3 Science-Backed Ways to Be Happier & Reduce Stress That Are Easy and Free

·3 min read

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

We all are very familiar with stress and the impact it can have on your mood. In some cases, it can be unavoidable. Some stress can even come from health-promoting behaviors, like a hard workout or taking on a new challenge. However, too much stress in our lives can lead to undesirable consequences, such as weight gain, increased inflammation and greater risk of getting sick. When stress inevitably sneaks up on us, it is important to have strategies to keep it in check. Instead of trying the latest pricey wellness gadget or supplement, there are plenty of affordable (and even free) ways to take a step back and improve your state of mind. Here are the cheapest ways to relieve stress and be happier.

Walking

There are so many reasons to love walking. It's free, most anyone can do it and it can even add years to your life, as long as you pick up the pace. During a day spent in front of a computer screen, taking a walk break is the #1 thing I do to boost my energy levels and clear my head. Getting outside for some fresh air is a great way to reduce stress immediately and also in the long term. For some extra relaxation, consider leaving your phone at home and taking it as some time to unplug. Taking some time away from screens has been proven to help ease stress.

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Meditation

Swap out ten minutes of morning TV or music for a mindful meditation. Meditation can decrease stress, improve focus and even lower your blood pressure. I added regular meditation to my morning routine over the last year and it has done wonders on helping me feel more productive and mentally steady all day long. You can do a meditation on your or through an app like MyLife. Their app can be downloaded for free and they have over 400 activities ranging from meditation to guided journaling and yoga. I prefer the 10 minute meditations, but you can take as much time as you are able. Even two minutes of taking some deep breaths and a body scan can help slow down a racing mind and relieve stress.

Breathing

If you want something even simpler than a structured meditation, try stepping away from what you're doing and taking ten deep breaths. Research has shown that different styles of breathing are associated with different emotions. Slowing down our breathing (think taking 10 breaths over the course of a minute) helps improve our psychological and nervous system flexibility, which helps improve emotional control and mental well-being. In fact, a study found that over time slower deep breathing helps improve attention, affect and lower cortisol levels (which are associated with stress in the body). Breathing is free, easy and can help relieve stress in as little as one minute. Plus, you can do it anywhere you are.

Bottom Line

In some ways, stress is inevitable. Though it is not realistic to completely remove stress from our lives, coping mechanisms can help us keep it in check so it doesn't negatively impact our health. This isn't an all-encompassing list, but these easy strategies can help lower stress and boost mood in a matter of minutes. As a bonus, they are basically cost-free. Get out for a walk, practice a meditation and try some deep breathing today to feel the benefits.