A Positive Psychiatrist's 4 Tips To Ease Everyday Stress (One May Surprise You)
"The toll of everyday stress, we don't really address it enough in my profession," says positive psychiatrist Samantha Boardman, M.D., author of Everyday Vitality, on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. Considering her profession is, well, psychiatry, this may seem puzzling. However, she notes that while we do have the ability to bounce back from major life stressors (divorce, death, etc.), those micro-stressors tend to fly under the radar—you may not even notice them until they snowball into pretty intense mental and physical symptoms.
"We have this big-R resilience for the big stuff that happens, but we're lacking that little-R resilience for the daily grind," she continues. That said, she offers her top tips for managing everyday stress—and you might be surprised by a couple of her go-to's:
It's a tip you might have heard once or twice before: Nature is a well-researched buffer that helps people cope better with life's stressors1. Boardman wholeheartedly agrees: "One of the best things about being outdoors is it interrupts rumination," she says. (You know, that downward spiral filled with statements like, Why did I do that? or Why did I say that?) "When we can't get out of rumination, one of the best strategies is being outside."
In fact, studies have shown that peering at wide distances (like at a landscape or up at the sky) can actually activate the parasympathetic nervous system2. It's the complete opposite of tunnel vision, where your tunnel pupils dilate in response to adrenaline3 and prepare you for fight or flight—looking out into the distance (in nature) can help you feel more at ease.
And on a physical note: "We also know from research that patients who have a window onto nature recover more quickly from surgery—they require less pain medication4," says Boardman. In other words? Nature really is healing, in more ways than one.
Ever heard of this tip? To help ease everyday stress, kick-start a hobby. "Hobbies are probably the purest form of love," says Boardman. According to a study from Harvard Business School, the best intervention for people who felt stressed and burnt out at work was to learn a new activity5—not for the sake of climbing the corporate ladder but for their own happiness.
That said, Boardman emphasizes the importance of doing something just "for the love of the game." Find an activity that brings you joy, and stick with it—just don't turn it into a side hustle, as that undermines the beauty of the hobby itself, but discover something you deem valuable for your own pleasure. "That's what puts you in a flow state, where you lose the sense of time, and that engagement is just a tremendous uplifter in your everyday life," says Boardman.
On that note, one final caveat: "For it to qualify as a hobby, it can't be passive," says Boardman. "There has to be that level of engagement." For example, scrolling through your social media feed does not count as a hobby, nor does watching sports on TV.
Seesawing to a more well-known stress reliever, Boardman is quick to reference the power of movement for mental health. "I think we underestimate how important movement is," she explains. It doesn't even have to be a strenuous activity: Research shows that just 30 minutes of treadmill walking for 10 consecutive days6 was associated with enhanced mood. "[Movement] not only lifts you in the moment, but you have this longer-term boost from it," Boardman adds.
If the thought of carving time in your busy schedule for the gym sounds, well, stressful—you're not alone. Boardman suggests focusing on building more movement into your everyday rather than feeling like you have to go to the gym: "You will feel just as good, and you're getting the mental and physical benefits of just moving more," she notes. "Taking the stairs and not the escalator—just those little micro-movements, where you're not breaking a sweat, actually have tremendous benefit."
Finally, Boardman says, if you want to uplift your mood—stand up straight. Sounds incredibly simple, but for some, it can make all the difference: "We know from studies if you hunch over and assume the position of looking at a phone, your mood [may be] a little bit sad versus walking a happy walk with your shoulders back, your arms swinging, and a spring in your step—those are immediate mood boosts," she explains.
Research does back it up: One randomized controlled trial found that an upright seated posture in the face of stress was associated with higher self-esteem, reduced negative mood, and increased positive mood7 compared to a slumped posture. Another study measured participants who were seated in a stooped, straight, or control posture while writing down their thoughts—and those with stooped postures had more negative thoughts overall8.
To alleviate everyday stress, try Boardman's list of go-to's. They're rather low-lift (aka, easy to implement in your daily life), but they have pretty profound benefits for mental health.
Enjoy this episode, sponsored by smartwater! And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Amazon Music!
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.