Hear those car horns honking? The ping of another email in your inbox? Your two kids upstairs, arguing again? Then you don’t need me to tell you that modern life is stressful! Researchers have devoted decades to studying the effects of stress on our bodies and minds, and the results are pretty dismal, although not entirely surprising: stress causes headaches, muscle tension, and insomnia, weakens your immune system, and wreaks havoc on your digestion, while contributing to more serious conditions like heart disease and asthma.
Don’t let that list of symptoms add to your stressors, though! A few small changes can have a big impact on the level of stress you feel—and how your body responds to triggering events. The following are eight activities you can try in your home every day to lighten your load and keep stress off your back.
Meditate: There’s a reason you’ve heard so much about meditation when it comes to easing the effects of stress. Studies show that regular practice can have a big impact on your overall mental well-being, reducing the effects of emotional irritability, depression, and cognitive disorganization. In fact, not only can meditation positively affect your emotional state, it can also reduce feelings of loneliness, make you more productive, and even grow your brain—it’s basically like exercise for your mind! And you don’t need much to do it, just a comfortable seat and a few minutes to yourself. However, if you do decide to set up a special space for your practice, opt for a quiet place in your home where you feel relaxed and energized—like a kitchen nook that gets plenty of light, or a soft chair in your living room. Just be patient with yourself, and stay open to learning throughout the process!
Take A Few Deep Breaths: Much like meditation, deep breathing offers stress reduction benefits like anxiety reduction—experts even think it could help turn the tide for patients with asthma and heart disease. The best thing about deep breathing is that you can do it anywhere, no matter what kind of chaos is unfolding around you (hello, noisy children!). Of course, it’ll all go a lot smoother if the air in your home is clean and pure, so to get the most out of your practice, make sure to follow some healthy air habits, like changing your HVAC filters every four to six weeks, and clearing out dust-loving clutter in your closets.
Use Aromatherapy: Speaking of air quality, there’s a body of evidence that shows that smells can also affect your mood—from boosting productivity to helping you relax. The reason is that there’s a link between the olfactory processing centers in our brains and the amygdala—the region that controls our emotional response. That’s why certain scents can bring on a tidal wave of memories, everything from the wafting aroma of your mom’s cooking to a wiff of an ex’s favorite cologne. Because we all have personal associations with scents, you’ll want to use your discretion, but generally, most people find clean aromas like the scent of lavender to be especially stress relieving. Make sure to choose natural candles and incense, however—artificial perfumes are often packed with harmful fumes known as VOCs.
Yoga, Yoga, Yoga: Yoga provides many of the benefits of deep breathing and meditation, but it allows you to spread some of that relief to your body as well, where you may have been storing up tension, leading to phantom aches and pains. Add to that list the fact that yoga has also demonstrated weight reduction and cardio and circulatory functioning, and you’ve got a supercharged recipe for overall well-being. To bring intention and restfulness to your practice, it often helps to identify and set up a great place to work in your home. Ingredients for a great yoga room include filtered light, clutter-free surfaces, and a soothing, neutral color palette.
Drink an Extra Glass of Water: Stress can make you dehydrated. As you get more tense, the stress response in your body causes your adrenal glands to activate and overproduce stress hormones. That process, in turn, can deplete your body of fluids and electrolytes, which all can make you feel even worse for the wear. If you’re trying to manage the effects of excess stress in your life, try grabbing an extra glass of water—it may not cure your stress, but it can’t hurt, either.
Practice Gratitude: Our culture doesn’t exactly encourage us to appreciate what we have. Between photoshopped beauty ads and Instagram, celebrity appearances and online stores, it’s easy to think about everything you want or need—and don’t have. Jotting down a list regularly of the things in your life you appreciate—or just those things that make you smile—has been shown to be great for stress levels (or lack thereof!). Experts who study gratitude say the effects of being a little bit thankful are similar to meditation; that is, it makes you more compassionate and optimistic, and it can improve immune system functioning.
Stare at Fractals: You know that calm feeling you get when you stare at the gentle lapping of ocean waves? It turns out repeating patterns like this in nature could be a key to stress reduction. Try decorating with pictures of leaves, snowflakes, waves or flowers, and staring at them for a few minutes a day—it may just make you feel more balanced and calm. Plus, they look great hanging on a wall!
Do Your Chores? If you’re stuck with an overbooked to-do list, you may not think doing housework will bring any relief. But it turns out, the repetitive motion many household tasks require can be very soothing to an addled mind. Of course, the key here is balance—when you’re looking around your home, it’s easy to keep heaping another job on top of job onto your plate until you’re spent and exhausted—not exactly what you’d call stress-free! Try not to get too caught up in perfection. Instead, opt for simple chores with repetitive actions, like vacuuming or folding the laundry. It may just make you feel a lot less tense!
Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize.com, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.