Stress Doesn’t Have to Rule Your Life

In a hyper-connected world, where you’re always trying to fit in one more thing, slowing down and relaxing can seem like the one thing your smartphone can’t do for you. But it’s important to remember to take some calming “me time” every day.

How come? Anxiety fires up your sympathetic nervous system, speeding your breathing and heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, tensing your muscles, and pumping stress hormones into your blood stream. Your brain is sharp and laser-focused. For better or worse, you’re ready for action.

At times, this fight-or-flight response is healthy and necessary—for instance, it helps you kick butt on that work presentation, catch the bus that’s about to pull away, or yank a small child out of harm’s way just in time. However, when anxiety becomes chronic, it may lower your immunity, potentially lead to heart disease, and even cause everyday ailments like headaches, back pain, stomach problems, and poor sleep. Fight back against stress with these five proven tension-tamers.

1. Take Five. Meditation is a powerful, natural way to reduce stress. If you’ve never tried it, it can seem intimidating—or even a little hokey. It’s actually very easy, though, and it takes only a few minutes to help yourself chill out. Set a timer for five minutes in a quiet space, close your eyes, sit still, and simply take slow, deep breaths. To avoid letting it turn into five minutes of ruminating about your stress, focus on your breath. For example, try breathing in for four counts, holding your breath for seven counts, and then breathing out for eight counts.

2. Try a Mind-body Workout. For the most goal-oriented, sitting still can be pure torture. But a mind-body workout, like yoga, combines the relaxation benefits of meditation with crossing a workout off your to-do list. Not bad!

3. Have a Good Laugh. Laughing triggers your stress response, and then simmers it down, leaving you relaxed and feeling good. Hang out with a friend who has a knack for telling funny stories, watch your favorite comedic movie or stand-up routine, or even watch a short, funny video online.

4. Erase Optional Stressors. Some experiences that cause anxiety can’t be avoided. For instance, if you don’t get along swimmingly with your boss or if you’re struggling to deal with a medical condition, there isn’t too much you can do about that. Some stress, on the other hand, is purely optional. So identify things that rile you up that you can nix. Does Facebook—or even a certain “friend”— always spike your blood pressure? Ban yourself from logging in, or at least un-follow friends whose political rants always make your shoulders get tense. Say no to coffee with that toxic frenemy. Don’t watch the evening news. You get the idea!

5. Wind Down Before Bed. Set aside anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime to allow your brain to gradually wind down. Put away work, shut down your phone, and, finally, turn off the TV. Giving your brain time to calm down will make the transition to dreamland more seamless, and may help you get more rejuvenation from your zzz’s.