By Rachel Gore

Stress is a normal part of everyone’s lives, but too much of it can wreak havoc on your well-being. Fortunately, there is ample research on the topic of stress and effective ways to decrease it. If you find yourself feeling stressed out now or in the future, try one of these methods to feel better: 

Engage in exercise. 

You may not be in the mood to exercise when you’re feeling stressed out, but it’s a tried-and-true way to feel better. Exercise both reduces stress hormones and stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins. This benefit is extra strong in those that exercise regularly, but even a single 20-to-30-minute walk can have a calming effect on an overwhelming day. 

Explore the outdoors. 

Spending some time in nature is another way to reduce stress. According to research, spending 20 minutes connecting with nature outdoors can lead to a reduction in stress hormone levels. The caveat is that the study did not allow participants to use stimuli such as social media, phones or reading. Give yourself some time to unplug and unwind while walking in your neighborhood, a nearby park or a local hiking trail. 

Give somebody a hug.

Hugging sends a slew of signals to the brain. This includes the hormone oxytocin, which slows down the heart rate and reduces anxiety and stress levels. Oxytocin also has the power to make you less reactive to stress and build emotional resilience on tough days that can’t be avoided. 

Take some deep breaths.

Deep breathing is a great way to lower stress at any given moment. Taking slow, deep breaths can decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, which tend to rise when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Deep breathing soothes your heart-pounding nerves by sending your brain the signal that it’s okay to relax. 

Spend time with an animal. 

The fact that animals can reduce stress will come as no surprise to pet owners. In 2019, Washington State University researchers found that petting a dog or cat for just 10 minutes can relieve stress. Scientists measured the saliva of study participants before and after petting animals and found that afterward, they had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Take a nap. 

Naps do more than ward away daytime sleepiness. They are also effective in regulating mood, reducing anxiety and depression and inducing relaxation. This is even more true if you have not been getting enough sleep recently. According to Psychology Today, naps both reduce stress and strengthen the immune systems of those who are sleep-deprived. Naps can also help regulate blood pressure, which increases stress.  

Watch your favorite TV show.

Despite what your parents may have told you as a child, television really can be good for you. However, that depends on what you’re watching. Rewatching familiar favorites where you know the plot and characters can help you relax and recharge–AKA your comfort shows. A Nielsen study on the effects of the pandemic found that more than half of consumers (54%) recently rewatched episodes from a former favorite TV show. At the same time, watching the news, action movies or psychological thrillers can have the opposite effect and spike stress hormones. When in doubt, throw on an oldie but goodie.

Listen to soothing music. 

Music can have an enormous impact on human emotion. Touching or sad music can bring tears to people’s eyes, faster music can be energizing and slower tempos can quiet the mind, and help you relax and focus. Like other stress-reducing methods, listening to music has been found to lower cortisol levels, reduce heart rate and blood pressure.