A Year of Stress Reduction – I set the intention to reduce stress at the start of 2021.
This was my ONE + ONLY GOAL for that whole year.
I needed to reduce stress to stay healthy: mentally, emotionally + physically.
Did I manage to reduce stress?
And what worked best for stress reduction?
This is my 12 month update: everything I did to lower stress levels over twelve months.
Plus, my stress relief results: what worked + what got in the way of my goal.
I give each stress reduction method a rating – X out of 10 – to show how much it helped me this year.
Here’s 40 ways to relieve stress in 2022!
Regular stress reduction activities
I start with the common sense practical activities that most people know but forget to do when stressed.
I leant on them a lot this last year!
Exercise – Swimming: In July, I swam for 30 minutes three times per week. The aerobic exercise + change of scene cleared my head, gave me a break + made me feel good.
I swim regularly when the weather is dry: Summer and Winter. When not swimming, I walk the dog. There’s so many mental + physical benefits, I wish I could swim more.
Swimming for stress reduction: 10/10
Walking in nature – The benefits of walking in wild nature or a park have been proven by science to reduce stress. I prefer walks to be away from traffic noise. I take a big stick to ward off loose dogs.
Now we live in the centre of town, I’m not getting as much nature contact. When I have more time, I’ll walk to the edge of nature, instead of taking the car.
Nature walking for stress reduction: 8/10
Being at the allotment – Getting my hands dirty in all weathers + strenuous digging or watering has been very grounding.
Being outside + taking a break from the house renovations helped clear my head. Looking at the pretty plants + wild life in the sunshine helped mental health.
However, there was always so much to do, which sometimes added to feelings of overwhelm!
Gardening for stress reduction: 8/10
Morning meditation / check-in – Even 5-10 minutes a day greatly improved my mental health + stress levels. This internal connection definitely helps to reduce reduces anxiety.
I have meditated daily with the occasional break since 2016. Meditation is my favourite stress reduction activity (along with hot salt baths!). It is free, easy to learn, has far-reaching benefits + you can practice it anywhere!
Long term daily meditation rewires neural pathways to literally grow a more healthy brain. Learn simple meditation for highly sensitive people here.
Meditation for stress reduction: 11/10
Breathing – Deep breathing while swimming had a deeply cleansing + calming effect on my mind.
When we are stressed or afraid our breathing speeds up to prepare our body for fight or flight.
Slowing breathing tells our body it is safe + can relax.
Slow breathing promotes a healthy immune system, because the body directs it’s energies onto healing + maintenance when stress-free.
I could have used this method much more than I did, hence the lowish score.
Breath for stress reduction: 6/10
Cold showers – We currently have no hot water, so a hot salt bath – a superb 11/10 stress relief activity – was out of the question this year.
Cold showers were inevitable + ultimately enjoyable. I swam in the sea + lake during cool or cold weather too.
Similar to hot water, cold water resets the system, brings your focus to the present + connects you with your body via sensation.
The icy cold tap water did start to burn in December though!
Cold showers for stress reduction: 6/10
Not keeping bad company – I learned a few years ago that I’d rather be alone than in bad company.
If assertiveness does not work, then I limit contact with people who stress me out, or avoid them altogether.
As a highly sensitive person, your wealth is the company your keep.
Social boundaries for stress reduction: 9/10
News Blackout – Not watching or listening to the daily news cycle does have some disadvantages…
…Such as me not knowing the first 2020 Lockdown was about to start and then getting picked up by the countryside police!
However, for serious events someone usually lets me know.
I check relevant websites and outlets from time to time instead.
News blackout for stress reduction: 9/10
Sleep – For a month after moving house I slept and slept.
Now, have a night routine which involves eating around 7pm and no gadgets in the bedroom after 10pm.
I rarely set my alarm and allow myself frequent lie-ins. Sleep is very important to me.
However, working late interferes with this. Also my night routine could be more disciplined.
Sleep for stress reduction: 8/10
Digital Minimalism – A few years back, I turned off mobile phone notifications, eg. emails, texts, missed calls. I deactivated the mobile phone mailbox.
This means I have to be intentional and check these if anyone has tried to reach me. I check my phone at times convenient to me.
Being on alert to an endless stream of notifications is not how humans are meant to live.
I don’t have social media on my phone. I barely use social media for my business anymore. If I do log on, I rarely scroll the feed because I noticed how it affects my anxiety levels and self esteem.
I also only check business emails once or twice a day between Monday-Thursday. My my business runs through a Skype phone number, so when I’m away from my computer, I switch off.
I share 20+ years of self employment know how in blog Being a Highly Sensitive Person in Business. If you’re a new business owner looking for ongoing support, see Holistic Grower, my 121 programme for highly sensitive empaths.
Digital Minimalism for stress reduction: 10/10
New stress reduction strategies
Boundaries + assertiveness are key to stress reduction for highly sensitive people.
I had a life crisis in 2013/14. I had tinnitus, brought on by extreme stress.
Since then I’ve maintained good boundaries in family + business.
(– See my boundaries + assertiveness tips for highly sensitive empaths.)
Yet, there’s always more to learn.
This year, the most impactful new strategies for stress reduction have been in my social life:
Stopping People-pleasing – Stopping caring so much what people think of me has been HUGE.
Namely, facing conflicts head on, instead of pacifying or avoiding issues. It’s the result of a higher level of self love, self acceptance + self esteem.
Also due to ageing – I simply don’t want to waste any more time feeling miserable due to trying to keep someone else happy.
Not stuffing my feelings down has created better boundaries, which in turn resulted in less internal stress, worry + anxiety.
Self love for stress reduction: 10/10
Assertive communication / speaking up – In the past, I didn’t trust my intuition. I didn’t have the skills to speak up for my feelings and needs.
This led to a lot of internal stress. I used to grind my teeth at night!
I had a lot of practice with assertive communication this year!
For example, when somebody helped themselves to my hard-earned vegetable harvest, I carefully worked out what I needed to say and said it clearly at the next opportunity.
Result? I can enjoy my allotment without worrying about my peace being disturbed.
I discovered that the world doesn’t end when I speak my mind! What a stress relief!
Assertive communication for stress reduction: 10/10
Facing conflict – If you merge the previous two strategies, you become unafraid of conflict. Facing conflict reduced my anxiety this year. I was more true to myself and I dealt with problems directly.
In the past, I used to avoid difficult conversations or disappointing people. This avoidance resulted in higher stress, worry and anxiety.
For example, in December I had to confront the boss of a windows company after 11 months of patiently waiting for installation and much chasing. Result? More respectful treatment + the windows delivered within 2 weeks!
Self esteem also increased this year, because I felt proud of myself. I was a) doing difficult things and b) sticking up for myself.
Facing conflict for stress reduction: 10/10
Stress reduction techniques
These techniques have come in useful for stress reduction this year:
Re-framing negative experiences – For example, moving house involved switching mobile phone, wifi and broadband provider.
Due to employee errors, I spent hours on customer support trying to get a second SIM card, replacement router, the contract adjusted + access to my client area.
Being snarled up inside a cavernous corporation, passed from department to department, to the shop and back again was infuriating.
I chose to reframe this as ‘language practice’, which helped reduce stress levels.
At least I am now familiar with Spanish technical terms for a range of telecommunications issues, as well as corporate-speak!
Reframing for stress reduction: 5/10
Staying in touch with feelings + needs – As highly sensitive empaths from dysfunctional families, we can grow up disconnected from our feelings and needs.
Feelings alert us intuitively to when something is wrong or bad for us.
Being out of touch can be dangerous to health and well being.
Because I’m checking in with myself daily via simple morning meditation, I understand my deeper feelings and needs.
I also know instantly what feels good and right, versus bad and wrong. This helps me respond quickly to situations.
In the past, it could take days or weeks to recognise how upset I was about something. Carrying that internally was very stressful!
Self awareness for stress reduction: 9/10
Focusing on what I can control – Aside from moving house and being attacked by dogs, two big long term stressors this year were:
a) dealing with an unreliable supplier over 11 months and
b) poor service from a multinational telecommunications company.
The latter two were completely outside my control, yet I could not detach because I needed something from them.
Like an acrimonious divorce, not being able to detach from a source of stress + uncertainty is harmful.
This can be applied to relationships, the environment, politics… anything really.
With other issues like the pandemic, climate change, animal cruelty, I did what I could then focused on what I could control.
If I put energy into worrying about things that I have no influence over, I only feel powerlessness and lose motivation.
Focusing for stress reduction: 8/10
Being proactive – Facing head on anything that need to be done or said, instead of delaying + procrastinating took courage + grit. Yet, it freed up so much emotional + psychological energy.
It makes you feel proud of yourself.
This includes having a ‘get Shit Done’ day (below) and facing conflict (above).
‘Proaction’ for stress reduction: 7/10
Visualisation – In my daily meditation practice, I use visualisation to create positive outcomes in my mind. I also do various energy cleansing visualisations, like the cord cutting meditation (see below).
Dr Andrew Weill of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona believes visualisation to be one of the most under-rated self-healing methods.
I believe him.
Visualisation for stress reduction: 8/10
Stress Relief Products + Stress Reduction Kit
My stress reduction kit includes:
Soaked linseeds – A natural source of Omega 3, great for the gut + intestinal tract and a hormone regulator.
Stress levels strongly affect hormones and make me grumpy. Especially as I’m perimenopausal.
I have soaked linseeds on my porridge or muesli. You can also grind into ‘flaxseed’ and sprinkle on salads or soups.
Soaked linseeds for long term stress reduction: 8/10
CBD Oil – I bought two oils just after moving house when I felt drained and extremely tetchy and anxious.
Fortunately, I haven’t had to use them. Simply having them ‘in my back pocket’ has been a stress reliever!
CBD oil can help with anxiety relief, as well as a range of other issues. It is non-psychoactive, i.e. you don’t get high from these products!
CBD Oil for stress reduction: 3/10 (– only because I’ve not needed these products yet!)
Sleepy teas before bed – Camomile herb tea and Valeria herb teas are somniferous. Liquorice is good for stress reduction too.
Sleepy teas are an inexpensive and effective alternative to sugary desserts or alcohol for relaxation.
Sugar and alcohol increase stress and affects our hormones.
Sleepy teas for stress reduction: 8/10
Epsom Salts + Hot Bath – A hot bath with Epsom salts is my favourite form of relaxation ever (along with meditation).
Yet, as we only have cold running water, this activity has had to be replaced with cold dips on the lake or sea this year (see above).
Not quite the same!
Epsom salt + hot bath for stress reduction: 3/10 (because not many hot baths this year!)
Stress relieving foods
Whole Food Cooking – I’ve found the process of preparing + cooking nutritious whole food very relaxing.
It’s lovely to use food from the allotment and to experiment while switching off from the day’s work.
Eating whole foods supports the body’s abilities to heal and reduces stress on the body.
You can literally feel the wholefood goodness being absorbed!
I want to do much more wholefood cooking as the building project completes.
Whole food cooking for stress reduction: 10/10
Drinking lots of water – Water also reduces stress on body as the body + brain needs it to run effectively and cleanse.
I feel mentally energised after hydrating, yet it’s so easy to forget when we’re stressed.
Drinking water for stress reduction: 9/10
Reducing caffeine – Caffeine revvs up the body into fight or flight mode, which is why we can reach for caffeine when we are stressed.
Unfortunately, the long term effect of this artificial stimulation is very stressful on body and mind.
Caffeine before 11am in particular interferes with our natural circadian rhythm, making us more tired long term.
Solution? I drink decaffeinated coffee from Aldi that’s been through a natural de-caffeination process, i.e. water-based not chemically extracted. There’s still about 20% of the caffeine as normal coffee.
I still get a light buzz but don’t crash like I used to around 4pm. I sleep better and am less anxious.
Caffeine reduction for stress reduction: 10/10
Stress relief exercises
Manual Labour – Great for when I get stuck in over-thinking. Two hours of digging at the allotment or sorting out stuff for the tip, takes may mind off stressful topics.
Anything simple and manual will bring relief: washing up, ironing, hoovering, gardening, decorating, decluttering, cleaning… you get the drift.
Manual labour for stress reduction: 7/10
Cleansing – I always felt calmer, clearer and less stressed after doing the relationship cord cutting meditation.
It also helps improve how I feel about various relationships.
Relationship cord cutting for stress reduction: 7/10
How to reduce stress + tension
Moving house – The work involved in moving house was intense: 10 hour days for 6 weeks with no days off! That was stressful!
However, moving into a calmer area, with positive neighbours, less noise and few cars reduced stress overall.
Environment is very influential, especially for highly sensitive people.
Moving for stress reduction: 7/10
Talking to a friend – In February 2021, I was attacked by a pack of dogs in the country-side. I ended up at the police station and hospital.
Afterwards, I sat in my car and talked to a friend for an hour, before I felt ready to drive home.
A month later I was able to talk things through with the reporting police officer and this was incredibly healing.
The act of being listened to empathically and taken seriously massively reduced my stress levels.
It validated my experience and restored my faith that the world was a safe place.
Talking to a friend for stress reduction: 9/10
Zoning My Days / Week – I block out whole days to do one type of activity only. This is so that I can get ‘in the zone’ and not have to chop-up time.
Switching between different types of tasks tires the brain + makes you much less productive.
My week looks like this:
- Monday – Get Sh*t Done day – “Sh*t” being life admin + drudge work that is dull and/or stressful, such as :
pensions, national insurance contributions, accountancy, book-keeping, government applications for things like health card, legal status, change of drivers license, etc, tax payments, registering to vote, changing home insurance, updating change of address records, car MOT, bank statements, fixing broken mobile phone screen, shopping for better household deals (gas, water, electricity, insurance), closing bank accounts, etc.
Other ‘Get Sh*t Done Day’ drudge work includes:
Shopping for building supplies, chasing estimates, writing lists of upcoming jobs, paying invoices, arranging installations, researching and ordering supplies / tools, tracking costs, meetings with suppliers (builders, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc).
Any sh*t I don’t get done is rolled over the the following Monday. The rest of my week is sh*t-free!
- Tuesday – Client day
- Wednesday – Day off + market / nature
- Thursday – Client day
- Friday – Day off (though not happening at the moment due to building work)
- Saturday – Building work / allotment + blog post / newsletter
- Sunday – Building work / allotment, blog post / newsletter + Sunday Oracle.
Zoning my week has been extremely effective for reducing stress. It means that I always know what is happening that day. I can plan, I can pace myself.
If it’s a non-client day, I can switch-off from healer mode. I save my battery.
I am not overwhelmed by trying to do multiple different things or be in multiple roles on the same day.
I highly recommend this method!
Zoning days for stress reduction: 10/10
Simple living: Even though a building project is very taxing on time, in other areas I’ve been simplifying and slowing down.
This means doing less, buying less new things, travelling less, less social obligations + less activity related goals. Having and doing less = more time.
For example, at the moment we are camping in our house with cold water + no central heating.
We have got used to living simply and want to carry this on when the house is finished.
We do need a few more home comforts though!
Simple living for stress reduction: 8/10
Decluttering + Cleaning – Science has proven that a clean and tidy space reduces overwhelm and stress.
Due to building work, we currently only have one room of the house clutter + dust free.
However, at least I have a serene and clean oasis to retreat to and wake up in!
It makes a huge difference to stress levels.
Decluttering + cleaning for stress reduction: 6/10 (– not able to do more yet!)
Stress Reduction Mindset
I used to push myself too hard and expect myself to be superwoman. I am learning to be gentler on my inner child, so I can reduce stress.
Realistic expectations + goals – My single goal for 2021 was “to reduce stress”. I didn’t set loads of unattainable goals that would just stress me out or make me feel bad.
Keep it simple and pick one umbrella goal for the year ahead.
You’ll be able to make process towards it in many manageable ways!
‘One Thing’ goal for stress reduction: 8/10
Patience – Breaking up big jobs + doing one thing at a time has been essential.
Progress on building work has been slow as we’re juggling it with other work and running my business.
Rome wasn’t built in a day!
I stopped pressuring myself about the slow progress and reduced overwhelm by doing a little everyday.
For example, doing one building-related activity, like tiling, until I got tired, instead of forcing myself to keep going for hours and hours.
Also, I acknowledged what I got done, instead of only focusing on what was still pending.
Patience for stress reduction: 6/10
Changing Environment – Environment is everything, especially for highly sensitive people.
It’s stressful to live in a negative or stressful environment.
If you can’t move house then create a cocoon in your home and take regular breaks.
Changing environment for stress reduction: 6/10
Alternative Christmas – No gift buying, no rushing about, no onerous phone calls, no excess.
Instead, managing expectations and creating a rejuvenating White Light Retreat for two weeks.
This was incredible. Sign up here if you want to take part next year!
Alternative Christmas for stress reduction: 10/10
Lists + Priorities: I have a pad with a list of rolling tasks which get ticked off. Priorities highlighted.
I also am clear about the next days tasks before bed.
I have an online calendar version with reminders on my phone for important deadlines + appointments.
I get a sense of accomplishment from seeing all the ticked off items.
Lists + Priorities for stress reduction: 10/10
Casting good spells – I give myself encouragement by correcting negative self talk.
Every day I look myself in the mirror and give myself encouragement + support (Mirror Work).
Over the years I have used Affirmations to change mindset about specific things with positive results too.
If you let your inner critic run out of control, you’re effectively cursing yourself on a daily basis.
Highly sensitive children of dysfunctional families must learn how to encourage themselves in moments of doubt or defeat.
Casting Good Spells for stress reduction: 10/10
Tip #1: Setting goals to deal with stress
So often, highly sensitive people from dysfunctional families only have a clear picture of what we don’t want.
Unfortunately, the process of healing the past can mean all our attention is backward looking.
Highly sensitive people who want to reduce stress, tension, anxiety and live more harmoniously must put time into visualising the future they want to create too.
It is tremendously helpful to have a broad clear vision of the life you want to have.
You can revise this every few years.
Without this clear vision, you have no map or destination to aim for.
A clear and broad vision is great for stress reduction, because it gives you a guideline to base decisions + strategies on.
If you struggle to emotionally connect with a future vision, consider whether or not you have some limiting beliefs to clear.
Limiting beliefs from childhood make us drasticise and catastrophise when we think of the future.
Tip #2: Connect with Your Ideal Day
Spend time imagining, daydreaming + recording the things that lift you up. Collect images that make you feel inspired.
Make a wish board, doodle, draw with crayons – or simply make lists of preferences about how you want your life to be in future.
If the big picture feels overwhelming, focus on creating ‘Your Ideal Day’.
Get clear about what you want. Then you can base all stress reduction decisions on that vision.
Article + Images Copyright Amy Garner 2021. See my Copyright Notice and Disclaimer here.
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