8 Fast-Acting Strategies for Stress Relief

Feel happy and relaxed with these 8 simple evidence-based strategies for reducing stress and improving mood

By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

Image by Davidqr from Pixabay

Stress is the body’s reaction to an event or situation. Primarily a physiological response, stress is also experienced psychologically (i.e. worry). Too much stress is associated with mental health issues and chronic health problems.

Because we often have no control over stressors in our lives, it’s important to effectively manage stress.

Here are eight fast-acting stress relievers for short-term relief. (Click here for additional mood boosters.)

1️⃣ Swap out sitting with sleep or light activity.

Less time sitting = Better mood. A recent study found that replacing sedentary behavior with sleep or light exercise (i.e. walking, gardening, etc.) improved mood. Substituting sleep was associated with decreased stress levels in addition to enhanced mood.

2️⃣ Take a 10-minute nature break.

“Nature therapy” is 100% free and highly effective. Research indicates that spending as little as 10 minutes outdoors can improve mood.

3️⃣ Become a plant parent.

Keep a plant in your office and place it where it’s easy to see. Tending for and gazing at a small indoor plant may reduce stress during the workday.

4️⃣ Get a 10-minute massage.

You’ll feel more relaxed and less stressed after receiving a head-and-neck or neck-and-shoulder massage. One study found that participants experienced reduced rates of both physiological and psychological stress after 10 minutes of massage.

5️⃣ Flirt!

Casual flirting and light-hearted banter at work may alleviate stress. Research indicates that engaging in flirtatious behaviors can lead to positive feelings about self while enhancing mood.

6️⃣ Have a Matcha latte.

Drinking Matcha green tea may lead to feeling less stressed. Researchers found that mice who consumed Matcha powder or extract experienced reductions in anxiety.

7️⃣ Stress less with your romantic partner.

When faced with a stressful situation, have your significant other present to ease your anxiety. If your partner is unavailable, visualize him/her; simply thinking of a significant other has comparable positive effects on blood pressure and stress reactivity.

8️⃣ LOLOLOL!

Frequent laughter seems to be a buffer for stress; people who laugh a lot experience fewer stress-related symptoms. Researchers found that the more someone laughed, the less likely they were to feel stressed.


Free COVID-19 Resources

A COVID-19 resource list with free workbooks, e-books, online courses, and links

Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

WORKBOOKS

Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook (The Wellness Society)

Guide to Anxiety Relief and Self-Isolation (Tamsin Embleton)

Taking Care of Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Angela M. Doel, MS, Elyse Pipitone, LCSW, & Lawrence E. Shapiro, Ph.D)

Tolerance for Uncertainty: A COVID-19 Workbook (Dr. Sachiko Nagasawa)

(Click here for additional free PDF workbooks.)

E-BOOKS

Face COVID: How to Respond Effectively to the Corona Crisis (Dr. Russ Harris)

The New York Times: Free E-Book – Answers to Your Coronavirus Questions

E-Books For Children

Coronavirus: A Book for Children (Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson, & Nia Roberts)

Why We Stay Home: Suzie Learns About Coronavirus (Samantha Harris, Devon Scott, & Harriety Rodis)

ONLINE LEARNING

Coronavirus Anxiety Online Course

CPD Online College: COVID-19 Awareness

Sentrient: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Safety at Work Online Courses

World Health Organization: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Training – Online Training

LINKS

Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families: Coronavirus Support

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Coronavirus Corner – Helpful Expert Tips and Resources to Manage Anxiety

Ariadne Labs: Serious Illness Care Program COVID-19 Response Toolkit

CDC: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

EBSCO: COVID-19 Information

Guilford Press: Guilford’s Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Resources for Self-Help, Parenting, Clinical Practice, and Teaching

National Council for Behavioral Health: Resources and Tools for Addressing Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Pew Research Center: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

Psychology Tools: Free Guide To Living With Worry And Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty

Safe Hands and Thinking Minds: Covid, Anxiety, Stress – Resources & Links

SAMHSA Resources and Information: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Recommended Memoirs About Mental Illness & Addiction

A list of some of the best memoirs detailing personal experiences with mental illness, substance use, and recovery

Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Recommended Memoirs About Mental Illness & Addiction

Drinking: A Love Story (1997) by Caroline Knapp

Amazon Description: “It was love at first sight. The beads of moisture on a chilled bottle. The way the glasses clinked and the conversation flowed. Then it became obsession. The way she hid her bottles behind her lover’s refrigerator. The way she slipped from the dinner table to the bathroom, from work to the bar. And then, like so many love stories, it fell apart. Drinking is Caroline Kapp’s harrowing chronicle of her twenty-year love affair with alcohol.”

A Drinking Life: A Memoir (1994) by Pete Hamill

Amazon Description: “Hamill explains how alcohol slowly became a part of his life, and how he ultimately left it behind. Along the way, he summons the mood of an America that is gone forever, with the bittersweet fondness of a lifelong New Yorker.”

Dry: A Memoir (2003) by Augusten Burroughs

Amazon Description: “You may not know it, but you’ve met Augusten Burroughs. You’ve seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twentysomething guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve; when the ordinary person went home at midnight, Augusten never went home at all. Loud, distracting ties, automated wake-up calls and cologne on the tongue could only hide so much for so long. At the request (well, it wasn’t really a request) of his employers, Augusten lands in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey Jr. are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers. But when Augusten is forced to examine himself, something actually starts to click and that’s when he finds himself in the worst trouble of all. Because when his thirty days are up, he has to return to his same drunken Manhattan life―and live it sober. What follows is a memoir that’s as moving as it is funny, as heartbreaking as it is true. Dry is the story of love, loss, and Starbucks as a Higher Power.”

Girl, Interrupted (1993) by Susanna Kaysen

Amazon Description: “Kaysen’s memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a “parallel universe” set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.”

Go Ask Alice (1971) by Alice

Amazon Description: “It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth—and ultimately her life.”

Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity (2008) by Kerry Cohen 

Amazon Description: “Loose Girl is Kerry Cohen’s captivating memoir about her descent into promiscuity and how she gradually found her way toward real intimacy. The story of addiction–not just to sex, but to male attention–Loose Girl is also the story of a young girl who came to believe that boys and men could give her life meaning.”

A Million Little Pieces (2005) by James Frey

Amazon Description: “At the age of 23, James Frey woke up on a plane to find his front teeth knocked out and his nose broken. He had no idea where the plane was headed nor any recollection of the past two weeks. An alcoholic for ten years and a crack addict for three, he checked into a treatment facility shortly after landing. There he was told he could either stop using or die before he reached age 24. This is Frey’s acclaimed account of his six weeks in rehab.”

Parched: A Memoir (2006) by Heather King

Amazon Description: “In this tragicomic memoir about alcoholism as spiritual thirst, Heather King—writer, lawyer, and National Public Radio commentator—describes her descent into the depths of addiction. Spanning a decades-long downward spiral, King’s harrowing story takes us from a small-town New England childhood to hitchhiking across the country to a cockroach-ridden “artist’s” loft in Boston. Waitressing at ever-shabbier restaurants, deriving what sustenance she could from books, she became a morning regular at a wet-brain-drunks’ bar—and that was after graduating from law school. Saved by her family from the abyss, King finally realized that uniquely poetic, sensitive, and profound though she may have been, she was also a big-time mess. Casting her lot with the rest of humanity at last, she learned that suffering leads to redemption, that personal pain leads to compassion for others in pain, and, above all, that a sense of humor really, really helps.”

Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America (1994) by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Amazon Description: “Elizabeth Wurtzel writes with her finger in the faint pulse of an overdiagnosed generation whose ruling icons are Kurt Cobain, Xanax, and pierced tongues. In this famous memoir of her bouts with depression and skirmishes with drugs, Prozac Nation is a witty and sharp account of the psychopharmacology of an era for readers of Girl, Interrupted and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.”

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood (2005) by Koren Zailckas

Amazon Description: “Garnering a vast amount of attention from young people and parents, and from book buyers across the country, Smashed became a media sensation and a New York Times bestseller. Eye-opening and utterly gripping, Koren Zailckas’s story is that of thousands of girls like her who are not alcoholics—yet—but who routinely use booze as a shortcut to courage and a stand-in for good judgment.”

Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (2009) by Nic Sheff

Amazon Description: “Nic Sheff was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the years that followed, he would regularly smoke pot, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. Even so, he felt like he would always be able to quit and put his life together whenever he needed to. It took a violent relapse one summer in California to convince him otherwise. In a voice that is raw and honest, Nic spares no detail in telling us the compelling, heartbreaking, and true story of his relapse and the road to recovery. As we watch Nic plunge into the mental and physical depths of drug addiction, he paints a picture for us of a person at odds with his past, with his family, with his substances, and with himself. It’s a harrowing portrait—but not one without hope.”

13 Sites for Self-Help

Free online self-help and personal development

Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP

Image by stokpic from Pixabay

Free Self-Help Resources & Online Support

Are you searching for free self-help? This is a list of links to various sites and services providing self-help.


For free therapy workbooks, handouts, and worksheets:


1. Counselling Resource

Take psychological self-tests and quizzes, read about symptoms and treatments, compare types of counselling and psychotherapy, learn about secure online therapy, and more

2. DBT Self-Help

A site for individuals seeking information on DBT. This site includes DBT skill lessons, flash cards, diary cards, mindfulness videos, and more.

3. Healthy Place

Mental health information, including online assessments and breaking news

4. HelpGuide.org

Collaborates with Harvard Health Publications to provide a wide range of unbiased, motivating resources and self-help tools for mental, social, and emotional. 100% nonprofit; dedicated to Morgan Leslie Segal, who died by suicide when she was 29.

5. Internet Mental Health

A free encyclopedia for mental health information on the most common mental disorders. Created by psychiatrist Dr. Phillip Long.

6. Mental Health Online

Create an account to access free mental health services for mental distress, including programs for anxiety, depression, OCD, and other disorders

7. Moodgym

Interactive self-help book for depression and anxiety. (This resource used to be free, but now there’s a small fee.)

8. National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse

A peer-run resource center

9. Psych Central

Information on mental health, quizzes, and online self-help support groups. The site is owned and operated by Dr. John Grohol, inspired by the loss of his childhood friend to suicide.

10. Psychology Help Center

A consumer resource featuring information related to psychological issues that affect emotional and physical well-being

11. Sources of Insight

Providing the principles, patterns, and practices needed for personal development and success; a source for skilled living and personal empowerment

12. Succeed Socially

An extensive, completely free collection of articles on social skills and getting past social awkwardness. It’s written by someone who’s struggled socially himself, and who has degrees in psychology and counseling.

13. Verywell Mind

An online resource for improving mental health. All content is written by healthcare professionals, including doctors, therapists, and social workers.


Guest Post: My Experience with Depression

“I had absolutely no direction in my life. I was a loose cannon. An unguided projectile… I viewed life in a negative, nihilistic, cynical, and overall pessimistic way.”

By Kevin Mangelschots

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


Depression, also known by some as the silent killer. And for good reasons.

Little did I know I was going to find this out firsthand.

Early on in life, before the age of 16, everything was perfect. I had loving parents and, in general, a loving family. I had plenty of friends. I excelled in sports and did well in school.

Things were easy back then. The only ounce of responsibility I had was making sure I got passing grades. And what if I didn’t listen in school and got detention as a result? Well, he’s still a young kid who’s figuring out life. Got into a fight? Well, he’s still a young boy who doesn’t always thinks before he acts.

But my perfect world didn’t last.

My Experience with Depression

Around the age of sweet 16, my life started changing rapidly.

I stopped feeling happy and optimistic. At first, I thought it was just a phase everyone my age went through and that it would pass as quickly as it came. But it didn’t. I had a difficult time adjusting to my ever-changing environment and handling the pressure I believed was being put on me.

I didn’t know what I wanted for my future. My friends and schoolmates already knew what they were going to study when they went to college the next year. I, however, did not. I had no direction in life. I was a loose cannon, an unguided projectile, an immature and wild kid, busy with partying and drinking.

I started getting into frequent fights; I’m not a violent person, but the anxiety, negative emotions, feelings of helplessness, and an overall sense of feeling lost in this world led to physical confrontations with others. The fights were a reflection of my poor mental state.

Image by Annabel_P from Pixabay

Then I turned 18. My parents told me it was time to start taking responsibility for my choices and actions because this time “it was for real.”

In college, I decided to pursue the field of nutrition. Not because I had a strong desire to become a dietician, but rather, because people I knew from my home town were going this route, and I figured since I was interested in exercise/health, it might be a good fit.

Newsflash, it wasn’t.

I quit school two months in. Turns out choosing what course to study based on friends rather than what you want in life is not the smartest idea. (Who would’ve thought, right?)

The following year, I gave it another try. This time I studied occupational performance. Long story short, I managed to earn a college degree despite my depression.

After I graduated and started working as an occupational therapist in a physical rehabilitation center, things got better. I was motivated to help people relearn lost skills, improving their quality of life.

But in time, my thoughts turned dark again, becoming negative and nihilistic. I slept less and my sleep quality was poor. I would randomly wake up at night and cry because I felt so terrible. I withdrew from friends and family. I even discovered a way to measure the severity of my depression; when my mood worsened, I craved alcohol. Drinking was a way to self-medicate.

Image by succo from Pixabay

I continued to plow away at work, but an excessive sense of responsibility, perfectionism, and anxiety was eating away at my mental health. I was head deep into my depression.

One day, I woke up and found I couldn’t get out of bed. I had nothing left in the tank. I realized I needed to take some time off work to deal with my depression and get my life in order again. I called my parents and asked to come home.

At first, I didn’t leave the bedroom. There were successive days I didn’t get up to eat or shower. I was in constant mental pain. It was hell on earth.

One evening, I managed to get out of bed and sat down to eat dinner with my parents. They were silent, and looked tired and sad. Until this moment, my depressive haze prevented me from seeing how my illness impacted my family. I decided: that’s it, no more. It was my guilt that fueled the decision to fully contend with my mental illness.

Up until now, I was only living for myself, not participating and valuing what my parents, family, and others did for me. So, something needed to change. I needed to turn my life around. And with my life, my attitude.

I started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants. I took a sincere look at self, including undesirable traits I’d been afraid to face. I set goals for myself. And when I had zero desire to get out of bed, I pushed through. I made sure I did something useful every day.

After several months of therapy and medication, life became manageable. I talked more, was less irritable, and as a result, my life and that of those around me improved. At times I even looked forward to things!

How Depression Changed Me


Although the depression was tough on me, and there were times I didn’t know if I was going to make it, it brought about some positive changes.

I became more mature and resilient; I learned to put things in perspective and take necessary responsibility. But the two most significant aspects that changed were my so-called “intellectual arrogance” and the pessimistic way I viewed life.

Before, I considered myself a fairly intelligent fellow. The problem with this was that I overvalued intelligence, viewing other aspects in life as inferior.

Moreover, my attitude was overwhelmingly cynical and negative. What I failed to realize is that focus shapes experience. And if you only pay attention to the negative, you miss the beauty life has to offer. Now, I actively search for the good and beautiful things happening around me.

What Helped Me Get My Depression Under Control

In addition to medication and therapy, I found the following to be helpful:

  • Seeking help. We can’t do everything on our own, no matter how much we’d like to. There are times when you will need help to cope with your depression. In addition to professional help, seek support from family and trusted friends. You may find that feeling heard and understood is what carries you through the darker days.
  • Setting goals. I had no desire to do anything in life. I had no goals. For severe depression, I would advise setting smaller goals you think you would mind doing the least (minimal effort) and/or goals which you found important in the past (before your depression took over).
  • Taking responsibility. Although depression can be debilitating, practice taking responsibility for the things in life under your control. For me, it was easy to blame others for everything that went wrong, believing the world to be wretched and unfair, but it didn’t do me any good.
  • Exercising. Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” brain chemicals related to pleasure. If you don’t enjoy exercise, try a hobby that requires some level of physical exertion. As an additional benefit, engaging in exercise can take your mind off the stressful things in life.
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

My Depression Warning Signs

For me, there are clear signs that indicate my depression is coming back or worsening. Keep in mind that warning signs vary from individual to individual. What might be a warning sign for me may not for you.

  • My desire to do anything decreases. Hobbies I enjoy like weightlifting and running suddenly mean very little to me. But it’s not just about hobbies. Things like getting out of bed and showering suddenly become difficult because I have zero motivation or energy.
  • My thoughts get darker and more negative. It becomes increasingly tough to see the positive things in life or the positive in people. I become cynical and pessimistic.
  • Overthinking. I tend to overthink when things go bad, which is basically what depression is for me: feeling bad.
  • Anxiety. Negative thoughts and overthinking lead to increased levels of anxiety. My anxiety about the little things in life may seem insignificant to others who don’t have a mental illness, but a simple act such as calling or visiting a friend can freak me out and lead to rumination.
  • Ruminating. Intrusive thoughts run through my head and there’s no “off” switch.
  • Irritability. I become increasingly irritable; I’m in a foul mood all of the time and the smallest things piss me off.
  • Increased desire to self-medicate. I experience a strong desire to drink. Alcohol impacts the brain by triggering a release of dopamine. This rush of dopamine creates feelings of pleasure and happiness.
  • Decreased sleep quality. My overall sleep quality gets worse, partly due to constant overthinking and ruminating. Anxiety and stress are also big factors. And when I’m able to fall asleep, I wake up throughout the night.

Conclusion

Depression is a terrible disease that may go unnoticed if the signs aren’t recognized or known. A person with depression might attempt to maintain a positive front, possibly because they don’t want to complain or they’re afraid of being misunderstood.

There are multiple symptoms of depression; my symptoms went hand-in-hand, playing off one another and creating a vicious circle of negative thoughts that sucked the energy and lust for life from me.

Depression symptoms are different for different people. Learning to identify the symptoms will help you to recognize depression in others. Furthermore, an increased awareness enhances empathy and enables you to better support someone with depression.

I give the following advice to anyone with depression:

  • ☑ Don’t give up.
  • ☑ Seek professional help.
  • ☑ Seek support from your family and close friends.
  • ☑ Set goals and work hard to achieve them.
  • ☑ Take responsibility for the things you can control.
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Is there a cure for depression? No. Do I think I will ever be totally depression-free? Maybe. What I do know for sure is that my illness is manageable and livable at the moment. I look forward to what the future has in store for me. Which is a lot more than I anticipated at first.


About the Author:

Kevin Mangelschots is a writer and occupational therapist with seven years of experience in the field of physical rehabilitation. He is a long-time fitness enthusiast. Kevin lives in Belgium and has created a platform for other bloggers to share their life stories where he writes about his own experience with depression at retellinglifestories.com.