Are you feeling stressed? Confronted with looming deadlines, high expectations and heavy workload? Is the quality of your life suffering from the fact that you are under a lot of pressure? It seems as if stress is an unavoidable part of regular life. In all walks of life, people are regularly confronted with high levels of stress. It’s a pressure that slowly starts to wear us out. Sometimes it even feels as if there’s nothing you can do to reduce stress. You’re burdened with responsibilities and the tasks you need to get done are continuously getting more demanding. Perhaps you’re feeling entirely helpless when it comes to stress. The good thing is that there’s a lot more you can do about stress than you think. You can take a wide variety of different steps to better cope with stress. These highly effective techniques enable you to relieve the pressure that weighs on your shoulders. Here are 17 scientifically-proven and highly powerful ways to overcome stress.
The way you deal with stress can make all the difference. It is the difference between those who are exceptionally successful and those who are average. The question therefore doesn’t revolve so much around whether or not you are confronted with stress, but how you cope with it.
“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
We feel stressed when the different responsibilities placed on us exceed our ability to deal with it effectively. In general, stress is the body’s response to a potential danger. By means of this physical response, a variety of hormones and chemicals are released. This helps us to quickly respond to the dangerous situation. In modern day life, however, the ‘fight or flight’ response that is triggered by stress hormones can become a great hindrance. This is especially true when we are regularly confronted with prolonged periods of stress. Instead of making us alert to potential dangers for a short period of time, stress has become something we experience during the whole day. Under these circumstances, the physical response of stress that was once inevitable for our survival becomes harmful to our health.
Chronic stress can have severe health consequences. The negative side effects of stress can range from high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, insomnia and increased levels of anxiety. It is also known that stress contributes to a wide range of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and depression.
By learning healthy techniques to cope with stress, the negative side effects of stress can be greatly reduced. Here are 17 scientifically-proven ways to overcome stress.
The 17 Most Powerful Ways to Overcome Stress
1. Meditation / mindfulness
One of the most effective techniques to significantly reduce stress is meditation. If practiced diligently, it can greatly aid you in overcoming the pressure stress puts on you. Therefore, in a list about the most powerful ways to overcome stress, meditation must not be missed.
Naturally, stress cannot be avoided. But the intention of meditation is not to eliminate stress from your life altogether. Instead, it is a practical tool you can use to keep stress at a healthy level.
The great impact meditation can have on overcoming stress has been highlighted by countless scientific studies. In 2015, a systematic meta-analysis that included the cases of 8,683 participants highlighted evidence in support of the use of mindfulness-based therapies to alleviate mental and physical disorders. Further research conducted by scientists at the John Hopkins University found that mindfulness meditation can reduce multiple dimensions of psychological stress. The study reviewed the cases of 3,515 patients and also found evidence that mindfulness meditation programs improve anxiety. Another meta-analysis reviewed 29 studies with a total of 2,668 participants. The findings suggested that mindfulness meditation can have large effects on stress and moderate effects on overall quality of life. The scientists concluded that meditation can be used to you effectively reduce stress. These findings were supported by another study conducted in 2014. The study highlighted that mindfulness meditation can affect positive changes in psychological well-being. Even further, the authors concluded that mindfulness-based stress reduction appears to be a promising technique for stress management.
Most people assume that meditation is nothing more than a relaxation technique. Yet, it greatly differs from simply sitting around. What most people do not consider is that meditation is a concentration technique that promotes mindfulness. This kind of mindfulness, promoted by meditation, can help you to better recognize the unbeneficial patterns that lead to unhealthy responses to stress. Therefore, it can have a far greater impact on the mind and more profound results than sleeping or sitting around.
Beginners to meditation that want to reduce stress can explore an excellent program called “Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction” that was developed by Professor Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s. The program was specifically developed to utilize mindfulness meditation to overcome stress.
Physical activity can play an important role in greatly reducing the effects of stress. Exercise is widely known for its stress-relieving benefits. It releases endorphins that make you feel good and provides a welcome distraction from your daily worries. Regular exercise can also help you to let off steam whenever you’re feeling angry or frustrated. Therefore, physical activity is an integral part of stress management.
You don’t even have to exercise excessively to experience the stress-relieving benefits. It’s also not necessary to spend countless hours in the gym. Virtually any form of physical activity is just fine! You don’t have to be an athlete or extremely good in shape. 10 minutes of activity are enough to help you experience the stress-relieving benefits of exercise. However, if you want to reap the maximum benefits of exercise, 30 minutes of activity are suggested.
Scientific research has shown that physical exercise can protect individuals from stress-induced depression. Physical activity also reorganizes the brain and in doing so makes it more resilient to stress. These are only a few examples that highlight the deep connection between exercise and stress relief. For this reason, physical activity should definitely be an integral part of your stress management plan.
3. Healthy diet
What you eat can greatly influence the way you feel. Your diet can boost energy levels, but it can also drain you. Even more so, what you eat can have a great impact on your ability to cope with stress. Food is the fuel that your body needs to function properly and to balance the effects of stress. An individual who is able to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet is better able to deal with stress than someone with a poor diet. In order to effectively tackle stress, a healthy diet is therefore mandatory. It keeps your body healthy, strong and properly nurtured, which is essential when confronted with stress.
A healthy diet can reduce stress in several ways. Some foods, like complex carbs, calm the brain by releasing various chemicals, such as serotonin. Other foods, such as oranges and fatty fish, have been shown to effectively reduce stress hormones.
In 2005, researchers proposed that the connection between stress and chronic conditions could be modified by means of nutrition. Further research highlighted that drinking water can help to relieve stress. It has also been shown by various studies that alcohol stimulates the production of stress hormones and thereby increases the body’s stress response. These examples show the great importance of nutrition and how closely stress and diet are interrelated.
Eat yourself calm by having well-balanced meals:
- Make sure not to skip meals.
- Limit caffeine
- Avoid soft drinks
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes
- Limit sugar intake, especially refined sugar
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Eat healthy snacks throughout the day
- Eat more complex carbohydrates
When it comes to relieving stress, yoga can be a highly effective tool. The practice of yoga does not only relieve stress effectively, but it also releases tension.
By combining physical stretches, controlled breathing and muscle strengthening, yoga combines essential techniques to calm the mind and body. It’s a mind-body practice that is not only perfectly suited for stress management, but also very effective at it.
Scientific research has even shown that yoga increases the practitioner’s resilience to stressful conditions. Another study found that yoga could effectively reduce stress and anxiety. The scientists concluded from the findings that practicing yoga accomplished more effective results than simply relaxing.
Stress and sleep are closely interrelated. On the one hand, getting enough sleep helps your body to regenerate. In turn, this contributes to a reduction of your stress levels and makes you feel more relaxed. On the other hand, if you’re not able to get enough sleep or don’t sleep well enough, you’ll be more likely to feel stressed. The latter was highlighted by a study in which the respondents reported increases in stress when the length of their sleep was decreased.
In order to effectively reduce stress, it’s important to get enough sleep. Give your body the necessary amount of sleep it needs. You will see how great an impact sleep can have on your overall well-being. Sleep is specifically important to reduce stress. Getting enough sleep helps the body regenerate and fuels your mind with energy.
The importance of getting enough sleep to reduce stress is highlighted by various studies. For instance, research published in the Sleep Medicine Reviews magazine suggested that insufficient sleep makes individuals prone to stress-related disorders.
6. Progressive muscle relaxation
The deep relaxation technique known as ‘progressive muscle relaxation’ provides an easy but powerful approach to relieve stress. The practice of progressive muscle relaxation consists of tensioning (or tightening) one specific muscle group at a time. The tensioning phase is followed by muscle relaxation. The procedure of tensioning and relaxing a muscle is repeated, until all the major muscle groups have been addressed.
The idea behind progressive muscle relaxation is to establish mental calmness by means of achieving physical relaxation. It is an excellent tool you can use to quickly reduce the pressure caused by stress. You will notice that after having tensioned and relaxed all the muscles in your body, the feeling of relaxation will spread from your body to your mind.
Practicing progressive muscle relaxation can greatly help you to relax and reduce stress levels. This was shown by scientific research that found evidence for reduced stress levels after the practice of progressive muscle relaxation. Further evidence to the effectiveness of this technique was provided by a study conducted in 2006. The research findings showed that participants who practiced progressive muscle relaxation showed higher decreases in stress levels than the control group.
7. Social engagement
Reaching out to a kind and understanding person is one of the easiest and quickest solutions to overcome stress. There could be nothing more soothing than talking to a friend when you’re overwhelmed with stress. Talking to another person you trust can help you to quickly calm down. It also prevents you from overreacting to perceived threats.
Social interaction provides a great means against the often irrational ‘fight or flight’ responses stress creates. Especially when you’re around a good friend, the feeling of being safe will release stress-reducing hormones. The purpose behind this kind of social engagement lies not so much in actually finding a solution to the problem. If there’s someone that can help you to find possible ways to address the issue, that’s great. But the main purpose behind engaging socially is to simply help you to reduce stress. Therefore, the people you engage with don’t have to be in a position to fix your problems. All they have to do is to be good listeners.
Research on the positive impact of social engagement on stress is very limited. One study, for instance, showed that the presence of friends could act as moderators of stress. Further research highlighted that high levels of social engagement are correlated to higher levels of well-being.
8. Time management
There are two major reasons why stress occurs. First, we are confronted with too many or incredibly challenging tasks. Second, we don’t have enough time to address all our responsibilities. These two factors are of course closely connected with each other. But they show how great a lack of time can contribute to the feeling of being stressed.
A lack of time contributes greatly to an increase of stress levels. Our ‘to-do’ lists explode, while the available time remains the same. We may not always be able to reduce the tasks we are confronted with. What we can do, however, is to properly manage the time we have available.
Scientific research has clearly indicated that there is a close link between proper time management and reduced stress levels. One study, for instance, highlighted that the buffering effect of time management behaviors on perceived stress was greater than leisure satisfaction activities. Further research among 525 employees indicated that time management behaviors could reduce the impact of stressors.
Proper time management includes:
- Keeping ‘to-do’ lists
- Radically prioritizing your tasks
- Setting goals for the day/week
- Delegating tasks and responsibilities
- Overcoming procrastination
- Eliminating distractions
- Applying the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle)
- Breaking down tasks
- Setting rewards for the accomplishment of tasks
- Reducing time-wasting activities
- Using a time log
For more information on time management see: Time Management Strategies
9. Establish routines / focus decision-making energy
When it comes to the major causes of stress, almost everyone mentions heavy workload, tight deadlines, relationship problems and family issues. Almost no one, however, considers the impact of unstructured behavior in the workplace and life in general. Not following routines comes at a high price: You largely increase the amount of decisions you have to meet. And in doing so, you run risk of wasting time and energy over mundane problems. Consequently, you have less energy to spend on the major issues and challenges, which in turn causes stress.
When asked why he’s always wearing the same T-shirt, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, responded:
“I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. […] and I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life, so that way I can dedicate all of my energy towards just building the best products and services.”
Barrack Obama spoke about something similar when he said:
“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
Every decision you meet takes a small toll on your decision-making energy. Research has shown that having to make too many choices impairs self-control. The scientists found that the decision making process draws on the same energy reservoirs used for self-control. It was therefore highlighted that meeting decisions reduces physical stamina, persistence and contributed to increased procrastination.
As a result of all of this, every decision you meet reduces a tiny bit of your decision-making energy. Making a choice induces a state of mental tension, which can become stressful. The solution lies in a reduction of the number of (unimportant) decisions you meet. This can be done by following routines. Have routines for regularly upcoming tasks at work or your eating habits. Sticking to your routines can effectively help you to reduce stress.
10. Declutter your life / simplicity
Far too often, we take on responsibilities that we rather shouldn’t. We also spend valuable time chasing aims that are not truly our own. Even further, we waste precious time by engaging in entirely meaningless activities. These activities might be entertaining, but they don’t provide any true value. In short, our lives are filled with responsibilities, tasks and activities that are of no use. Pursuing these activities adds unnecessary stress.
Excessive clutter can wear you down and distract you from that which is really important. In many cases, it invites great chaos into your life. From complexity comes stress. It’s therefore all the more important to introduce simplicity in your life.
By addressing the clutter and getting rid of it, you can greatly reduce stress. It helps you to get better organized and be more productive. But most important of all: Decluttering helps you to focus on the really important aspects of your life.
11. Keep a stress diary
Keeping a stress diary can be especially helpful in identifying the causes of stress. After all, by developing an understanding about the factors that increase stress, you’ll be in a better position to reduce these factors. The problem, however, is that almost all of us let stress go unnoticed. We all experience it, but we seldom take the time to record it. That’s where the idea of a stress diary comes in handy. By recording the different types of stress you experience on a regular basis, you can find patterns and analyze the causes more closely.
A stress diary will help you to better understand why you’re feeling stressed and what you can do about it. Researchers have highlighted that keeping a stress diary can be a powerful self-reflective tool to foster self-assessment. It therefore can be a valuable technique to quickly learn how you can better cope with the different stressors you’re confronted with. Even more importantly, it helps you to reflect on the way you currently react to stress. This kind of insight helps you to develop better and healthier reactions to stress.
12. Learn to say ‘no’
Saying no is not easy. It makes us feel uncomfortable. Having to turn down a request can therefore be quite a struggle. But the reality is: It’s simply not possible to accept all requests you’re confronted with. Even more so, you cannot be everyone’s darling. Sooner or later you will have to disappoint people – or run danger of totally wearing out.
By having the courage to say ‘no’ you can greatly cut down on stress. Not every request is important. Some of these simply come from other people who are trying to delegate their own responsibilities. Being capable of saying ‘no’ to unimportant, irrelevant or time-wasting requests can therefore contribute greatly to a reduction of stress.
13. Cultivate self-compassion
While seemingly unrelated to stress, self-compassion turns out to be an effective strategy to reduce it. Self-compassion in this sense is understood as your willingness to accept failures, imperfections and mistakes. Through the act of being self-compassionate, you can avoid that shortcomings in your life wear you down for too long. So instead of being overly critical, self-compassion promotes kindness, understanding, mindfulness and optimism.
Self-compassion enables us to face difficulties with a totally different mindset. It helps us to understand that we’re imperfect and that failures do happen. And therein lies the great power of it. Self-compassion allows us to focus not on the issue (failures, mistakes, etc.), but on developing strategies to overcome these difficulties.
Individuals who are high in self-compassion engage less in avoidance when confronted with negative events, as research suggests. Research has also shown that self-kindness can contribute significantly to your well-being. A further study highlighted the great impact of self-compassion on psychological health. The research showed that the cultivation of self-compassion has a significant effect on your happiness, optimism and curiosity. Therefore, being self-compassionate when you’re confronted with difficulties can greatly help to reduce your stress levels.
14. Do more of what you love
Doing things you’re not excited or passionate about can sooner or later contribute to the feeling of being stressed. If you have to pursue another person’s dreams or aims, you’ll run out of motivation quickly. At the same time, the pursuit of your own vision will give you a sense of fulfillment. Even more so, going the extra mile is not at all stressful, if you’re truly passionate about what you do. Doing what you truly love can ignite a powerful and stress-reducing fire within you.
As you can see, we tend to perceive stress differently depending on what we do. If you’re able to include more of the activities you love in your life, you can significantly reduce stress. As a positive side effect, spending more time doing what you love will make you feel better and helps you to relax. Even better, scientific research highlighted that you can replenish energy resources by engaging in an interesting task. Paradoxically, interesting tasks replenish your energy, even if they are complex and require a lot of effort.
It might not be possible for you to pursue that which you love for a living. The stress-reducing benefits, however, can also be gained by finding hobbies or leisure activities that enrich your life. Find something that is meaningful to you and gives you a sense of fulfillment to better cope with stress.
15. Keep the ‘Big Picture’ in mind
Stress can also be a sign that we are unable to see the ‘Big Picture’ of things. Due to the fast pace of our lives, our attention mainly lies at the specific task or activity at hand. As a result, our focus is heavily narrowed down. We are heavily involved with a particular task, but we’ve entirely lost track of its importance and priority. Consequently, we’re trapped in a box, unable to see outside this box.
Our inability to see the bigger picture can manifest a variety of different problems. In many cases, it prevents us from getting our priorities straight. This means that we attribute too much importance to things that are not at all important. In doing so, we become overtly stressed over irrelevant things.
We’ve all experienced colleagues or friends who got obsessed about things that were not at all important. The ability to identify the same kind of irrational behavior within ourselves, however, can be quite difficult. We must not forget that we can also fall prey to this kind of misperception. It is therefore highly important to keep the ‘Big Picture’ in mind. Only by continuously evaluating the outcome of our tasks, we can properly evaluate their importance and in doing so, reduce stress.
Another aspect of keeping the ‘Big Picture’ in mind is that it helps us to remain motivated and energized. Especially when you’re confronted with difficulties, it’s all the more important to remember the higher purpose of your task. Going the extra mile might not be pleasurable. But if you do know exactly what you are doing it for, it’ll be less stressful. Research on the subject also highlighted that we are also more likely to procrastinate a task, if the objective is not concrete but highly abstract.
16. If-then plans
In general, if-then plans are considered highly effective tools to change unbeneficial habits. These plans can give you a concrete strategy on how to behave in certain situations. When it comes to dealing with stress, these if-then plans can be very helpful.
One of the major reasons we struggle with stress is that we do not have proper strategies at hand on how to react. Instead, we respond intuitively to stressors. By having concrete if-then plans, we can adopt healthier responses to stress. These plans also enable us to self-regulate our emotional responses when confronted with challenging or stressful situations.
Developing if-then plans is not even difficult. All you need to do is to think about a stressful situation you’re regularly confronted with and a desired response. For example, “If my workload becomes unbearable, then I will strictly focus on the high-priority tasks.”
17. Take a break from the stressor
If anything else fails, take a break!
By taking a timeout you can decrease stress and recharge your batteries. It can help you to get a new perspective on things and reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed. Additionally, by regularly scheduling some time to recover, you can improve the quality of your work. Even a 15-minute ‘timeout’ can help you to calm down and decreases stress levels.
“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.”
I hope you enjoyed reading this article about the ways to overcome stress. How do you reduce the influence stress has on your life? We’re excited to hear from you in the comment section below.