6 Ways to De-stress for Free

Article by Julia Dellitt and Photos by Gina Ybarra for theeverygirl.

My reaction to stress typically goes one of two ways: I either faceplant into a bottle of wine or I spend money on stuff I don’t need. Obviously, these tactics are not sustainable or healthy for every time I feel anxious or overwhelmed. That’s why I rely on these six ways to stay calm, cool, and collected in the face of stress.

1. Take a one-minute nap.

I used to claim that I “didn’t have time” to nap on a regular basis. I reserved daytime resting for the occasional weekend when I could set aside an hour or two to dive into dreamland. Now that I’m a mom, it’s even rarer to carve out nap time no matter the time or day, so I’ve become a queen of what I call the “one-minute nap.”

Here’s what you do: set a timer for one minute. Close your eyes. Breathe and be quiet. That’s it.

If you have more than a minute to spare, then do the same exercise for three, four, or five minutes. (If anything longer opens up in your schedule, go take a legit nap straight away.) But you always have time for 60 seconds of stillness, and your mind and body will absolutely benefit from pressing pause.

2. Drink a glass of water.

Did you know that stress can lead to dehydration? If you’re feeling tense, taking a moment to drink a glass of water can be a short-term fix. When I’m tired or experiencing low energy, downing some H2O forces me to slow down and often creates a ripple effect (pun intended) in terms of paying attention to how I nourish and care for myself.

Because, let’s be honest: if I’m stressed, I’m probably ignoring my body’s signals in general. (Like, probably drinking a ton of caffeine and eating all the sugar.). A water break allows me to reset and regroup. 

3. Unplug.

Writer Anne Lamott says, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Practically-speaking, this rings true—raise your hand if you’ve ever shut down your computer to “solve” an error message—but it also references two tricky realities of modern life. 

First, we consume an absurd amount of images and words all day, every day, and much of it is negative. Second, most of us are habitually, obsessively tied to our electronic devices...and we rely on those devices to distract us from our daily worries and help us “relax.”

When you unplug, you have an opportunity to savor the sensations, smells, tastes, and sounds of your life happening right in that very moment, up close and personal.

While there’s nothing wrong with a little Hulu and Instagram at the end of a long work day, I’ve found that staying attached does more harm than good when I already feel stressed. I try to give myself a real, honest-to-goodness break from technology once in awhile, and then I prioritize other forms of connection. I hug my partner and look in his eyes instead of down at my phone. I pet the soft fur of my sweet little pug, Stanley, and take him for a quick jaunt around the block. I leaf through a few pages of an actual book.

When you unplug, you have an opportunity to savor the sensations, smells, tastes, and sounds of your life happening right in that very moment, up close and personal.

4. Be kind.

I’ll admit I’m the first to snap or lash out when I’m stressed because, honestly, that’s when I’m inclined to think my problem is the MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM EVER. Except it’s usually not. It can be incredibly helpful to get out of my own head and remember that other people exist, too.

If you’re all worked up about your own life, try to be nicer and more helpful to others, whether you know them or not. Hold the door open for the lady behind you at the coffee shop. Eat lunch with your coworker instead of going out. Smile at the tired mom with two screaming kids in Target. Compliment a family member, just because. Bite your tongue to offer compassion to the distracted waiter. When someone is talking to you, listen to him or her without furtive glances away or responding with absent-minded “uh huhs."

In other words, be present and kind. Good vibes only lead to more good vibes.

5. Tackle one task off your to-do list.

I will make long, broad to-do lists that serve as a “brain dump” for literally every single task circling my brain. Sure, it feels good to jot these little tasks down on paper, but when it comes to getting shit done? Uh, I look at my list with a shudder and immediately procrastinate as long as possible. 

But I do love the high of accomplishment associated with productivity. The solution when stressed is to pick one thing to do. Just one. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, either; in fact, it’s better if it is crazy small. Wipe down the kitchen counters instead of cleaning your whole place. Call the dentist on your commute to work. Respond to an email lingering in your inbox.

Doing one thing will make you feel better than stressing about all the things before doing nothing, I swear. 

6. Count your blessings.

Sometimes, for me, stress can go hand-in-hand with things like resentment, envy, or comparison. For example, my husband and I have been saving for a down payment on a house, which means that every time someone I know buys a house, I feel stressed. Why? Because we want a house, too! Turns out we want lots of things that we don't have for a variety of reasons, and this line of thinking can quickly spiral into a pessimistic attitude.

In that moment, I count my blessings: I have a warm, safe roof over my head and the money to save for a larger home in the first place. Many situations—major financial struggles, health scares, lack of safety—those things are truly worth stressing over. Practice gratitude for what’s already abundant in your life.

David Harel