Taking a few minutes each day to meditate may help lower your stress levels. Think you don’t have time? Well, even a little mindfulness training goes a long way, according to one study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. Half of its participants took part in a three-day mindfulness meditation program, a total of 25 minutes each day. The other half analyzed poetry. Those who meditated felt less stressed. (They also showed higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, but this may be because meditation takes some work and concentration—especially when you first start—reports Forbes.) The bottom line: Even a few minutes of meditation a day can dramatically lower your stress levels.
They work out regularly.
Exercise has been proven to fight stress-related depression, though we don’t know exactly how this works. Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden recently found that exercising created changes in skeletal muscle that helped eliminate a stress-induced substance that can harm the brain. The study was done on mice, but the findings may show the connection between exercise and human mental health, as well. So the next time you feel your stress start to snowball, or the clouds of a funk start to descend, hit the gym, go for a bike ride, or take a brisk walk.
They spend time outdoors.
Heading outside is one fast way to alleviate stress. Natural light has been shown to improve mood, reduce mortality in cancer patients, and reduce the length of hospital stays for cardiac patients. It may even help those dealing with pain, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. In the study, spinal patients who spent time in the sunshine took 22 percent less pain medication per hour. Many natural smells that you encounter outdoors have been linked with lowering stress levels, too. Some of the scents include lavender, rose, and possibly pine.
They leave work at work.
Between 26 and 40 percent of workers feel their job is too stressful, according to the CDC. And working extra long hours, whether in the office or after you’ve left, is one reason why. We need time after work to disconnect in order to mentally recharge for the next day, according to one study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. So try to create a definite line between work time and personal time to cut back on worrying about your job.
They take their vacation days.
Although many Americans receive paid time off through work—and 96 percent of people recognize its importance—only 41 percent of workers plan to use all of their vacation days. But taking time off helps us de-stress—and that has long-term health implications. Women who only took one vacation every six years or less were nearly eight times more likely to suffer a heart attack or develop heart disease than those who took at least two vacations every year, The New York Times reports.
They read for fun.
There’s a reason snuggling up with a good read sounds so appealing after a rough day. Just six minutes of reading can reduce stress by as much as 68 percent, according to one study by the University of Sussex. Who knew that a dose of Gillian Flynn may be better than a gin martini?
They get enough sleep.
People who sleep fewer than eight hours each night are more likely to feel overwhelmed, irritable, and angry, according to the American Psychological Association. They’re also more likely to see a year-over-year increase in stress. Plus, sleep loss may double the amount of norepinephrine, a hormone that can raise your heart rate and blood sugar, according to one study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. And because stress can also interfere with sleep, sleep loss and stress feed on each other. Luckily, if you’re having trouble sleeping, there are a few simple tricks to try. Stick to the same bedtime every night, lay off the booze, and read a book instead of staring at a screen before hitting the hay. And you can always opt for a nap, which has the power to stave off some of the negative effects of sleep loss and decrease the amount of stress hormones in your body.