Top 10 Ways to Reduce Everyday Stress

Steve McGann


The best way to eliminate stress and ensure good mental health is to retire. This approach has worked for me for a number of years. To many of you that will sound smug, patronizing. Yet it does provide an insight into good practice. I remain busy, and the things I have found rewarding should work for anyone. I simply have more time to engage in them.

The key aspect is a kind of ‘seize the day’ attitude. Be active, not passive. But also be realistic. If your job or daily activities are physical, a trail run might not be the best stress reliever in the evening. Some quiet time reading may be a better choice. Conversely, if your day is spent in front of a computer screen, getting after it outside later will be just right. Here are ten things to try that should relieve pressure, while stimulating interest.

Turn off your Phone
If you cannot do this, don’t bother to read any further. Not even doctors, nurses, first responders, or pizza deliverers have to be plugged in 24/7. It does not have to be off for a long time; try it gradually. Recently, I drove a trio of LA sales reps to Yellowstone for a meeting. In Rocky Canyon just east of Bozeman, their phones stopped working. They became frustrated, then angry. I told them that soon the devices would work again, but that for most of the day there would be no service. They thought I was joking. When service ended south of Livingston they were quiet, sullen, unresponsive. I started to point out scenery, tell stories. After some time they joined in, relating their own experiences. We had a great day. When we arrived back in town they all frowned when they had to flip the damn things on again. Give it a shot.

Read a Book
It does not have to be Shakespeare or Tolstoy. The tackiest detective story or the cheesiest romance novel is just fine. Relaxed in your favorite chair or on the couch, this is still an active thing. Television is passive. There are surely good TV shows, but many times we settle for whatever is on. The 24-hour news cycle is an awful thing. This is another aspect of the off/on switch for the phone. Any device is contrary to relaxation. A good book is an escape. Take a break; you can check in with the electronics later. Or tomorrow.

Take a Hike
Or a walk, stroll, bike ride, skate, run, ski; get out there. This is another very obvious strategy. Exercise is good for the body, mind, and spirit. We should all be sure to engage in some type of physical activity each day. But it can get a bit tricky. Setting goals is a good way to motivate ourselves, but becoming obsessive with them is counterproductive. Recently, while loading the bicycles on the back of the camper, I had a vision of pedaling furiously around the campground to achieve my monthly miles. I put the bikes back in the garage and spent the weekend trip hiking, wandering around looking at flowers and relaxing in a lawn chair. If you are in training for an event, take time off to do other physical things, but not your competitive one.

Take a Drive
People used to do this before commutes and suburbs. No interstates or cruise control. Avoid busy strips and traffic lights. Destinations are not important unless they are to view a beach or a sunset. Old paved roads are good, gravel even better. When out of town on little-traveled roads, remember to wave at the other motorists. Driving or riding along… it is about the movement, the going. Stopping for ice cream is totally acceptable.

Go to a Concert
Music is the rare thing that is both relaxing and stimulating. Most of us crave it, at least some of the time. Live music takes things to another level. Some people think there are just two types of music: country, and western. Fine, go for it. I am an old rock and roller. But perhaps we should all try a band concert, or a string quartet. Bit of variety. Besides listening, it is good to participate, if possible. Dance or sway with it, maybe just tap a foot.

Cook a Meal
Coming home from work or some other activity tired and hungry, it is easy to build a quick sandwich, or fire up something in the microwave. Taking some time to cook a meal from raw, fresh ingredients is rewarding in a bunch of ways. It is creative, stimulating, healthy, and will be tastier than whatever is in the plastic wrapper. Start out once or twice a week when time and energy permit, and away you will go. Like other things on the list, cooking can be a team effort with a spouse, kids, or friends.

Journal
This is very easy. I have begun keeping journals dozens of times—and abandoned the effort, usually sooner than later. Yet later, I will wander back and try again. Making a record of your activities and thoughts can be insightful. Seeing where you have been is part of figuring out where you are going. Write down when feelings are good (or bad) to navigate back to or away from the things and situations you experience. Write or type; turning on the phone for this is okay—they all have an app for notes.

Try Something New
Having a routine is good, especially a healthy routine. At times, though, it is good to shake things up. Try a new activity, skill, or sport. Or dust off something that was previously a passion in your life and reconnect with it. This can be tough; when things are going well, why change? When they are trending badly, where is the energy? This is what I call the ‘paper wall,’ and it is mostly made up of excuses. But it is paper and, while it appears formidable, it is not. It can be exhilarating to tear through it. No need to make a list of new, different things—everyone’s will be their own. Think and be creative.

Make Someone’s Day
In our quest for mental health, there is a tendency to become interior, to spend time inside our own heads. In fact, almost no one is solitary. We are all part of families, communities, groups, workplaces, churches, schools. We interact with others every day. So, be relentlessly positive, smile, laugh, toss out compliments. Make this a habit. I don’t know anything about Facebook, but I have looked at it and am sure there are more babies and puppies, birthdays and sunrises than there is nastiness. (I did not say the phone has to be turned off all the time. Use it for fun stuff, like taking photos to share with friends.) It will take a tsunami of goodness to overcome a riffle of bad. Volunteer. Get started. As the song lyric says, “... this could be the start of something good.”

Relax
All this constant effort to maintain sanity could wear a person out. Physical tiredness is preferable to mental exhaustion. Exercise is a good way to scour away the stress and restlessness of a tired mind. But whatever your weariness may be, or wherever it comes from, take care of yourself. Good sleep is the best. Also make use of the couch or the recliner for meditation, reflection, and power naps. A yoga mat or a park bench are great. Slow down, recharge and, above all, rest mind and body.


As ever, these ten suggestions are just that. The most important to consider are the first, and also number nine. Unplug to reflect and interact well with others. These are paramount, but there are many other things that can promote mental health. As I look back over this list, the common thread is doing something, rather than watching something. Taking charge of yourself. Think actively about what will make you happy, and do it. If there does not seem to be much that makes you happy, find something new. Be open and look forward. The author Annie Dillard said; “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

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