Finding ways to relax and unwind during stressful periods is challenging. Acute stressors, like the death of a family member or upcoming exams, tend to override everything else. Chronic stress due to overscheduling, burnout, or financial duress makes it difficult to find time for self-care.

True stress management is comprised of small daily habits that add up to improved mental health and wellbeing. Here are some effective daily habits to help you relax during stressful times.

Follow a Sleep Routine

Proper sleep is one of the first things to do during periods of stress. Intrusive thoughts and anxiety make it difficult to unwind and fall asleep. You may find yourself lying awake for hours after going to bed or waking up suddenly late at night. Either way, your natural sleep patterns are disrupted.

Creating a structured sleep routine comprised of small habits can help you prepare your body and mind for rest. By following this routine, your brain will recognize when it’s time to unwind and go to sleep. 

Start by unplugging from technology an hour before bed and avoid spending time around bright lights. Choose an activity to help you wind down, like reading, taking a bath, or listening to relaxing music while using a smart wearable to induce a sense of calm. 

Consider incorporating preparation for the next day into your bedtime routine, such as choosing your outfit or preparing lunch. These steps will help ease stress about the upcoming morning rush.

Move Your Body

Intentional movement is a powerful way to reduce stress. When you engage in exercise or intentional movement, your body releases endorphins which offset the hormonal effects of stress. 

While there’s plenty to be said for high-intensity exercise as a stress reliever, you don’t have to do a hundred burpees to feel the positive effects of movement. Going for a walk, doing yoga, or spending time stretching throughout the day is also beneficial. 

If you’re interested in starting a higher-intensity workout program, start small with 5-10 minute sessions. As this becomes a sustainable habit, start adding more time.

Spend Time in Nature

Humans have a powerful connection with nature. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors has a notable impact on stress levels. In Canada, doctors are now able to prescribe time spent outside to combat mental health disorders and chronic stress.

Spending time in nature can be challenging if you live in an urban environment. If venturing to a local park or trail isn’t an option, find some time to sit out on a bench, close your eyes, and notice the sounds around you. 

Practice Gratitude

There’s something positive to celebrate even during the worst times. Taking the time to find that gold nugget in your day and acknowledge it can have profound effects on your stress levels over time. This activity can help you let go of your stress and shift your focus in a productive manner.

Choose one thing per day and get your family involved. Consider having a round table “session” during which everyone shares one bad thing and one good thing about their day. There are two rules in this activity. First, it’s ok not to have a bad thing, but everyone has to find one good thing. Second, finish with the good thing, so everyone is ending on a positive note; that’s what the mind will remember. 

Find Micro-Moments

If your schedule is overbooked and taking things off your plate isn’t an option, making time for self-care likely feels like another chore. If this sounds like you, then your next habit will be to find micro-moments.

Micro-moments are small moments throughout the day in which you can take a breath and celebrate yourself. Your micro-moment might be 5-10 minutes spent drinking your coffee in peace before everyone wakes up for the day. Spending a few minutes outside and taking deep breaths could be another micro-moment.

Many people consider their morning commute a micro-moment for self-care. Unfortunately, these moments have been lost with the shift to a work-from-home environment. Consider creating an at-home morning commute in which you enjoy your coffee, listen to your music, and spend a few minutes transitioning into your work day.

Have a Laugh

Going to bed without laughing is a mistake. Create a habit of finding a way to laugh each day. Laughter is proven to combat stress and relieve tension. You can connect with a friend and share a memory, listen to a quick comedy clip, or watch your favorite episode of The Office (again).

Share Positive Comments

Like gratitude, sharing positivity and acts of kindness is another unexpected stress reliever. As people spend an average of 2.5 hours on social media each day, there’s plenty of time to interact positively. 

Set a goal to share 1-3 positive comments online each day. You can let someone know you’re rooting for them or compliment their achievements or a new haircut. The point is to be intentional, go beyond clicking “like,” and brighten someone’s day. 

Don’t limit yourself to the online world; try doing acts of kindness as you go about your day.

Drink Lots of Water

Dehydration has an interesting effect on the body. It can make you feel sluggish, hungry, tired, or even anxious. As you go through this stressful period, remind yourself to drink enough water each day. Consider setting a reminder on your phone or using a smart water bottle.

Engage in Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to relieve stress and anxiety. Anyone can do this simple technique.

Find a spot to lay down and relax. Start by tensing all the muscles in your feet and holding for 15-20 seconds before releasing. Then do the same with your calves, quads, glutes, stomach, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and so on. This exercise brings you back to the present and into your body instead of your mind, deactivating your stress response

The full PMR process can take some time. Consider using a mini-PMR when you can’t engage in a full PMR session. For example, you can focus on your upper body while sitting in a stressful traffic jam. 

Final Thoughts

You need to take things slow to build successful habits that stick. Rather than trying everything on this list today, choose one or two that resonate the most. Start incorporating them into your daily routine, adding and expanding over time.