6 Daily Habits to Reduce Stress & Anxiety

The best way to cope with stress is by getting at least seven hours of sleep per day, eating a predominantly plant-based diet, exercising regularly, meditating, and staying socially connected. “If you’re practicing all these healthy habits, it helps you become more resilient and better able to adapt to life’s challenging situations,” says Dr. Shalu Ramchandani, an integrative medicine specialist at the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.Stretch your muscles. Your muscles tense up under stress. Relieve that tension by stretching. “While sitting or standing, inhale, raise your arms overhead, lace your fingers together, stretch, release your fingers, and exhale as you lower your arms to each side. Repeat three times,” Dr. Ramchandani says.

Take a mindfulness break. Being mindful helps elicit the relaxation response by bringing you to the present moment; it can break a cycle of stressful thoughts. It’s like a real-time imagery exercise: you note all of your senses as you do something soothing. “It could be having a cup of tea and noticing its warmth in your hands, the scent of the tea, and the way it feels going down your throat,” Dr. Ramchandani says, “Or it could be taking a mindful shower or a leisurely and mindful walk through nature.”

Take a brisk walk. Getting 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, is important for all aspects of health, including stress management.

Use laughter. “Laughter has been referred to as ‘internal jogging’ by Dr. William Fry, and may provide a source of healing. It reduces stress hormones and becomes an expression of joy, optimism, and hope,” Dr. Ramchandani says. “Watch a movie or TV show that makes you laugh, maybe your favorite episode of ‘I Love Lucy.’”

Reduce loud noise in your environment. “Loud noise triggers the stress response,” Dr. Ramchandani notes. “It makes it hard to think and takes you away from being mindful. If loud noise is unavoidable — perhaps because it comes from neighbors, traffic, or someone in your home or office — try wearing earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.”

Play soothing music. Unlike loud noise, pleasing music can help elicit the relaxation response. “Music therapy can be very powerful for healing, and it is used in medical settings for everything from cancer treatment to recovering from COVID-19,” Dr. Ramchandani says. “But you need to be present and engaged in the sounds you’re hearing. If your mind is wandering to a stressful place, music won’t help.”Reach out for help. We all want to be independent, but it’s okay to ask a friend or family member to simply listen to your concerns or to help you with activities, such as getting groceries, mowing the lawn, or lifting something heavy. Relieving a burden — either physical or mental — will help reduce stress.