Insomnia, lack of appetite, crankiness and low energy can be your body's way of telling you that you need to relax and regain some balance in your life. It's important to know what you can do to reduce these feelings and to feel good about yourself.

“Reducing stress helps you physically, and emotionally you get to breathe easily again and enjoy life more,” says Glenda Morrissey, a psychologist and owner of Morrissey Rehabilitation and Treatment Counselling.

How to reduce stress

Glenda offers these ideas to reduce stress in your life and increase your sense of satisfaction and well-being.

  • Take time to relax. Having too much to do – whether it’s at the office, around the house, or even with friends – can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Try to develop a manageable schedule that allows you time to unwind, reflect, and enjoy.

  • Reduce tension.  When your body feels relaxed, you feel more positive and healthy. Relaxation exercises can help you achieve this by stretching your muscles, getting more oxygen into your body, and encouraging pleasant thoughts.    

  • Sleep tight. There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep – eight hours of it – to make you feel alert and energized. Try to set a regular time for bed, and hit the hay. If you’re not tired, read a book or take a stretch and make yourself an herbal tea. You will eventually get sleepy. After awhile, your body will get used to the routine, and you’ll be ready for shut-eye when you tuck between the covers.
  • Eat a healthy diet. It sounds simple – and tastes delicious – but when we get busy we often opt for fast food or sugary treats to help us make it through the day. What our body really needs is nutrition from a healthy, balanced diet. Canada’s Food Guide offers tips and insight into what to put on your plate, and how much. There is even an online tool to build your own menu options.
  • Run, walk, climb a mountain. Exercise is good for what ails us. Finding a physical activity you like helps to strengthen your body. It also reduces the risk for chronic disease and manages stress more effectively.
  • Think positively. It’s not only what we do that can add more stress to our lives, it’s what we think. The more you can focus on the positive, the better you’ll feel. That can be difficult to do, but you can start by taking a few minutes each day to count the blessings in your life.
  • Drink less alcohol and coffee. A towering cup of coffee may feel like a pick-me-up in the morning and a few drinks may make you feel relaxed at the end of the day, but both are hard on your body and may actually make your feelings of stress worse.
  • Find the source of the stress. As simple – and as difficult – as this sounds, the reality is we don’t always know why we’re feeling stressed. It might be a very hectic time at work, there may be some problems at home, money might be tight. Or all three. Finding out what’s causing your stress is the first step in finding a solution that will let you address the issues.
  • Talk about it. Take time to talk with a trusted family member, a friend, a colleague, or a health professional. This will let you look at the issue without feeling judged. It also helps to put problems in perspective.
  • Treat yourself. You deserve to do something special for yourself. This might be a giant bubble bath, a drive to your favorite spot for a picnic, sleeping in late on Saturday. It doesn’t have to be expensive or extensive, but it does have to be something that will make you feel pampered and positive.

Relaxation exercises

Simple exercises you do each day can help you to manage stress.

"These exercises can often be done at your desk and usually only take a few minutes,” says Dr. Lydia Makrides, president and CEO of Creative Wellness Solutions.

Release. This exercise requires you to first tense your muscles, then relax them. Start with your toes and work your way up to your face. Go through each body part. It will take several minutes to complete; remember not to rush. This may be an exercise you can do over lunch in the park or in your office with the door closed. “This exercise helps you to understand what it feels like to relax, and it can rid your body of unwanted tension,” notes Dr. Makrides.

Inhale. Deep-breathing exercises are a great way to relax and unwind. Start by taking a good breath in through your nose, then breathe out through your mouth. This exercise will only take a minute or two. You can do it between phone calls, before a meeting starts and sitting in front of your computer. “As you breathe in, focus on your breathing, focus on the breath going in and out of your body,” says Dr. Makrides.

Imagine. It is relaxing, and energizing, to imagine the stresses and strains of the day floating away. Close your eyes, breathe in deeply and picture something pleasant. It only takes a few minutes for positive thoughts to have a powerful effect. "This may be a favorite vacation spot, a room in your home, or an enjoyable pastime,” says Dr. Makrides. “Picturing such images helps to put the day in perspective.”

Stretch. When the body is tense, muscles contract. Nothing helps to loosen them like a good stretch. Stand up from your desk and put your arms above your head. Stretch. Bend your arms down to the floor. Stretch. Sitting in your chair, extend your legs. Stretch. “You will feel much better right away,” says Dr. Makrides.

How to manage anxiety

There are simple steps you can take every day to help you cope with anxious moments or situations. Eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, getting a good night's sleep, limiting your use alcohol and not using tobacco products are just a few ways you can maintain a healthy life balance. In addition, says Glenda, there are other steps we can take to reduce anxiety. 

Reduce your commitments. We often get anxious when there is too much to do and too little time to do it. One suggestion is to list everything you need to do, then cut the list in half. That makes the day more manageable and your task list more reasonable.

Understand what anxiety is. The more you know about anxiety – and what makes you anxious – the less uncertain you will feel and the more you will be able to identify solutions that work for you.

Make changes. Understanding why you are anxious will help you understand how to reduce your anxiety. This often means changing a particular behaviour or pattern.

Rely on your support system. Whether it’s family, friends, or professionals, support is essential in dealing effectively with anxiety.

Laugh out loud. Laughter really is the best medicine. It’s hard to feel anxious and tense when you are enjoying yourself. A funny movie, an evening with jovial friends, or a good book can all help to tickle your funny bone.

Learn to say “no.” Sometimes our anxiety is linked to our inability to speak our mind. It can be difficult to speak up, and to speak out. This type of assertive behaviour requires us to feel comfortable saying no, telling people what we need, and being honest. That can be very uncomfortable, at least at first. However, over time, you’ll feel better when you’re saying what needs to be said.

Take control. We feel anxious when life feels out of control. So take some control over your life. This can be as simple as cleaning out your overflowing cupboards or as hard as developing a budget you can stick to.

Unwind with music. Music really can calm our nerves, refuel our tired bodies, and help us see the joy in life. Heavy metal may not be the best choice to unwind to, but how about classical or country? Jazz or pop? Opera or Broadway?

For more information on managing anxiety and stress

Mayo Clinic

Canadian Mental Health Association