20 Ways to Decrease Stress and Anxiety

StressIf you’ve followed my blog, writing or speaking for any extended period of time, you’ve probably seen a fundamental shift in my focus.

And it’s not so much even whether I’m talking corrective exercise vs. performance training. This goes a lot deeper than that.

When I first got into the industry, my sole goal in life was simple: World domination.

All day every day I was reading, writing, training, coaching, or doing something to take my skills to the next level.

But now with a wife and a child, I’ve definitely mellowed out a bit. I think (hope) that I’m starting to see the big picture a little bit more clearly.

I’m not necessarily less focused, but I’ve definitely learned where the “off” switch is.

And that’s a good thing.

But instead of talking about me, let’s talk about you for a minute.

When we’re talking about maximizing performance, we have to focus on the three big pillars:

  1. Training,
  2. Nutrition, and
  3. Recovery.

I think personally, I’ve always done a good job of dealing with the first two.

But the third was an issue, and I never really knew it!

A lot of this started to make sense after reading Robert Sapolsky’s book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. If nothing else, reading this book made me much more aware about how the stress response affects my body, and why I should really seek to minimize activating it one million times per day!

Maybe it’s my ever increasing age, a little more wisdom, or just a better understanding of the big picture, but I realize now that I can’t be as strong, smart, sharp as I want to be if I don’t take care of my body and focus on recovery.

With that being said, here’s a big list of things you can do to decrease stress and anxiety in your own life.

Some of these things may really resonate with you.

Some may not.

But regardless of whether you add one new thing to your toolbox or 20, hopefully you’ll start employing these tactics on a regular basis so that you can decrease stress and anxiety in your own life.

Not only will your training improve, but your overall health and livelihood as well.

Enjoy!

  1. Take a hot shower an hour before bed. This is one of my personal favorites, and I often combine it with #3, #6 and #13.
  2. Take a relaxing bath. (Funny scents and candles optional).
  3. Use your foam roller to work on some of those tight and stiff muscle groups. Big areas to focus on are the hips, thighs, calves, pecs and lats.
  4. Get accupuncture done. 
  5. Get a massage. If you don’t have the cash, look into massage schools in your area and see if you can find a student to work on you cheap.
  6. Perform some light static stretching. 
  7. Try performing tai chi. 
  8. Take a yoga class. If you can’t find a class, try a follow-along DVD. I had to take a class in undergrad at Ball State, and while I made fun of it up front, I was a believer when I was done. (Lululemon gear not required, but suggested.)
  9. Go through a mini/micro-mobility series. I personally like the Z-Health materials, but there’s ton of other resources out there on this topic.
  10. Go for a walk, bike ride or hike. If it’s crummy outside, just go the gym and do some mindless steady state work in the 120-150 beats per minute range.
  11. Listen to great music. Some of my personal favorites when chilling out include Pearl Jam, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Bill Withers, Al Green, and Stevie Wonder.
  12. Go for a drive in the country. If you don’t have a car (or country nearby), revert to #10.
  13. Read! I can’t think of anything more relaxing than reading. And I don’t care what it is you read! Fiction, non-fiction, professional development, or scientific journals. Anything that helps you relax and unwind is good by me.
  14. Do something with your hands. First off, get your mind out of the gutter here! Wood working, gardening, writing, and even coloring are awesome options here. If you’re into anatomy, get an anatomy coloring book and you’ll kill two birds with one stone.
  15. Watch your favorite TV show or movie. I don’t like this option all the time, but a great movie can get your mind off the outside world and allow you to chill out. Plus, Tony Gentilcore does it, which by default means you should do it!
  16. Have a spa day. This is obviously geared more towards the women reading this, but I hear that the whole spa thing is a legit way to relax and destress. I’ve never had a manicure or pedicure but I can definitely see the allure!
  17. Spend more time with friends. This is one I need to work on, but hanging out with friends is a great way to decrease your stress and anxiety. Unless of course, they are the source of your stress and anxiety. Which will require you to make some tough choices in life…
  18. Laugh! I just finished up Robin Sharma’s book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. I don’t know if the quote in there is true, but it states that the average child laughs 300 times per day. The average adult? 15! Since reading that I’m just trying to laugh and enjoy life a bit more. Life’s too short to be so damn serious!
  19. Travel. The act of actually traveling (i.e. getting from A-to-B) can be stressful, but I’ve always enjoyed going somewhere else and seeing the sites. On a personal aside, traveling to Australia a few years ago gave me a lot of perspective on how small our world really is now.
  20. Make and enjoy quality time with family. This one is huge. The first step is making time, and that may be challenging initially. But once you’ve done that, I’d challenge you to actually be present. Turn off the TV, computer, iPad and cell phone. Actually be present and enjoy time with the people you love most.

So there you have it, 20 things that are guaranteed to help you decrease stress and anxiety.

I’d love some feedback here as well. Which one of these is your favorite?

Which one do you want/need to employ more?

And what would you add to the list if you wrote this post?

I’ve love to hear from you, so please leave your feedback via the “Comments” section below. Thanks for reading!

All the best

MR

26 Comments

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  1. Mike, I’ve been following your writing for years now, and I must say, this resonates with me on such a deep level. Only until recently have I been shifting to a positive mindset, learning to live in the moment, laugh more, judge less, take a yoga class, love the outdoors. My life has blossomed since. Thank you for such an incredible article, I hope more trainers and coaches understand how important it is to truly regenerate in order to become a complete person. Mike, you rock!

  2. MR,

    Getting a massage from your significant other — talk about killing two birds with one stone.

    As always, great post!

    AZ

  3. LOVE the post, Mike! As a busy college student at Purdue, #17 and #18 are always helpful for me! Whenever I’m stressed I take a step back or a break from my work to spend just a few minutes talking to a good friend and laughing. Thanks for the post, I always look forward to your new articles! I agree with Kris, Mike, you rock!

    • Melissa – Thanks for the kind words! It’s been a while but I know what you mean about being a student. Do you best to balance “work” and “play” and I’m sure you’ll enjoy both more!

  4. Great post, Mike, and good reminders. I know these things but forget them. Might have to print this and put it on top of my computer to remind me to stop working and thinking ALL the time.

    • Lyn – I’m much the same way. Biggest things for me have been shutting off the computer/phone completely during family time so that I can decompress a bit.

      Good to hear from you!
      MR

  5. Hi Mike,

    Fantastic work as always. What I like to do is usually some form of medication or some qi-gong with deep breaths. Also deadbug works fantastic as well,not to mention the spinal stability I get out of it 🙂

  6. Haven’t commented on a post in awhile, but this was one I felt I could offer something relevant;

    Adding Epsom salt to hot soak is great.

    One of my students is a LMT and we trade services. I never responded well to Swedish type massage, but I found that Shiatsu is a whole different story! Great for recovery and improving mobility.

    Tai Chi practice can actually be a source of stress if you train as a martial art, but most Chinese arts included lots of recovery exercises, like qi gong, which are basically breathing exercises combined with simple movements our stretching which are great for relaxation and recovery.

    Just slowing down the thought process and breathing can be great for relaxation if you have good breathing patterns. If your breathing patterns are poor, you can actually increase stress because the breath conditions the mind. So if your breathing patterns need work, check out some of the great videos Mike has posted here on the subject in the past.

    Ashe
    Discipline, Concentration and Wisdom

    • Ashe –

      These are fantastic! Not sure how I forgot breathing, but that’s one of the biggest ones there is.

      Also, I’m a big believer in epsom salt baths as well. I used to take them religiously when I was a bit more serious/focused on my lifting.

      Thanks!

  7. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for your generosity and all of the quality info you put out. I appreciate it.

    After 53 years on the planet, here are my thoughts on stress and anxiety. They are both a result of how we relate to all of the appearances in our lives. By appearances I mean all thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, etc., that appear as a regular flow throughout our lives. If we try to micromanage these appearances and put them into positive, negative and neutral categories, we are in for a lifetime of stress, anxiety and struggle. This is guaranteed! There is no appearance that has an independent nature and existence. All phenomena are insubstancial. They are simply the dynamic energy of life itself constantly emerging. If we allow all phenomena to be as they are, and not create stories around them, they will evaporate like morning dew in the sunshine. This I know through my own direct experience. For further exploration and support in allowing everything to be as it is, check out: http://www.balancedview.org.

    Thank you, Mike and be well,

    Brian

    • Brian –

      I really like this outlook. So much of what we deal with is our reaction to things, not the actual “things” themselves. I think you just said that a lot better than I ever could, though 🙂

      I will definitely check out the website as well. Thanks Brian – very much appreciated!

  8. Mike,
    Excellent post and very timely with me. I’ve been telling myself to slow down and enjoy but can’t seem to focus on how. Now with 20, I will plan on a couple each day and try a few new ones each week.
    If we don’t reduce our stress not only does it contribute to metabolic syndrome but it will throw your hormones out of balance.
    Great post! Jim

  9. Great post Mike, thanks. Another I’d add that’s been a big deal for is meditation (or a similar type of relaxation exercise.) I know that idea intimidates some people, but in my experience even total beginners who don’t believe they can ever get their minds to ‘be quiet’ have great results with simple techniques. It’s like a mini-vacation! Thanks again.

  10. Thanks for this timely post, much appreciated
    I meet several of the points (especially the foam roller, I am an addict) but need to work more on others

  11. Hey hey hey –

    I see I made a little cameo appearance in this one. Nice! Love this post, and feel that the vast majority of people out there need to learn to take a chill pill. I’m always amazed how fired up people get when simply driving down the street; as if that extra .7 of a second you waited between the traffic light turning from red to green is the end of the world.

    Movies are generally my go to mode of de-stressing, but reading is right up there as well.

    Also, after treating myself to an hour long massage the other day while on vacation in Florida, I came to the conclusion that I need to do that more often as well.

    My god that was awesome.

  12. Thanks so much for your great suggestions. Just wanted to add a suggestion that I fought against for many years…. getting a dog. I spent years not wanting a dog because I was not an ‘animal person’, but finally relented as my youngest son was an animal lover, and I knew it would mean a lot to him. Turns out it was a great thing for the whole family, such a great stress reliever, always happy to see you and reminds you that the simple things in life are the important things.

  13. At one time I thought good health was composed of two things. Eat healthy and exercising. How ignorant of me. What I have learned is everyone is truly unique, Biochemically unique, emotionally unique. Mentally and spiritually unique. Hippocrates, the father of medicine said,”One man’s food is another man’s poison.” A certain exercise might be good for me, but not for you. Same with nutrition. All of us have different stressor from one another that affect our overall health. When it comes to fitness and nutrition, one size doesn’t fit all.

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