Medically Approved

20 proven ways to fight stress

Woman stretching on floor with cat on lap

You don’t need an expensive vacation or spa day to put yourself at ease. Give these quick and simple research-backed ideas a try.

Lucy M. Clark

By Lucy M. Clark

Stress can be a good thing. When your car hits a patch of ice or you come face-to-face with a bear, you’re happy that your body sends out a quick hit of hormones to help you react swiftly.

But there are a lot of less life-threatening things that cause stress day in and day out, too (work deadlines, relationship troubles and paying the bills, to name a few). And that sustained pressure puts wear and tear on the body, according to the American Psychological Association. In fact, chronic stress has been linked to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and depression.

(On medication for a chronic condition? Our free prescription discount app can help you save.)

Your game plan: Find what eases your mind and then practice it daily. To get things started, we’ve created a research-backed list of activities to help you destress. Challenge yourself to try each of them at least once — and keep your favorites in your stress-busting arsenal.

Chill pill #1: Take a short lunchtime walk

A review of 14 studies in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that spending just 10 to 20 minutes in a natural setting helped lower perceived stress while also boosting mood. And you don’t need to visit a huge national park to reap this benefit. Your yard, a local public park or any other green space you can find works, too.

Chill pill #2: Tap your inner artist

It’s time to break out the old trombone. According to a 2018 review by researchers in Germany, participating in the arts can significantly reduce feelings of stress. For you, that may mean taking a dance class (or just rocking out at home), joining a local improv group, playing (or listening to) music, or spending quiet time with a coloring book for adults.

Chill pill #3: Write down the best (and worst) thing that happened today

Writing out your thoughts and feelings can help release pent-up emotions, according to the Mayo Clinic. Plus, jotting down tomorrow’s to-do list before bed has been shown to help folks fall asleep faster, which is a major boon for mental health.

Chill pill #4: Do a meditative cleaning session

Our minds have been trained to go a mile a minute. But all that multitasking isn’t great for stress levels.

A small study in the journal Mindfulness found that participants who focused solely on the task at hand (washing the dishes, in the study) experienced more positive emotions than those who let their minds wander. So whether you’re folding laundry or vacuuming, try to focus on what you’re doing and engage your senses.

Chill pill #5: Tune in to your favorite podcast

Tasks you don’t enjoy can cause stress, but the right distraction can turn them into positive experiences. For instance, do you routinely find yourself stuck in rush-hour traffic? Or spend your Saturdays on tedious home repairs? With the right audio book or true crime podcast, you might actually begin to look forward to these moments.

Recommended reading: 4 surprising health benefits of talking to your best friend.

Chill pill #6: Picture yourself on the beach

Meditation is a great way to quiet the self-talk that wears you down and stresses you out. If you’re new to the practice, pick a mental image — such as the beach or your favorite person. Focus all your energy on the image, and when competing thoughts arise, let them float away.

Another way to meditate is to try a simple body scan. Focus your energy on the top of your head and move downward slowly until you reach your toes.

Chill pill #7: Play with a pet

It doesn’t even have to be your own. Researchers at Washington State University found that college students who petted and played with cats and dogs for just 10 minutes had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Chill pill #8: Soak in a warm bath

Warm baths are linked to more balanced serotonin levels (a hormone that helps regulate mood) and decreases in stress hormones. According to the Cleveland Clinic, taking a 30-minute soak at 104° F — the temperature in a hot tub — may even improve symptoms of depression.

Chill pill #9: Count your blessings

We often tend to focus on what’s not going well in our lives. But keeping the positives in mind can help you stay upbeat and motivated.

One way to do that: Write down the things you’re thankful for. For a bigger impact, make it a habit to do this each day. This may just increase your well-being and help buffer you from the negative effects of daily stress, according to a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Chill pill #10: Take a break from your smartphone

Being constantly connected can take a toll on mental health — not to mention all the stress it can cause, according to a review by researchers in Toronto. Here's why you should take a break from your smartphone.

Chill pill #11: Inhale essential oils

Essential oils are basically plant extracts. There isn’t concrete research that confirms whether they work, but people have been using them for centuries for their therapeutic benefits, according to John Hopkins Medicine. They’re thought to act on the parts of the brain that control emotions. They’re safest when infused into a body oil or aroma stick (also called an essential oil inhaler).

Chill pill #12: Host a make-your-own-pizza party

Social contact is a great stress reliever. It can provide support, offer distraction and help you tolerate life’s ups and downs, according to the Mayo Clinic. So lean on those around you, even if you feel like shutting down.

Chill pill #13: Close your laptop at 5 p.m.

If you’re a busy worker, then setting boundaries may be your ideal stress buster. That starts by accepting that you can’t be everything to everyone — and then creating healthy rules around work. Learning to tell the difference between need-to-do and should-do (and saying no to whatever doesn’t fit in your life) can help you better manage your priorities.

Chill pill #14: Skip that fourth (or fifth) cup of coffee

Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is considered safe for most adults (that’s about 4 or 5 cups of coffee, at 8 ounces each). But too much caffeine may worsen feelings of anxiety and cause irritability. It’s important to be aware of how caffeine affects you, especially during times of stress.

Chill pill #15: Indulge in your favorite activity

For a simple pick-me-up when stress has you down, do something you enjoy. Maybe that’s flipping through a magazine, going shopping with a friend or making your favorite meal.

The Optum Perks App displayed on a mobile phone
Get access to thousands of prescription coupons instantly.

Chill pill #16: Hit the gym

Exercise is one of the top coping strategies doctors recommend for anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. When you’re active, your body produces endorphins (chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers). This can help you sleep better, which in turn reduces stress.

Need some inspiration? Mix and match these 30 home-workout moves.

Chill pill #17: Turn up the tunes

Listening to music can reduce muscle tension. It can also provide a mental distraction and decrease stress hormones, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Chill pill #18: Take out the garbage

Stress and putting things off are kind of like a chicken-and-egg scenario. Yes, stress can lead to procrastination. But kicking the can down the road can lead to later stress, too. When you’re feeling stuck, try to knock just a single thing off your to-do list. And think small. It doesn’t have to be a big or difficult task. It just has to be attainable.

Chill pill #19: Watch a funny TV show

According to the Cleveland Clinic, laughing has been shown to reduce cortisol and lift your mood.

Chill pill #20: Breathe into your belly

Taking large, intentional inhales and exhales can change how the body handles stress. In fact, a study in Frontiers in Psychology found that diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) lowered cortisol levels, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Go ahead and try as many of these let-your-hair-down activities as you can. You never know which ones will really stick. And if affording your medications is an added stressor, grab your free prescription discount card today. You could save up to 80% at the pharmacy. This is how it works.

 

Additional sources
How stress impacts health:
American Psychological Association (2013). “How stress affects your health”
Nature exposure and stress levels: Frontiers in Psychology (2019). “Minimum time dose in nature to positively impact the mental health of college-aged students, and how to measure it: a scoping review”
Review of the arts and stress: Behavioral Sciences (2018). “Creative arts interventions for stress management and prevention — a systematic review”
Ways to manage stress: Mayo Clinic (2021). “Stress relievers: Tips to tame stress”
Study on mindfulness: Mindfulness (2014). “Washing dishes to wash the dishes: Brief instruction in an informal mindfulness practice”
Pets’ impact on stress: American Educational Research Association Open (2019). “Animal visitation program (AVP) reduces cortisol levels of university students: a randomized controlled trial”
Benefits of baths: Cleveland Clinic (2020). “4 reasons to take a bath”
Gratitude and stress: Journal of Happiness Studies (2016). “Counting one’s blessings can reduce the impact of daily stress”
Smartphone use and stress: Stress Health (2018). “The association between smartphone use, stress, and anxiety: A meta-analytic review”
Physical activity and anxiety: Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2021). “Physical activity reduces stress”
Strategies for managing stress: Cleveland Clinic (2021). “Stress management and emotional health”
Belly breathing and stress: Frontiers in Psychology (2017). “The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults”

Tags