In a world full of things to worry about, feeling stressed is often perceived as an ordinary state of mind. Studies show that in the United States, 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, while 73% experience psychological symptoms. These strikingly high numbers indicate that stress has, unfortunately, become a societal norm.
Stress can become such a significant part of one’s life that many people simply succumb to it. However, there is another more hopeful option: taking actionable steps to reduce–or perhaps even eliminate–stress.
In this article, I explore what it means to be “stress-free,” explain the negative effects of stress, and share tips for how to work toward a life with less stress and more peace.
What does it mean to be “stress-free”?
The notion that someone could be entirely stress-free is up for debate. If a person cares about anything at all, it’s likely they will, at some point, experience stress in regard to it.
Life can be tough and unpredictable. Many of the challenging circumstances we face are outside our control, but that doesn’t mean we have to let the pressure of those situations overwhelm us.
There are ways to cope that help us persevere through adversity, and these techniques are worth investigating for the sake of our mental and physical health. Even if it’s impossible to be completely stress-free, we can still reap several benefits from striving for it.
Why is being stress-free important?
If you’re an adrenaline junkie or an overachiever, it’s possible you associate stress with a thrill or great accomplishment. Although some stress can actually be good for you, generating excitement or inspiring productivity, the negative effects of stress almost always outweigh the positive.
Stress can have serious, long-term effects on your physical health. Common symptoms of stress include headaches, muscle tension, sleep problems, and more. These symptoms may seem minor or insignificant when they first arise but left untreated, they can lead to larger, more complicated health issues.
Stress can also greatly impact your mood. Feelings of anxiety, irritability, overwhelm, and depression begin to surface. These feelings are difficult to compartmentalize. They often seep into every aspect of our lives, influencing our relationships and habits in undesirable ways.
Personally, when I’m stressed about something, everything else seems to suffer, too – especially my social interactions. Decreasing stress creates an opportunity for more positive emotions to enter and direct your life.
5 steps toward a stress-free life
If stress is so bad for our mental and physical health, why aren’t more people taking concrete steps to reduce its presence in their lives?
The answer to this question is understandable: Stress is rarely caused by a single source. Multiple factors work together to produce feelings of stress, and it’s difficult to know where to begin addressing the problem.
Check out the tips listed below, and see which ones you can incorporate today. You may have to use a combination of strategies to ultimately become stress-free, but try not to get discouraged by the trial and error. It’s a valuable part of the process.
1. Identify the source and make changes
Although several circumstances typically intertwine to stir up our stress, sometimes all it takes to become stress-free are a few lifestyle adjustments.
Take a moment to evaluate your job, your relationships, your schedule, and your habits. It’s possible that exploring new pathways, setting more boundaries, going to bed earlier, or switching up your diet could drastically increase your peace.
When I taught high school English, I found myself under a lot of pressure. I almost always had to take work home with me, so I felt stressed even when I was off-the-clock. Because I had a passion for teaching and studied it in college, I never considered alternative careers. However, when my health started to suffer as a result of my chronic stress, I knew I needed to make a change. Transitioning out of teaching was difficult, but my health and work/life balance have significantly improved since doing so.
2. Take time to process
A little bit of reflecting can go a long way. When stressful situations occur, don’t hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or even a licensed counselor to talk. Working through stressful situations with someone else can be extremely beneficial. According to Harvard Health Publishing, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly helpful in reducing stress.
The wonderful thing about journaling is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. My journal collection contains everything from bulleted lists to stream-of-consciousness prose. It’s not the form that matters; it’s taking the time to transfer worrisome thoughts from your head onto a page.
3. Try relaxation techniques
In the middle of a stressful day, it may not seem like the most responsible or practical idea to carve out time for relaxation. However, participating in one or more of the following techniques–even for just a few minutes–can significantly reduce feelings of stress:
- Deep breathing.
These techniques may feel somewhat intimidating if you’ve never experimented with them before, but luckily, there are a ton of free resources on the internet to assist you. I was skeptical of meditation for the longest time (I thought I’d just fall asleep), but after hearing about a friend’s positive experience with it, I gave it a try. It was so soothing!
4. Move your body
Exercise has countless benefits, and reducing stress is one of them. Exercise doesn’t have to be lengthy or vigorous for it to reduce stress.
There are several ways to incorporate movement into your routine. In order to use exercise as a stress-reliever, it’s crucial to choose activities that you actually enjoy; otherwise, it’s challenging to maintain consistency. Consider some of the following forms of exercise:
- Ride a bike.
- Lift weights.
- Take a fitness class.
- Join a team sport.
- Explore a solo sport (rock climbing, surfing, skating, etc.).
Who knows–in addition to managing stress, you may discover a new hobby.
5. Do what you love
When so much of life is filled with tasks we must do, it’s important that we set aside time to do things we would like to do. Engaging in hobbies we enjoy releases neurotransmitters from our brains. These chemicals help us feel pleasure and combat feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Although some people may feel hobbies are a privilege reserved for the rich or the retired, sacrificing other tasks to spend a few minutes doing something you love can help you feel happy and healthy enough to carry out your mandatory responsibilities. If you have no idea where to start, browse through this clinical psychologist’s list of hobbies to combat stress.
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Being stress-free, or close to it, is not an unattainable ideal. Whether we like it or not, we are bound to encounter stressful situations throughout our lives. We can choose to let the stress overwhelm us, or we can do our best to take steps to mitigate it. After all, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.
How do you maintain a stress-free life? Do you have a special tip that you would like to share with other readers? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!