Even before there was a worldwide pandemic, you were probably stressed: According to the American Psychological Association’s 2017 “Stress in America” report, more than 60 percent of adults felt stress about money, work and the future of the nation.1 With the COVID-19 pandemic, stress numbers have grown: The same report in 2020 found that 67 percent of Americans have felt an increase in stress over the course of the pandemic.2
A little stress—rushing to catch a bus, worrying how that job interview went—is unavoidable. But constant stress can increase your risk of mental health conditions like depression,3 as well as physical ones like heart disease.4 And it can take a toll on your relationships, too. In the 2020 “Stress in America” study, 20 percent of adults reported “snapping” or getting angry quickly, and 17 percent admitted to yelling or screaming at a loved one due to stress.2
It can also affect our weight loss success: Our ability to make healthy food choices is compromised when we’re stressed.5
All these risk factors of stress may be causing you more stress, so we’ll stop—and offer these seven easy and natural ways to relieve stress and reduce your risks, improve your relationships and stay on track to your weight loss goals.
1. Take a five-minute break to play a casual video game.
With their constant access to current events updates and the FOMO of social media, our phones are usually a cause of stress. But used correctly, your miracle gadget can also help reduce stress. In a study of 66 undergraduate students suffering from computer-based “cognitive fatigue,” researchers had the groups take one of three types of five-minute breaks: One group sat in a room without phone or computer, doing nothing. Another group participated in a guided relaxation activity. And a third group played five minutes of a casual video game. The video game group saw similar reductions in distress as the guided relaxation group. However, they were also the only group to say they felt better after the break.6
What’s a “casual video game”? In the study, the authors describe them as “recreational games that are simple to play, easy to learn and designed to be played in short intervals.” The authors specifically mention Candy Crush and Angry Birds. But for a new one, try the game the study participants played: Sushi Cat 2, a simple game where players navigate a cat around to collect and eat sushi.6 Just the description of that game may provide some stress relief!
2. Spend 10 minutes in nature.
Scientists have long known that time in nature provides natural stress relief. However, in 2020, scientists found the minimum effective dose: Just 10 minutes spent away from the stresses of civilization was enough to improve mood and focus while reducing blood pressure and heart rate. And you don’t even have to do anything in nature: Those benefits occurred while sitting or walking.7
If you have 15 minutes and can sit in a forest, even better: “Forest bathing,” a Japanese pastime where people recharge by sitting among the trees, has been shown to improve your immune system and cancer prevention,8 as well as a reduction in cortisol, a hormone associated with stress.9
3. Get moving.
Sitting in the forest is great, but sometimes you’ve got to move your body to bust that stress. Scientists believe that one way exercise helps with natural stress relief is by increasing a brain protein called galanin.10 Whatever the reason, it works: Walking for 30 minutes at lunch has been found to make walkers feel more enthusiastic, less nervous and more relaxed at work.11 And strength training has been shown to reduce overall fatigue, reduce depression symptoms in people diagnosed with clinical depression and reduce anxiety symptoms in healthy adults.12
Why not both? Combo your daily walk with one of these 10 workouts you can do right in your living room! >
4. Pet a dog or cat for 10 minutes:
Looking at pictures of cute animals might make you feel less stressed. However, it ain’t nothing like the real thing! When participants in one adorable study were given 10 minutes to pet cats or dogs, their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, dropped significantly more than it did for participant groups who just viewed slideshows of animals.13
Don’t have a cuddly friend of your own? If you can safely visit a friend and social distance, pet their pet—or make plans to volunteer at your local shelter when you feel safe to do so.
5. Order a shrimp cocktail.
When you think of “stress eating,” luxurious, calorie-dense foods probably come to mind. This makes sense: As mentioned above, stress can compromise our ability to make healthy food choices.
But one seemingly decadent food is good for stress relief and is surprisingly good for your calorie control: Shellfish. Mussels, clams, oysters and shrimp are high in an amino acid called taurine,14 which has been shown to have antidepressant properties.15 They also contain zinc,16 a mineral found to boost mood.17
When prepared without buttery sauces, these crustaceans and bivalves can help you stay on plan, too: A three-ounce serving of shrimp (depending on the size, 8 or 9 shrimp) is just one PowerFuel on Nutrisystem! Looking for another delicious and easy way to prepare shrimp? Try this Cajun Sheet Pan Shrimp Boil Recipe! >
6. Drink (or eat) some matcha.
Among its many health benefits, green tea has long been shown to reduce stress. It’s no wonder then that its super-concentrated form, finely ground matcha powder, has been shown to do the same. And it works whether you drink this green powder18 or even if you eat it: In one study of 36 people, those who ate matcha-infused cookies for two weeks had lower levels of a stress marker compared to a group that were green-powder-free.19 What a delicious method for natural stress relief!
Get a packet of your own and try it in these Nutrisystem-approved Matcha Blueberry Muffins, in this surprisingly sweet Matcha Melon Smoothie or in your very own, homemade, Guilt-free Iced Matcha Latte.
7. Do a simple body scan meditation.
You don’t have to be a master of mindfulness to get stress-busting benefits from meditation: Scientists have found that even one of the most basic meditation practices, a body scan, has natural stress-relieving effects.20
In a body scan, meditators put intentional focus on each area of the body, one by one, trying to really experience that segment of the body—how your back is in contact with the chair you’re sitting in, for instance, and how the chair feels against your back. You can find short, guided body scans on YouTube or in your favorite podcast app.
*Always speak with your doctor if you’re feeling overly stressed, sad or anxious.