Little by little: 8 Small habits to reduce your stress levels

A man in a red jumper and glasses looks to his left and smiles

April marks the 32nd annual Stress Awareness Month – 30 days dedicated to raising awareness of the causes of stress, its impact and solutions. 

Often we’re advertised grand (and sometimes expensive) solutions to managing our stress levels and wellbeing, which can be difficult to put into practice around busy schedules and unsustainable in the long term. The theme of this year’s Stress Awareness Month is #LittleByLittle, emphasising the power of small yet consistent actions to reduce stress and improve our overall wellbeing. 

In this article, we’re sharing eight small yet significant adjustments you can easily incorporate into your daily routine to help reduce your stress levels and improve your mental health. 

8 Small habits to reduce stress levels

1. Take a deep breath

Did you know that short and shallow breathing can increase feelings of anxiety? Carve out a few moments throughout your day to focus on taking deep and mindful breaths. Find a quiet space, close your eyes and inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four, before exhaling slowly through your mouth for a count of four. As you exhale, pay close attention to where you might be holding tension in the body – can you relax your shoulders a little, or unclench your jaw? This simple practice can help calm your mind and alleviate tension. 

Action: Consider when in your daily routine you might be able to incorporate ten rounds of mindful breathing – while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, while you’re commuting to work (assuming you don’t drive, of course), or while you’re lying in bed before going to sleep for example. Layering new habits onto well established ones can make them far easier to stick to.

2. Sleep well

A well-rested mind is far better equipped to handle stressors than a tired one. Try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at a similar time each day – you want to aim for between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. And establish a sleep routine ahead of lights out to give yourself the best chance of getting quality rest. 

Action: Before bed, try to:

  • Put your phone on silent and away around an hour before bed, and avoid other light sources like televisions and tablets which can overstimulate the brain
  • Avoid heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, opting for easily digestible snacks like banana with almond butter or yoghurt 
  • Take a warm bath, jot down your thoughts or a to-do list for the next day in a notepad, read a good book or listen to some relaxing music to help you wind down. 

Read more: How to get quality rest as a shift worker in healthcare

3. Move

Exercise not only reduces stress hormones, but also releases mood and energy -boosting endorphins. Find a physical exercise that you enjoy, whether it’s a brisk walk, yoga, gym session, gardening, cleaning or dancing around the house to your favourite tunes.

Action: Exercise can sometimes feel like a chore, but it can be far easier to make a habit of it when you bundle it in with something else you enjoy. 

Find a podcast or audiobook you love and tune in while you take a brisk 30 minute walk. Watch a TV series you’re enjoying while on the treadmill at the gym. Or invite a friend to join you for a coffee and a walk or exercise class – exercising with others can help keep you accountable.

4. Laugh!

I’m not joking – research shows that laughter can trigger happy endorphins, boost the immune system and relax the body. Give yourself the space and time to laugh everyday, whether that be alone or with a group of friends or family.

Action: Curate a list of things you find funny – a TV series, comedy on YouTube, silly videos on TikTok, a jokey podcast. Then, when you have some downtime, dip into your list to give yourself a boost of laughter.

5. Reduce screen time

Disconnecting from technology can reduce mental clutter and promote relaxation, as well as free up time to focus on other things that might bring you more joy. Allocate designated periods for screen time and take regular breaks to help rest your eyes and mind. 

Action: Start by acknowledging when you pick up your phone throughout the day, and consider whether you really need to. Scrolling Facebook while watching TV – surely one screen’s enough? Answering WhatsApp messages over dinner? Focus on the people sitting in front of you instead. Watching TikToks at bedtime? Swap it for a book.

6. Practice mindfulness

Focusing on the present moment can help you control some of the repetitive and non-productive thoughts that can lead to stress. But you don’t need to find half an hour in your day to meditate – simply being present while you complete regular tasks, like waking up in the morning, making a cup of tea or taking a walk outside can help reduce stress and enhance your sense of wellbeing.

Action: Take a slow walk outside, noticing the movements and sensations in your body. Then begin to open your attention out to the sights, sounds and smells around you. If you get distracted, bring your attention back to the movement of your body. 

7. Avoid unhealthy habits

It can be easy to develop unhealthy habits to combat stress. Unhealthy habits can include:

  • Comfort eating
  • Procrastination
  • Excessive alcohol or coffee consumption
  • Doom scrolling on your phone. 

Action: One of the best ways to tackle unhealthy habits is to replace them with new healthier ones. For example, try swapping junk food for a healthy snack, or switching out your phone for a book or walk outside. If you’re struggling to let go of an unhealthy habit, talk to a friend about how you’re feeling, or speak to your GP.  

8. Be kind to yourself

Always treat yourself with the same compassion and understanding that you’d offer to a friend in need. Don’t be harsh on yourself for missing a few days of a habit – you can always start again. If you make a mistake, try not to dwell on it, but reflect on what you can learn and how you can grow from it. And instead of focusing on a perceived flaw in yourself, try to see the beauty in it instead. Being kind to yourself has been found to have psychological and physical benefits, including calming the heart rate.

Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight, but by incorporating these small, positive habits into your daily life, you can gradually reduce your stress levels, and become less reactive to new stressors. 

If you’re finding it difficult to cope with stress, check out the Stress Management Society website – you’ll find a wealth of free resources, plus information on where you can get support.

Free webinar: Introduction to the Level 2 Adult Social Care Certificate

Free webinar: Introduction to the Level 2 Adult Social Care Certificate

We’re hosting two webinars in July for employers and learners wanting to learn more about the new Level 2 Adult…
Care Certificate: How we support your learning journey

Care Certificate: How we support your learning journey

In our latest Level 2 Adult Social Care Certificate guide, we outline the support you’ll get from us throughout your…
Care Certificate: Glossary of terms

Care Certificate: Glossary of terms

In this glossary of terms, we explore some of the words, phrases and acronyms you might encounter while undertaking the…
Fuel your shift: Nutrition tips and meal ideas for nurses

Fuel your shift: Nutrition tips and meal ideas for nurses

Preparing nutritious meals might feel like a chore, but eating well is essential. In this article, we share nutrition tips…