10 Ways to Reduce Stress That Actually Backfire
Studies show that what you do during your downtime might be the exact wrong way to recover after a stressful day.
Unwinding with TV
After a long, stressful day, being a couch potato with TV or video games is supposed to make you feel better, right? Not for everyone. German and Dutch researchers recently found that people who were exhausted after work were more likely to feel guilty—that the TV and games made them procrastinate instead of accomplishing more important tasks. “We are starting to look at media use as a cause of [energy] depletion,” study author Leonard Reinecke, an assistant professor at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, said in a press release. “The ubiquitous availability of content and communication often seems to be a burden and a stressor rather than a recovery resource.”
Thinking it over
Maybe you replay a meeting with your boss over and over in your mind, or make an endless pro and con list. These practices sound productive, but they may lead to a sabotaging habit that psychologists call ruminating—or compulsively thinking about something. “Ruminating while in a low mood impairs problem-solving,” says Alice Boyles, PhD, on PsychologyToday.com. “People often believe that overthinking will lead to problem-solving insights. It generally doesn’t.” If you can’t easily escape your stress mentally, distract yourself with physical exercise or upbeat music.
On the other end of the attention spectrum, completely ignoring whatever is stressing you out is not in your best interest either. Attempting to put it out of your mind won’t make the stress go away. On the contrary, you’ll only make the stress worse. “When you evade your problems, you don’t allow yourself to process or understand what you’re dealing with,” Christy Matta, a dialectical behavior therapist and the author of The Stress Response, told Health.com. Allow yourself to confront the problem, no matter how uncomfortable that may be, and develop a plan of action to find a solution. If it still seems like too big a task, enlist the help of someone you trust or a counselor. Check out these 5-second strategies for shutting down stress ASAP.
Talking with friends
It’s completely counterintuitive, but research shows that when female pals discuss their problems, they experience a spike in stress hormone levels, according to Oprah.com. “You’re dwelling on and overanalyzing every slight, every nasty look, every perceived injustice—essentially experiencing them over and over again,” according to the site. Instead, experts recommend talking about a problem once, then shifting your focus to possible solutions.
Trying to do too much at once can increase your stress level, according to Toni Bernhard, J.D., on PsychologyToday.com. When you’re feeling stressed, rather than multitasking to get it all done Bernhard recommends you take the opposite action: slow down. “Whether you’re thinking, typing, running an errand, or cleaning the house, slow it down by 25 percent,” she writes. Here are more causes of stress you didn’t know you had.
Most of us could admittedly use more zzzs, but spending too much time in bed can make you lethargic, Health.com reported. This can make it harder to focus and cope with what’s bugging you.
Eating comfort food
Digging into the mac-and-cheese or grabbing a jumbo Snickers isn’t a healthy way to combat stress, but many of us continue to do it, aiming for a quick mood boost or energy lift (and swearing to burn it off with a workout later). But when you scarf down food and your stress hormones are raging, these chemicals can actually tamper with digestion. Unfortunately, the calories you eat then are more likely to be stored as fat than used for energy. Instead, opt for one of the 14 best foods to eat when you’re stressed.
You’ve probably indulged in a glass of pinot noir or chardonnay after a rough day at the office, which isn’t a big deal—unless that one glass turns into three or more. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, men and women who report high levels of stress tend to drink more, and men are more likely to turn to alcohol for stress relief than women. Additionally, heavy drinking—defined as binge drinking (having four drinks for women and five drinks for men in around two hours) on five or more days in a month—can shift the body’s hormone balance and change the way our bodies react to stress. A heavy drinker will likely experience more anxiety over stressful situations that someone who drinks moderately. So what some see as a stress reliever can actually end up causing more stress and even lead to alcoholism. Look out for these signs stress is making you sick.
Hanging out on Facebook
It’s a habitual reward for many: Turn in a work project or finish a task around the house, spend ten minutes scrolling the social media site to relax. But if your friends gravitate toward complain-y, negative-type posts, their outlook may make your own stressed-out feelings worse. After researchers analyzed 1 billion status updates among more than 100 million Facebook users over the course of three years, they found that the emotions behind our Facebook posts are highly contagious. Every negative post written spawned one additional negative post among friends, HealthDay reported. However, positive emotions go viral too. So if your Facebook friends tend to share happy, uplifting news, checking your feed could help lift your mood too.
Smokers tend to light up when they feel stressed or anxious, believing that will calm their nerves. However, a 2014 study conducted in the United Kingdom revealed that quitting smoking actually reduces stress in ex-smokers. Researchers evaluated the levels of certain mental health factors in smokers before and after they tried to quit. Those who did quit experienced significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as an increase in positivity and quality of life. Smokers who tried and failed to give up the habit actually ended up feeling more stressed than before the study. Don’t miss these 37 ways to make managing stress so much easier.