When stress bears down, rise up with these simple strategies you can use throughout the day.
colorful health illustration of women doing yoga
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk
| Credit: Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

Whether your concerns are big, like debt or aging parents, or small, like planning a dinner party, living your life can add up to lots of stress. Being in a constant state of tension is, no surprise, not great for your health. "People who are stressed for prolonged periods can be at risk for serious mental health issues, including anxiety and depression," says Nina Ellis-Hervey, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. "This can lead to a lack of fulfillment or relationship difficulties and even take a toll on the heart." A few simple acts of self-care can help you recalibrate. Here's how to calm yourself when it feels like the world is pressing in.

Take It Outside

Going for a run or a walk can help you zen out—but only if you're not focusing on, say, that giant pile of laundry at home. Try some outdoor exercise but also pay attention to your breathing and notice your surroundings, even if they're familiar. A study out of Penn State University published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise suggests these distractions can ease anxiety.

Strike A Pose

Can't fit a full yoga class into your day? Hillary Wright, director of continuing education at Y7 Studio in New York City, suggests this move to de-stress: Lie on your back on a mat or rug, parallel to a wall and as close to it as possible. From here, swing your legs up the wall so your body is making an L shape. Focus on your breathing, close your eyes, and stay put for at least five minutes. "This posture brings more oxygenated blood to the heart, so it doesn't have to work as hard," says Wright. "And lengthening the exhale can activate the 'rest and digest' response of the nervous system." Consider this position a reboot button for your body.

Croon A Tune

Get your carpool karaoke on, even if you don't have Rihanna's pipes. New research from Iowa State University found that Parkinson's disease patients who sang experienced benefits similar to taking medication. Singing boosted their moods and even reduced indicators of stress, including heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.

Just Breathe

Meditation is hard, but it's worth the effort. If you can't quiet your thoughts entirely, try to breathe mindfully. "Practice taking long, slow breaths in through your nose and holding for three seconds," says Ellis-Hervey. "Slowly release through your lips while keeping your jaw relaxed." Perform this exercise for a few minutes during a tough task or when you're getting worked up. "Focusing on your breath lets you return to a normal, more relaxed state," says Ellis-Hervey.