. Avoid nicotine
I speak from experience here: cigarettes are a stimulant – a surprisingly powerful one.
If you smoke, the stimulation is no doubt one of the key reasons you keep puffing away.
Unfortunately, you probably don’t realize how stress-provoking cigarettes are.
For a start, nicotine undermines your quality of sleep – just like all stimulants. That’s a key reason why you wake up in the morning feeling tired – and in need of a cigarette to get you going.
Meanwhile, just like drinking loads of coffee, cigarettes make you more on edge.
That’s the flip-side of the extra mental energy they give you.
6. Avoid unhappy people
Your quality of life is largely shaped by the people you hang out with.
If you spend time with people who’re basically happy and fulfilled, it’s likely you’ll feel the same.
But if your circle of friends and family is made up of people who’s lives are filled with drama and unhappiness, that’s going to rub off on you, too.
And when it does, you’re going to feel more stressed. The solution?
End your relationships with people who zap your sense of well-being. But how?
By quietly drifting away.
Focus your energy, instead, on people who’re balanced and content. And who lift you up rather than drag you down.
7. Remind yourself of what’s going well in your life
As you know, our minds tend to zero-in on life’s problems – and how to solve them.
There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, problem-solving is essential to staying alive.
But how often do you step back from the day-to-day and think about what’s going well?
If you did, you’d find that there’s actually a lot to be thankful for.
For example, the fact that you’re reading this on the internet suggests you have enough money to own a computer or mobile device. Most people in our world don’t have that sort of cash.
When you start to add all these positive things up, you’ll quickly see that compared to most people who have ever lived, your life is pretty good.
Simply being aware of the good stuff in your life is a powerful way of reducing your stress levels.
To get the most out of this stress-busting technique, I suggest you spend 30 seconds before going to sleep – and again when you wake up – reminding yourself of what’s good about your life (I know it sounds corny – but it works).
If you’re like me, anything that sounds a bit woo woo makes your skin crawl.
But it turns out that clinical trials have shown that certain forms of meditation can cut your stress and anxiety levels.
Step forward Harvard University researcher, Dr Sara Lazar. She’s done MRI scans of the brains of people who meditate.
And what she’s discovered is fascinating. It turns out that if you meditate, the section of your brain that regulates your stress levels (known as the amygdala) typically gets smaller.
What does that mean?
It means you feel less stressed.
If you want to learn more about Dr Lazar’s research findings, check out my interview with her.
Meanwhile, you can learn more about the mechanics of meditation as a stress-busting tool in a book by a group of healthcare researchers at Oxford University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School (Note: I’m not paid an affiliate fee if you buy it).
9. Slow your breathing
Learning how to breath normally is vital – especially if you suffer panic attacks.
That’s because different ways of breathing result in different ratios of oxygen to carbon dioxide in your blood.
If you take breaths that are fast and shallow, it’s likely that you’ll have too much oxygen in your blood relative to carbon dioxide. The result?
You end up feeling light headed and panicky.
In turn, that sense of unreality can give rise to more feelings of panic.
By breathing slower – and deeper – you can calm yourself down in seconds.
10. Be present in the moment
If you’re like me, you probably spend a load of time worrying about stuff in the future. Or agonising over things in the past.
In other words, you stress about things over which you have little or no control.
To ease that stress, you want to live in the present.
The right-here-right-now present.
That doesn’t mean giving no thought to the future (after all, you need to plan for the future to achieve the outcomes you want in life).
But it does mean trying not to spend the bulk of your life living in the future (or the past).
If you can achieve that, you’ll find your stress levels ease.
11. Challenge the validity of your stress-inducing thoughts
Just because you have a specific thought about something doesn’t make that thought true.
For example, just because your friend hasn’t returned your call yet doesn’t validate your thought that maybe they don’t like you.
Maybe they just haven’t had a spare moment.
Or they’ve lost their phone and haven’t even heard the voicemail you left them.
All this sounds obvious. But it’s easy to allow invalid yet stress-inducing thoughts to feel real if you don’t question them.
Challenging the accuracy of your negative thoughts in this way is the idea behind Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
12. Listen to music you find relaxing
As you know, music has a profound – and immediate – impact on your mood.
That’s why it’s such an important ingredient in movies, TV shows, etc.
If you don’t already, I suggest you test listening to different kinds of music to see what helps melt your stress away.
13. Relax your muscles
When you’re feeling stressed, your muscles naturally tense up. Relaxing them deliberately – and regularly – is a great way of feeling calmer in seconds.
The best known technique for this is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
To learn how to do this, search YouTube for a guided PMR session.
Alternatively, download a guided PMR session onto your phone. Personally, I’m a fan of this one (Note: I’m not paid an affiliate fee if you purchase it).
14. Exercise aerobically
Aerobic exercise is anything that gets your heart pumping. Think walking, cycling, running, swimming and dancing.
Besides reducing stress and anxiety, aerobic exercise also makes you feel more optimistic and energised.
For a start, it eases your levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
At the same time, exercise boosts your production of endorphins. These are your natural mood boosters (and the things that create the so-called ‘runner’s high’).
You can learn more about how exercise beats stress by watching a YouTube video featuring Dr Michael Otto of Boston University.
15. Unwind with yoga
Yoga’s ability to kick stress in the butt is getting a lot of press right now. Regulars say the best way to get started is to find a yoga center that offers a course for beginners.
For an explanation of yoga basics, check out this YouTube video.
16. Enjoy a massage
If you’ve never had a massage before, you might associate them more with the worlds of beauty or elite sport than with mental health.
But a serious massage can make a real dent in your stress levels. In fact, after a good massage, it’s likely that you’ll feel amazingly light-headed and sleepy (that’s my experience anyway).
Needless to say, the trick to getting a quality massage is to find a good massage therapist. But how?
I suggest you find someone who’s a qualified massage therapist and is registered with whatever body governs massage therapists in your part of the world.
17. Give more hugs
You get the general idea – not much more to say, really.
18. Develop your positive emotions
Do you find yourself dwelling on the negative things in life? If so, it’s boosting your stress levels.
As the research shows, you need to force your mind to think about the positives in a given situation.
Many of the ideas listed above will help you on your way.
19. Have a laugh
You know from your own experience that laughing is a great way of throwing off stress – and feeling better about life.
Luckily, laughter is now on tap thanks to YouTube.
So if you feel like a quick boost of optimism, invest a few minutes watching comedy routines of your favourite comedians.
This may sound like a frivolous waste of time. But it can actually be an excellent investment if it improves your well-being – even momentarily.
20. Use the Emotional Freedom Technique
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is an unusual concept that involves tapping different areas of your body.
It’s not one I’ve tried myself – but you might find it useful as a way of getting stress relief.
Although it’s a relatively new concept, EFT is derived from therapies like acupuncture and acupressure.
You can learn more about it here.
21. Have sex
Not much I can add here 🙂
Now that you’ve read this article, I want you to do TWO things:
#1. I want you to leave me a comment telling me if you’ve tried any of these stress-busting techniques (or any other techniques not listed here). Let me know whether or not they worked for you.
#2. Do you have a friend who would like to feel less stressed? Send them a link to this page – they’ll be glad you did. While you’re at it, show me you found this info useful by sharing it via Facebook, Twitter, etc – simply click one of the ‘Shares’ icons on this page.