We all know that stress is unhealthy. But in a fast-paced world, it’s hard to always keep your anxiety in check. Even the experts, like therapists and psychologists, are susceptible to packed schedules, work stress and family issues. Bottom line: we could all use some serious stress relief.
Find out eight ways the pros stay calm under pressure:
1. Trash the Multitasking Mentality
When you’re overwhelmed by the sheer number of things on your to-do list, rising anxiety levels can make it even more difficult to focus. The result: you become even less productive, and the stress and anxiety compounds, says Dr. Jeffrey Nevid, author of Psychology and the Challenges of Life.
At these times, Nevid reverts to thinking small. Ask yourself what the one thing you need to do right now is, he suggests. Not only will you be more productive when you focus on a single task, but it also gives you a sense of accomplishment, stress relief and helps you tackle the next job in an even better state of mind.
2. Seek Out a Funny Coworker
When Cherise White, a therapist at The Psych Group LLC, needs to lighten up her day, she shares a laugh with a colleague. “Research has shown that there are several physiological effects of laughter, including a reduction in stress hormones and an increase in dopamine and other brain chemicals involved in happiness,” White says.
And it doesn’t always have to be a joke, she says. “Just being honest and willing to laugh at ourselves provides some of the greatest moments throughout our workday,” she says.“It makes what we experience daily feel lighter and puts things in perspective.”
3. Find a Hobby
“I relax by riding my bike nearly every day around [the city] and by actively engaging in photography,” says Dr. psychotherapist Charles Strozier. Exercise is great stress relief, and taking photos is a wonderful tool to help you focus on the awesome stuff that’s right in front of you.
4. Appreciate the Little Things
Before heading to work at the Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treatment Center, clinical psychologist Dr. Chelsea Hersperger begins her day with a calming practice that reminds her to be grateful for the little joys in life.
“I’ll take a few moments to focus on the feel of my warm coffee cup in my hands and enjoy the aroma,” she says. “When I’m full of gratitude, it’s a lot harder to feel stressed or anxious.”
5. Find Inspiration In Songs
“When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my work, it’s often because I feel like I am only one person, and all of my effort seems like just a drop in a sea of hurt,” says Ashley Morse, a school psychology clinician at Penn State University.
When Morse is having an off day, she turns to song lyrics and poetry. Just thinking about an inspiring lyric can make a big difference in your day, she says. It can help you feel more positive and get immediate stress relief.
6. Plan a Holiday
“Spending a few days soaking in the sun or laughing while trying to learn to [bodyboard] obliterates my stress levels,” says Dr. Jacqueline K Gollan, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Asher Center for the Study & Treatment of Depressive Disorders.
Getting out of your daily routine helps you to focus on yourself for a moment. But that good feeling can start long before you ever step foot on the sand. The very act of planning your trip can send your stress levels packing.
“The anticipation of a vacation can be a form of escapism from chronic stress,” Gollan adds. A 2010 Dutch study focused on the effects of travel on happiness. Happiness tends to increase leading up to a vacation and quickly falls back to normal when you return. That’s why it’s important to start visualizing your trip long before you go.
Read travel stories, study the culture or stake out great restaurants. Another tip: planning several small getaways each year versus one large vacation will ensure that you always have something to look forward to. Still, you actually do need to take time to get away.
“The anticipation is a high, but the [holiday] itself is what matters most,” study author Dr. Jeroen Nawijn says.
7. Get Really Into Car Karaoke
“I worked as an in-home therapist for two years, which could be extremely stressful,” says licensed social worker Jessica Flanagan. She was often stuck in the middle of volatile family fights, or yelled at because her clients didn’t want the mandated therapy she was providing. Flanagan had to learn how to manage that stress.
“After leaving particularly tough sessions, I would often sing along to the radio at the top of my lungs,” she says. “It always made me feel better.” Which makes sense, considering research shows that singing can reduce stress and anxiety.
8. Breathe Deeply
You’ve heard it a million times, but it’s hard to deny the power of deep breathing. All the therapists above recommended taking a moment to focus on your breath when life gets stressful. After all, study after study has shown that mindful breathing techniques can soothe anxiety.
“Deep breathing brings my body down to a lesser level of physical stress,” says Stephen Hamel, a clinical psychologist at Psychological Counseling Associates. “My heart rate and muscle tension lowers, and I physically feel more in control.” A couple of deep breaths will also send a huge dose of oxygen to your blood, which amps up your energy and helps you focus.