No matter what your self-care routine looks like, these simple steps can help to reduce stress in daily life. Try one, or do them all, in whatever order works best for you.
Try a body scan
A body scan is a simple yet deeply restorative technique practiced in mindfulness meditation, as well as Yoga Nidra.
During a body scan sequence, the mind is guided to gently focus on various parts of the body.
It’s a tried and true method that can promote a sense of deep relaxation, and also help you become more aware of where in your body you are holding tension.
Try lying down or sitting somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Then, starting from the top of your head, mentally scan your body, bringing your attention to each individual body part all the way down to your toes, taking note of any feelings, sensations, or discomfort. The point of the practice is not to try to change anything, but to simply be aware of how your body feels in the present moment. Headspace has a free three-minute body scan meditation here.
Gaze at the sky
"Skychology" is an emerging area of research that links sky-gazing – the simple act of of looking upwards at the sky – to enhanced wellbeing.
According to findings from a 2019 study, looking at the sky for just 60 seconds resulted in increased happiness and optimism and a renewed sense of perspective and connectedness, or “feeling part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Sky-gazing also leads to awe – a feeling of wonder and an appreciation for nature, which has been proven to have a healing effect on military veterans, at-risk youth, and college students.
Interestingly, horizon-gazing is also a practice backed by Dr Andrew Huberman, Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine.
On his podcast, Huberman explains that when our field of vision narrows, it leads to a natural increase in vigilance or attention. Narrowing your gaze can be a useful technique when you need to focus, but over time, it can be mentally taxing – which might explain why you might feel so stressed out after hours spent staring at your phone.
By contrast, allowing the visual field to open up – by looking at the horizon from a distance, or the sky, for example – has a positive impact on our stress levels.
Huberman recommends at least two to 10 minutes a day of what he describes as “panoramic” vision, or peripheral vision, which he says is enough to allow the nervous system to relax.
Walk barefoot outside
When was the last time you took your shoes off and walked on the grass barefoot, allowing the soles of your feet to connect with Earth’s surface?
It might sound surprisingly simple but “grounding” or “earthing” - the practice of being barefoot on the Earth’s natural surface, like grass or sand - is linked with a host of healing benefits.
According to emerging research, going shoe-free on terra firma enables the body to absorb Earth's subtle electric charge. This can have an antioxidant effect, neutralising free radicals, normalising biological rhythms and even reducing chronic pain.
In one study on 40 adults at the University of California at Irvine, researchers found that just one hour of skin-to-earth contact was enough to reduce inflammation and improve blood flow.
Another study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that grounding led to a significant reduction in evening cortisol, leading to better quality sleep.
To earth yourself, all you have to do is go outside and spend some time barefoot on any natural surface – walking on grass or on the beach, for example – but there are also earthing mats and sheets that mimic the effects of grounding outdoors.
You can even buy earthing flip flops, and mats for your bed – grounding while you sleep.
There’s some incredible science on the profound impact of breathwork on mental health. There are plenty of methods too, but for stress-busting simplicity, we love the “physiological sigh”.
This intriguing technique, studied by neuroscientist and podcaster Andrew Huberman, Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine, consists of a double inhalation through the nose, followed by an extended exhalation.
According to Huberman, who explains the technique in further detail here, stress causes us to “under-breathe”, which can elevate levels of carbon dioxide in our bloodstream.
A double inhalation helps to inflate the tiny air sacs in our lungs to their fullest potential, he explains, while the longer exhalation not only gets rid of the excess carbon dioxide, it activates your parasympathetic (aka the rest and digest) nervous system.
Take a break
We live in a culture that seems obsessed with being productive. But humans simply aren’t designed to power through the day without stopping. We need to take breaks. Our biological rhythm demands it.
There is compelling evidence that missing out on crucial moments of rest throughout the day can take a very real toll on your body – stoking up stress hormones, interrupting cellular replenishment, and leaving you feeling mentally exhausted.
Interestingly, those who take regular breaks seem to perform better.
The late Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University proved this by studying the performance of professional violinists from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
They discovered that the top violinists practiced in intense, relatively short sessions, usually first thing in the morning, for no longer than 90 minutes and always followed by a break. As well as working fewer hours, the best violinists took more time for rest and renewal – and even took regular naps.
So, set yourself a timer every 90 minutes. Get up and stretch, meditate, go for a walk. You can even use the time for productive but less mentally taxing tasks (like setting up a diffuser with a mood-boosting essential oil blend) or clearing up your desk.
Massage your Yingtang point
Acupressure points have been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to soothe everything from chronic pain to inflammation.
There are quite literally hundreds of known acupoints around the body, located where blood, nerve, lymph and connective tissue meet, and if you know where they are, it’s quite easy to self-administer an acupressure massage to alleviate stress.
One of the easiest points to locate has to be Yintang, which is at the “third eye”, or the area between your eyebrows.
Yingtang connects with the pineal gland, which can regulate your body's circadian rhythm and reduce the build up of tension and stress.
Simply use your index finger to gently massage the area in circular motions, or press and hold, and feel the tension melt away.