Feeling stressed? You’re not alone. A survey found that 84 percent of Americans are experiencing at least one stress-related emotion—but a culture of stress is not just a problem in the United States. In countries like Costa Rica, the Philippines, and Venezuela, more than half the population reports experiencing “a lot” of stress, making them among the most stressed nations in the world.
And as most of us know, COVID-19 exacerbated stress levels worldwide, with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting a 25 percent increase in the global prevalence of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Regardless of where you live, your health and well-being depend on ensuring your stress level is in check. These six research-backed strategies can help—and so can Fitbit.
Prioritize sleep. Stress can interfere with sleep. Your body pumps out adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormone, during stressful periods, which increases your heart rate and core temperature, making it hard to fall asleep. On the flip side, lack of sleep can also leave you more vulnerable to stress.
“Our brains sometimes want us to go down this unproductive rabbit hole, but chances are you’re not going to solve a big problem at one o’clock in the morning,” says Angela Ficken, LICSW, a Boston-based psychotherapist. “You need something boring to occupy your mind” so that you can fall asleep—and stay asleep. Try mentally cataloging all the blue shirts in your closet or listening to a storytime podcast to help you fall asleep. Find other techniques here.
It’s also important to create a sleep sanctuary. Establish a bedtime routine; turn down the thermostat, install blackout shades to keep the room dark, turn on a white noise machine and use your Fitbit to track your sleep. Read more about the relationship between sleep and stress here.
You can also try Fitbit’s advanced sleep tools, like the new personalized Sleep Profile with Premium, which goes beyond nightly sleep tracking to analyze your monthly sleep habits and trends so that you can better understand your sleep health as well as work to improve it.
Meditate. It’s oft-cited advice for dealing with stress because it works. Studies show that practicing mindfulness meditation could reduce chronic stress levels up to 25 percent after six months.
Alfie Breland-Noble, Ph.D., MHSc, psychologist and founder of The AAKOMA Project, an organization supporting the mental health needs of BIPOC youth, calls deep breathing and mindfulness meditation “simple, portable, and feasible.”
If the idea of a traditional mindfulness meditation feels overwhelming, Breland-Noble suggests a simpler exercise: Identify something you can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell for which you are grateful. “The focus it takes to list each of these things is often just enough to move our minds off what is stressing us and into the moment,” she says.
There’s no need to take the conventional route when building your mindfulness practice—what matters is finding something that works for you. Try transforming a hike or walk into a moving meditation or turning to a furry friend. Looking for more unexpected ways to find mindfulness? Discover them here.
Set boundaries. Sometimes it’s the news headlines regarding the state of the world that trigger stress and other times, it’s your to-do list. When it’s the latter, Ficken advises setting boundaries and saying no to things that will create additional stress.
“We all have personal limits,” Ficken says. “It’s okay to say no to things that will create more stress.”
Ficken uses a few go-to boundary statements like, “Thank you so much for asking; I’m not able to do that right now,” or “I appreciate the invitation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me.” Practice saying “no” to small things so you’ll feel more confident establishing bigger boundaries. Learn more about how to set and maintain healthy boundaries here.
Break a sweat. Try not to give in to the temptation to hide under a blanket and binge-watch crime dramas when you’re feeling stressed. Even a single session of exercise makes you less reactive to stress.
You don’t have to run a 5K or train for a triathlon to experience the benefits of exercise on stress. Ficken notes that all physical activity, from walking, swimming, and yoga—and, yes, triathlons—can have stress-busting benefits. “Making a conscious effort to take care of your body will have a direct impact on stress,” she says. Try engaging in a little friendly competition with the Fitbit community by participating in challenges with friends or attending group fitness classes to find accountability on your journey.
Log off. Your devices are great for messaging friends, playing word games, catching up on the news, posting vacation pics, and watching crime dramas, but it’s possible to spend too much time on your screen.
If watching cat videos for a few minutes helps restore your sense of calm, go for it, says Ficken. But be careful to minimize online activities that cause your blood pressure to rise. Disabling notifications, deleting social media apps, and setting timers to remind you to log off are all strategies that can help you reduce screen time.
No matter what you’re looking at on your screen, Ficken recommends avoiding scrolling before bed whenever possible.
Ask for help. Stress can be overwhelming. Instead of going it alone, make an appointment with a healthcare professional or call 988, the new dialing code, to connect with mental health professionals. “It is really important to normalize seeking help,” says Breland-Noble.
People of color and those with marginalized identities, including LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities, face unique stressors related to racial trauma, homophobia, transphobia, and ability-based discrimination. Breland-Noble believes that acknowledging these stressors and seeking help if needed, is essential.
For anyone experiencing stress, she advises, “Start by identifying a trusted person to talk with and check in with them… Once we get to a place where we can acknowledge that there is something wrong that needs addressing and that we feel ready to address it, we are better prepared to seek out a mental health professional.”
Learn more about how Fitbit can help you manage your stress here.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
North Carolina-based freelance journalist Jodi Helmer has written about health topics for WebMD, AARP, HealthCentral, Health, Woman’s Day, Shape and Women’s Health. When she’s not writing, Jodi loves hiking with her dogs and gardening.