5 Steps to Reduce Stress (snacks and sex?!)

Posted on June 6th, 2014 by Seth Nickinson

1. Learn to Breathe

Amazingly, our bodies breathe thousands of times a day without our help. But tuning in to our breathing can be a great way to calm or minds, soften our frustration, and boost our concentration. Meditation techniques from many cultures use the breath as a basic tool of your attention.

Activity: Take a 5-minute break and focus instead on your breathing. Sit up straight, eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and work its way to the top of your head. Reverse the process as you exhale through your mouth. 

2. Drink Water

Our bodies are approximately 60-70% water. The brain is about 85% water. Every organ in our body needs water to run properly. So if you are dehydrated, your body and mind just can’t run well. Research shows that being just a little bit dehydrated can boost cortisol levels, and raised levels of that hormone indicate to your system that you are stressed.

Then, when you are stressed, your heart rate is up and you are breathing more heavily, so you lose fluids. And when you are stressed, you often forget to eat and drink well, so the situation becomes worse. So it’s a vicious cycle.

If you get to the point where you actively feel thirsty, you definitely need some water. Drink two 8 oz. glasses right then and there. And then tune in to how your body feels. Notice how a little alertness might come back without caffeine, a little energy without a snack. Water really is a miraculous substance.

Fortunately, it’s easy to get more water in your day – see these tips. We have some great recipes for fruit- and herb-infused “spa water” that you can share with friends.body_water


3. Eat (and Share) Healthy, High-Energy Snacks

Look, we all get hungry in a busy day. And our bodies need that fuel to make energy and keep us going. But snacks now account for 25% of our daily calories.

Experts favor adding a midmorning and midafternoon snack to your daily meal schedule, and downgrading your other three meals accordingly to keep your total calories where you want them.

Healthy snacks should be no more than 200 calories, and should have plenty of fiber, little sugar and almost no fat.

spiced nuts

A good-for-you snack is one that’s high in nutritional value (protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber) but relatively low in calories, total fat, saturated fat (no trans fat), sugar, and sodium. And the most important part of that equation is “high in nutritional value.” Nuts, for example, are high in fat and calories, but they are also loaded with nutrients we need, which makes them a healthy choice.

Perfect snacks? Fruits and veggies. Steal the amazing Project ACT idea of a “Fruity Friday” you can share with your team.

When snacking on the right foods, and with limits, it can help keep your metabolism regulated, keep energy levels up, and keep you from over-eating at regular mealtimes. Often diet programs provide for two or three healthy snacks per day. These help keep you satisfied and not feeling hungry all the time, making it easier to stick with your goals.


50 Best Snacks to Take to Work from WholeLiving

Healthy Snacks to Stash in Your Desk from EatingWell

15 Desktop Snacks from Cooking Light

80 Healthy Snacks from Cooking Light

19 Healthy Snacks at RealSimple

4. Check Things Off A List

Using a checklist has two goals. One is to get organized. The second is to give yourself credit.

Disorder can make things confusing and hard to remember. We spend as much time trying to recall what we had to do, or who we had to call, as doing it. A checklist is one of the most simple tools in the world. You just need a scrap piece of paper and a pen. Maybe you keep the list in your purse, or in your daily-use notebook, or in your calendar, or on your fridge. You can also use an electronic tool like Evernote that goes with you on every device.

Here’s the other nice thing about a checklist: you can actually CHECK THINGS OFF. Give yourself credit every time you complete a task: a nice little pat on the back, a cold drink of your choice, 25 cents in a treat jar. This is positive reinforcement at its most simple. You set out to do something, and you give yourself credit at the end of the day. The point of a checklist is decidedly NOT to get down on yourself for what you didn’t do. Most of us will never complete all our tasks, but even if we do just one or two in a day, we deserve credit.



5. Check In With Your Body

Often, one of the experiences of stress is an vicious loop, where we just keep thinking the same thing. One way out of this is to tune in to our bodies. Doing so can also help us identify how we are being affected by stress. A “body scan” is a great way to do this. Basically, you mentally scan your body to get a sense of how it is doing. Lie on your back, or sit with your feet on the floor. Start at your toes and work your way up to your scalp, noticing how your body feels.

8-minute body scan “crash course” from NPRAudio Guide: 20 Minute Body Scan (MP3) guided by Steven Hickman

Here’s the beginning of how it works:

  1. To start, find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Most people prefer to lie down for this exercise.
  2. Uncross your arms and legs… let them be supported by the ground or the chair or the floor.
  3. Close your eyes, if you wish.
  4. Notice your breath coming in and out of your body. Feel it enter through your nose or mouth, move past your airways, and fill your lungs.
  5. Then feel it moving out of your body. Take a few moments to focus on your breath flowing in and out.
  6. (pause)
  7. Now bring your attention to your toes. Continue taking deep, slow breaths. Wiggle your toes slightly and focus your attention there.
  8. Now bring your attention to the soles of your feet. Continue to breath deeply.
  9. Now bring your attention to your calves. How do they feel?
  10. etc.

Text description of a body scan (PDF). 

Longer, even more detailed version.

BONUS: Have Sex

You probably already know that sex is a great tension reliever, but have you officially thought of it as a stress-relieving practice? Perhaps you should. The physical benefits of sex are numerous, and most of them work very well toward relieving stress.

Sex releases feel-good hormones, like oxytocin. People who have more sex have lower stress-related blood pressure and take fewer sick days.

You don’t need to freak out if you aren’t currently having sex. First step: more kissing, hugging and cuddling. Indeed, simply holding hands can allay stress. Read this article account of one wife’s shift of 5 weeks toward more sex.

Sadly, many people have less sex when their stress levels are high. Learn how to avoid this trap.