How to Reduce Your Stress in Five Easy Steps

April 9, 2020

How to reduce your stress in 5 easy steps

Feeling Stressed?

You are definitely not alone.

In my home country (United States), stress levels have remained high for the past several years.[1] Our nail-biting, ulcer-inducing issues include things like work, money, and lack of emotional support.

But of course, that’s not all. Most of the world is now dealing with the coronavirus/covid-19 crisis, which as of this writing has killed almost one hundred thousand victims and slammed national economies. Over half of us are also worried about issues in general society, like mass violence, health care, terrorism, and climate change.

To state the obvious: it’s not usually the stress that you and I feel we can do something about that brings on the ulcers.

It’s the stuff we feel we can’t control.

This type of stress quickly becomes toxic to the body and brain.

It makes us feel helpless and hopeless.

It leads to the most common mental disorders in the world today: depression and anxiety.

It's not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it. Hans Selye

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But while it’s true that we all face a lot of stress, it’s also true that we can control our response to that stress. 

Five Steps to Reduce Stress

Let’s break down five steps we can all take to deal with stress. 

Five Action Steps to Reduce Stress, Depression, and Anxiety

Image by Pamela Coburn-Litvak on Canva

1. Relax.

There is more to life than increasing its speed. Mahatma Gandhi

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The first thing on our list is to start doing more of…nothing.

And the reason is, poor rest leads to poor concentration and increased chances of stupid, stress-inducing mistakes.

Poor sleep is linked to greater risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and metabolic syndrome[2] as well as depression.[3]

In a recent study of firefighter paramedics, sleep was found to impact their ability to deal with traumatic events. More specifically, sleep was one of the factors that determined whether they remained resilient or developed symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).[4]

So, one way to avoid at least some types of physical or emotional stress is to relax more and get better quality rest.

Easier said than done, right?

Some of us are wound up so tight that relaxation seems an impossible pipe dream.

If you’re not getting the rest and relaxation you need, try these tips:

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes...including you. Anne Lamott

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2. Spend some time every day doing something that brings you joy.

The first obvious benefit is that this will help relax you. But joy-filled projects or hobbies also provide a much-needed mental vacation.

This mental oasis helps reduce feelings of distress. Recreational activities like painting, singing, dancing, and just spending more time in green spaces, have all been shown to improve mental health.[5][6]

In clinical populations, recreational therapy successfully reduces symptoms of depression.[7]

So, go ahead – take a walk or bike ride through the local park, join a community club, indulge in your favorite hobby.

You’re doing your brain some good.

3. Eat Healthy.

This includes drinking more water.

Here’s a short, science nerd explanation for why this is important: dehydration causes our blood to become more concentrated. To correct this, water is leached from nearby cells in the body and returned to the bloodstream.

When this happens in the brain, it can change brain structure and function.

Just like your favorite houseplant, your brain also perks up when it’s well hydrated. It will feel less tired, sad, depressed and anxious.[8]

Eat a little more fruit and vegetables.

A large study of almost 300,000 people recently confirmed what we kind of already suspected: the more fruit and vegetables you and I eat, the less risk we have for depression.[9]

This makes sense because fruit and vegetables have high payloads of vitamins, minerals, and other substances used to make important brain chemicals that affect our mood.

So, there you go: more fruit and vegetables: more vitamins and minerals: more brain chemicals: better mood.

But there was something in particular that struck me about this study: even a little more can make a difference. An average serving of vegetables is 75 grams; a serving of fruit is 100 grams. The researchers reported that every 100 g of fruit or vegetables consumed decreases depression risk by a small percentage.

My take-home point is this: just one more serving a day will do your brain some good.

Good Food = Good Mood

If you're interested in more information about the relationship between food and mood, check out my video series on the topic by clicking below:

4. Use more stress-reducing beliefs.

I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear. Steve Maraboli

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There are lots of stress-reducing beliefs, but a good one to start with is the Serenity Prayer.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

5. Talk nicely to yourself.

Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges. So relax. Bryant Gill

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While we often respond to stress in a physical way, the more important actions happen in the mind.

Instead of getting lost in a mire of negative thoughts, we should, as quickly as possible, think of a positive path forward.

In a nutshell, positive self-talk involves:

  • jumping to a positive conclusion first, not last;
  • believing the best in others and oneself; and
  • trusting that difficult situations are fixable and that they won’t last forever.


Americans – and global citizens around the world – are dealing with some pretty heavy stress.

But feeling stressed does not always have to lead to feeling anxious and depressed.

All five action steps listed above have proven their stress-busting worth in scientific studies.

If you promise to do one or all of them, then so will I. 

This post also appeared on another website of mine, Leaving the Shadowland. It was originally posted on January 23, 2019.

[2] Brindle, R. C., Buysse, D. J., & Hall, M. H. (2018). Poor Cardiometabolic Health Is Related To An Aggregate Measure Of Sleep Health In A Nationally Representative Sample Of Americans: Results From The Midlife In The United States (MIDUS) Study. Sleep, 41(suppl_1), A331-A331.
[3] Riemann, D., Krone, L. B., Wulff, K., & Nissen, C. (2020). Sleep, insomnia, and depression. Neuropsychopharmacology, 45(1), 74-89.
[4] Straud, C., Henderson, S. N., Vega, L., Black, R., & Van Hasselt, V. (2018). Resiliency and posttraumatic stress symptoms in firefighter paramedics: The mediating role of depression, anxiety, and sleep. Traumatology, 24(2), 140.
[5] Davies, C., Knuiman, M., & Rosenberg, M. (2015). The art of being mentally healthy: a study to quantify the relationship between recreational arts engagement and mental well-being in the general population. BMC public health, 16(1), 15.
[6] Wood, L., Hooper, P., Foster, S., & Bull, F. (2017). Public green spaces and positive mental health–investigating the relationship between access, quantity and types of parks and mental wellbeing. Health & place, 48, 63-71.
[7] Flint, S. W., Lam, M. H. S., Chow, B., Lee, K. Y., Li, W. H. C., Ho, E., … & Yung, N. K. F. (2017). A systematic review of recreation therapy for depression in older adults. Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy, 7(2).
[8] Liska, D., Mah, E., Brisbois, T., Barrios, P., Baker, L., & Spriet, L. (2019). Narrative review of hydration and selected health outcomes in the general population. Nutrients, 11(1), 70.
[9] Saghafian, F., Malmir, H., Saneei, P., Milajerdi, A., Larijani, B., & Esmaillzadeh, A. (2018). Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of depression: accumulative evidence from an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. British Journal of Nutrition, 119(10), 1087-1101.

About the author 

Pamela Coburn-Litvak

Pam is a neuroscientist, author, speaker, and certified executive coach. Her research articles have been published in scientific journals including Neuroscience and Neurobiology of Learning and Behavior.

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