Learn how to keep your stress levels in check

Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you brings things back into balance.

Talk to a friendly face. Face-to-face social interaction with someone who cares about you is the most effective way to calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Interacting with another person can quickly put the brakes on damaging stress responses like “fight-or-flight.” It also releases stress-busting hormones, so you’ll feel better even if you’re unable to alter the stressful situation itself.

Appeal to your senses. Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee or a favorite scent? Or maybe squeezing a stress ball works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so start experimenting now to find what works best for you. Once you discover how your nervous system responds to sensory input, you’ll be able to quickly calm yourself no matter where or when stress hits.

Make leisure time a priority. Partake in your favorite activities for no reason other than that they make you feel good. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.

Make time for contemplation and appreciation. Think about the things you’re grateful for. Mediate, pray, enjoy the sunset, or simply take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful as you go about your day.

Take up a relaxation practice. While sensory input can relieve stress in the moment, relaxation techniques can help reduce your overall levels of stress—although they’re likely to take more time to learn effectively. Yoga, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can put the brakes on stress and bring your mind and body back into a state of balance.

Manage emotions to relieve stress

Understanding and accepting your emotions—especially those unpleasant ones many of us try to ignore—can make a huge difference in your ability to manage stress and balance your moods. HelpGuide’s free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit can show you how.

Eat a brain-healthy diet to support strong mental health

Unless you’ve tried to change your diet in the past, you may not be aware how much of what you eat—and don’t eat—affects the way you think and feel. An unhealthy diet can take a toll on your brain and mood, disrupt your sleep, sap your energy, and weaken your immune system. Conversely, switching to a wholesome diet, low in sugar and rich in healthy fats, can give you more energy, improve your sleep and mood, and help you to look and feel your best.

People respond slightly differently to certain foods, depending on genetics and other health factors, so experiment with how the food you include in—or cut from—your diet changes the way you feel. The best place to start is by cutting out the “bad fats” that can damage your mood and outlook, and replace them with “good fats” that support brain-health.

Foods that adversely affect mood

-Caffeine
-Alcohol
-Trans fats or anything with “partially hydrogenated” oil
-Foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones
-Sugary snacks
-Refined carbs (such as white rice or white flour)
-Fried food

Foods that boost mood

-Fatty fish rich in Omega-3s such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, tuna
-Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts
-Avocados
-Flaxseed
-Beans
-Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, Brussel’s sprouts
-Fresh fruit such as blueberries

Don’t skimp on sleep—it matters more than you think

If you lead a busy life, cutting back on sleep may seem like a smart move. But when it comes to your mental health, getting enough sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Skipping even a few hours here and there can take a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. And over the long-term, chronic sleep loss can wreak havoc on your health and outlook.

While adults should aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night, it’s often unrealistic to expect sleep to come the moment you lay down and close your eyes. Your brain needs time to unwind at the end of the day. That means taking a break from the stimulation of screens—TV, phone, tablet, computer—in the two hours before bedtime, putting aside work, and postponing arguments, worrying, or brainstorming until the next day.