There’s no denying that 2020 has been a brutally stressful year for all of us. And while some stress is inevitable in daily life, poorly handling stress (or not even handling it at all) can lead to health issues, both mental and physical.

While the battle against stress can be difficult at times, there are options available to help curb the stress and get to a calmer state. Let’s take a look at how you can bring your stress levels down.

Take some breaks

Whether you’re at work, studying for finals, or tackling a big personal project, you’ve probably thought the best thing to do is work as long as possible without taking a single break. While the pressure to perform certainly exists, working hours on end without giving yourself a break is actually counterproductive. A study from the University of Illinois found that people who work longer without taking breaks are more likely to have performance than those who opted to take breaks during the day. The idea of the study indicates that the brain detects changes and reverts the attention to those changes, so trying to focus on a specific task for too long can hurt performance. And if you feel your performance slipping, you’ll likely stress yourself out.

While you don’t need to take a lot of breaks, make sure you do give yourself time to eat and step away from work while eating. If you REALLY do need to work through lunch, try giving yourself a short 5-10 minute break so you can let your mind rest.

Talk to people you trust

Humans are social beings by way of nature. While the ability to socialize face-to-face is harder due to COVID-19, make sure you still talk to those you trust when you feel the need to vent and relieve some stress. With more video conferencing and messaging apps than ever before, communicating with others that you care about (and care about you) is easy. 

With online courses and communities becoming a lot more popular, try widening your social circle with those who share the same interest as you. Not only will you learn new things, you can also make new connections that can be beneficial to you and others around you.

Even though face-to-face interaction isn't advised during COVID, you can still use tech to your advantage.

Get that exercise in!

You’ve heard it many times before, but exercise is a critical component of maintaining a healthy balance physically AND mentally. While exercise helps you obtain and maintain a healthy weight (along with a proper diet), it also produces endorphins and serotonin. As you probably know, endorphins are your body’s chemicals that make you feel good, and serotonin can also boost your mood.

Luckily, any form of exercise should help. Walking and biking are easy exercises that you can do almost anywhere. Don’t have any exercise equipment at home? Housework and yard work are also great alternative exercises. Not only will your house and yard look nice, but you’ll get those endorphins pumping too!

Maintain a healthy diet

Like anyone else, you probably have your go-to “comfort foods” whenever you feel stressed or down. You may temporarily feel better, but unhealthy foods can lead to opposite reactions down the road. Overindulging in unhealthy foods can make you feel sluggish, and can lead to weight gain that makes you feel even worse than when you were originally stressing out.

Instead of snacking on junk food, look for foods that promote brain health. Blueberries, nuts, and pumpkin seeds are great snacks that help promote better brain health, which can help with your mental well-being. Eggs, broccoli, and fish are great foods for meals, so try to incorporate them where you can.

Practice mindfulness

With so many stressors that occur in our daily lives, it becomes very easy to have plenty of “what-ifs” running through our heads. Of course, thinking ahead isn’t always a bad idea, but worrying ourselves sick isn’t going to help. Instead, try focusing on mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply focusing on the present and what is in front of you, and not allowing your mind to wander into potentially stressful thoughts.

Whenever you need to practice mindfulness, try meditation or breathing exercises. Meditation helps you focus on your breathing and thoughts, allowing you to regain control of your mental wellness. The deep breathing can help lower your heart rate and bring control to your breathing, creating a sense of calm. You can also try writing in a journal, which can help rationalize any emotions you are feeling.

Practicing meditation can help bring down the stress and create mindfulness.

Get the proper amount of sleep

Getting sleep is vital to maintaining your mental health. In fact, adults who report fewer than eight hours of sleep a night say they feel more stressed than those who get proper sleep. When you are sleep deprived, the activity within the Amygdala, which is an almond-shaped cluster inside your brain that creates the negative emotional response, increases. Of course, this can lead to additional stress. If you are feeling stressed and having a hard time getting to sleep, we have some tips here that can help you get to sleep.

Talk to a professional

If the stress you feel is becoming overwhelming, there is no shame in speaking with a professional. Whether it would be with a psychologist for therapy sessions, learning applied relaxation techniques, or just trying to make sense of your emotions, getting the help you need can really make all the difference.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. This number is staffed 24/7, so call immediately if you need help.