5 Free Ways to De-Stress

I've started to notice something about my spending habits, and maybe you can relate. When I'm sad, stressed, or emotional, I often justify expenses by telling myself “I deserve it.”

Before I wised up financially, my self-rewards were expensive. Spa services, new clothes, beauty products I didn't want or need. I'd wander into a store, or maybe online, and buy something to cheer myself up. Although the gifts to myself have become more reasonable — a magazine, a smoothie, a bar of gourmet dark chocolate — the habit stuck.

I don't think the small purchases are a problem. I'm living within my means, I'm saving money, and a $8 smoothie isn't concerning. Maybe if I bought one every day it'd make a dent, but this is an every-once-in-awhile purchase we're talking about.

What does bother me, however, is that “cheering myself up” tends to mean buying something.

Buying relaxation
Fortunately I don't have much stress in my life right now, but last week was different. After one particularly stressful morning I found myself wandering around Whole Foods and feeling this intense need to buy something comforting. A bar of soap that smelled like pumpkin spice or a snack or a cooking magazine — I didn't know what I wanted, I just wanted something. I felt overwhelmed and left the store. Once I was in the parking lot, I remembered that a few years ago one of my friends was in the same kind of situation I was dealing with. I sent her a message telling her about my day.

Instead of replying with a message, she picked up the phone, and her call picked me up off the floor. Nothing I could buy at Whole Foods would have reduced my stress as much that one phone call. (Before we hung up, she told me to treat myself to something nice. Do we think alike or what?)

As I drove away, I started to think about the relationship between spending money and de-stressing. There are numerous studies that show how stress can lead to serious problems like heart attacks, strokes, depression, sleeplessness, decreased immunity, and substance abuse. It's important that we find a way to relax, but it doesn't have to involve buying something. In my experience, that only gives a temporary high — eventually you're back at square one, plus you've spent money on something you might not have really wanted.

De-stress for free
Obviously there are better ways to relax when life gets stressful, but unless you have a general idea of how you'll handle stress before it hits, you'll probably fall back on old habits. (In my case, I knew why I was feeling the compulsion to buy, but I didn't know what to do instead. Treating myself is my coping mechanism, even though it's not very effective.)

The subject of de-stressing also is particularly relevant during the holiday season, a time when many people find themselves extra-frazzled by gift shopping, juggling family plans, meeting work commitments, and fruitcake (What? Don't dreadful baked goods stress out everyone?). The next time you need to relax, consider the following ways to lower your stress level, free of charge:

  1. Practice makes perfect. Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman did research at Harvard on relaxation methods to reduce stress and found that people who practice a relaxation method for 15 to 20 minutes reacted better to stress and recovered more quickly. The more months and years of daily practice, the quicker the stress recovery. According to recent findings, regular relaxation practice “tones” the vagal nerve, which regulates our reactions to stress.
  2. Take six seconds to slow down. Psychologist Robin S. Rosenberg suggests the following six-step, six-second relaxation method to lower stress:
    1. Recognize that you're stressed. Rosenberg writes, “…like a fish who doesn't realize that it's in water, if your feeling of being stressed lasts for more than a couple of minutes (particularly if you feel swamped), after a while you may stop being aware that you are stressed.”
    2. Find some humor. Think about something funny that happened recently (or take more than six seconds and search YouTube for funny animal videos — those never get old).
    3. Take a deep breath, inhaling through the nose.
    4. Breathe out slowly through the mouth.
    5. Say a word out loud that's relaxing, such as “calm” or “peaceful.”
    6. Shake out any muscles that feel tense. Usually you know where your body gets tense — my right shoulder and neck are still talking to me.
  3. Walk it off! Even 20 minutes of walking can reduce stress and improve your mood. Hit the gym, go for a hike, or play with the kids — find a form of physical activity that you enjoy and get moving.
  4. Find your flow. Do you have a hobby that helps you relax? What about listening to music, reading, or writing? Identify the activities that you often lose yourself in and try doing them the next time you need to de-stress.
  5. Cultivate your real-life social network. Online friends are great, but real-life friends are the ones that meet you for coffee, go for a run with you when you need to blow off steam, and call you in the middle of the day because they know you need to talk. Whether you're the type of person who has few close friends or the type that volunteers and is a member of several organizations, support from other people is priceless.

In addition to curbing impulse buying, de-stressing in these positive ways can reduce stress-related health problems. Give one or more of these a try the next time your stress hormones are on the rise.

Do you have any bad habits when it comes to coping with stress? What are some other positive ways to relax?

More about...Health & Fitness, Psychology

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Emily Hunter
Emily Hunter
8 years ago

My money spending habits are just as much (or more) about emotional spending than they are about necessity. The way that I usually tamp down that need is by going grocery shopping – that way I can at least use the bottle of pickled radishes or hard core russian mustard. 🙂

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Emily Hunter

Yup. Like April, I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing when I crave spending to relieve stress (I call it “special treat”), but if I *really* feel I must, then I go for (a) something as inexpensive as possible (e.g., the used paperback at $3 instead of the new shiny hardback at $25) and/or (b) something useful and preferably consumable. This is why I have a lot of fancy bars of soap. 🙂

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I love used bookstores for the reason 🙂 I also hit the library when I’m feeling blue. It gets me out of the house, and you can’t beat being able to take home any book, magazine or movie you want without having to think about your budget.

Becka
Becka
8 years ago

This is a great article, with some good advice, and I imagine it’ll hit home for a lot of people. I do definitely have the inclination to shop and buy myself a destresser after a rough day, and I’ve found my best free option is #3 – running.

But… “a $8 smoothie isn’t concerning”? Yikes! I don’t know about that!

Matt
Matt
8 years ago
Reply to  Becka

I thought the same thing. $8 for a smoothie! Wow.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

I have totally had those exact moments you described, wondering through Whole Foods, standing at the bar at the smoothie shop. Unfortunately I guess other people have been adopting my frugal ways – cause the smoothie shop went out of business!

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Becka

Yeah…. I’m from NYC, I’ve been to Jamba Juice, and I still was taken aback by that. That is one expensive smoothie!!

DonM
DonM
8 years ago

Great article. I eat when I’m stressed which is definitely not healthy. The advice works well for that too!

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago

I found myself doing this (stress buying) a few months ago… Resulted in a $600 plane ticket to visit a friend. Now that it’s time to pay for the ticket, maybe a phone call would’ve sufficed.

Ren
Ren
8 years ago

I use one of two ways to destress. Jack Daniels with Ginger Ale or playing my drums. You can guess which is more healthy.

Andrea Travillian
Andrea Travillian
8 years ago

Shopping has been related to making us feel good because we get immediate gratification! I over the years have used food and small amounts of shopping to make me feel better. I have been working hard over the past year and a half to incorporate stress reduction that does not cost anything and is healthier for me.

My favorites are: yoga, long bath, taking a walk and reading.

Ru
Ru
8 years ago

I am a stress eater. Right now I am procrastinating from writing a 2000 word essay (due tomorrow) that constitutes my entire grade for this unit. I am procrastinating by eating a can of tuna and reading this website because, good lord, if I read another journal on social exclusion among lower income young people or sustainability in ceramic industry I think I am going to burst a blood vessel and keel over.

Yes, I should have written this on Monday. No, I don’t expect sympathy. Damn my preconceptions that art school would mean art and not essays!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Hey! Are you the person who said some months ago that people don’t treat ceramics like serious art and prefer to buy cheap plates from Ikea? If so I have good news for you. But first let me know for sure it was you so I don’t waste my time with the wrong person, ha ha.

cc
cc
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

agreed. essays in art school art like pulling your own teeth. we know we cant write, thats why we’re in art school! 😉

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

If I had to write essays in engineering school – for sure you get to write them in art school. 🙂

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

ooook, i don’t know if you were this person or not, probably you were, but long story short i was in denver a couple of months ago and they had an exhibit at the denver art museum that featured some really cool ceramic sculptures– beautiful stuff really. massive towers… postmodern chimeras… installations… all sorts of things, all by contemporary artists. i remembered the (your?) post (i like art so i remember things like that, i’m terrible with names though) and i asked the info desk if they had a catalog or something they said no (bummer). their website is crap… Read more »

Ru
Ru
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Haha, yeah that was me (the site gets cranky if I try and comment too quickly), and that’s very sweet of you to think of me when you saw that! I know there’s lots of awesome stuff out there, my BA course covers both the sculptural side, the craft pottery, and the industrial side of ceramics. I just get exasperated a lot when people are like “ooooh I’m being frugal buying a low quality mug made in China” “I got this Tesco value dinner service for £6!” etc etc. Ceramic pieces sit around in your house for a long time… Read more »

Elliot
Elliot
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

I’m friends with several people who do functional pottery and make a living at it – not getting rich, but own-a-house raise-a-family level is pretty awesome. Check out http://www.hughespottery.com/ – all of my dishes are from them, so I might be a bit biased 🙂

Well Heeled Blog
Well Heeled Blog
8 years ago

I’ve found that reading is an easy way to de-stress for me. Of course, then you have the cost of books… but now that I have a Kindle, I can check out books from the library for free. (Let’s ignore the $140 I spent on the Kindle and the cover).

cc
cc
8 years ago

if i get bored i’ll frequently take a walk to the library (gag with the frugal but it works!). i leave my wallet and cash at home, but i can walk home with as many books as i can carry. the library is also a very pleasant 15 minute walk through a nice neighborhood, so win-win.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

5. Say a word out loud that’s relaxing, such as “calm” or “peaceful.”

how about:

SERENITY NOW!!!

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

YEAH, EFFING SERENITY NOW!!!

Once I used this technique for this purpose and was thinking, “Calm…relax…” then, “Homicide…” and I got the giggles so bad that I stopped being stressed.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Awesome Awesome Awesome!!!

Katie
Katie
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Gotta love Seinfeld! I think of that line all the time. Ha!

Cat
Cat
8 years ago

I buy junk food -so I waste money and then I don’t feel well. I think I’ll try Laura’s idea.. 🙂

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago

The ultimate way to destress:

KNITTING!

Or crocheting, which ever you prefer.

Seriously, you should try it.

Courtney
Courtney
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

lol knitting just makes me stress out about the mistake I made three rows ago, or the uneven stitches, or the knot in the yarn… AARRRGGGGH!

BB
BB
8 years ago
Reply to  Courtney

Repeat after me: it’s not a mistake; it’s a design element.
Feel better?

Terry
Terry
8 years ago

For me, taking my dog for a walk is the best stress reliever.

“Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” ~Soren Kierkegaard

thefrugallery
thefrugallery
8 years ago

Mornings are hectic around here. The best way I’ve found to lessen stress is to make lunches and set out clothes the night before. This starts my morning off on a positive note because I don’t have to run around like crazy trying to get things ready.

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
8 years ago

I was recently forced to take a break from my daily 45 minutes on the treadmill (foot pain due to putting off the purchase of new running shoes). My stress level went up immediately and I caught my first cold in 3 years.
I’m afraid that the solution was to stay off my foot for a week and buy new sneakers (but I did shop around and get a good deal 😉
Physical activity definitely works for me – the negative effects of not exercising daily definitely brought that home.

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago

Sometimes, chocolate does help.

Kristina
Kristina
8 years ago

Yoga, Bath, Exercise, Just drinking a cup of tea – no multi-tasking, Reading, unplugging from internet/phone/tv, Cleaning, Dancing to music, Journaling, Cooking a single comfort food dish – These all help with stress you can’t control.

Stress you can control – of course benefits from planning ahead and changing your habits.
Easier said then done!

OnABudget...Always
OnABudget...Always
8 years ago

Training my dog, although that is a Budget Buster of the first order. Puppy $500, crate $250 (and don’t think I have only one, more like 14), minivan, house with big yard, entry fees, training fees, vet bills, chiropractor (yes for the dog), massages (not for me), yadda yadda.

A chance to represent the USA in the World Agility Championships someday….PRICELESS.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

Free ways to de-stress:

1. Yoga
2. Carry a purring cat around
3. Watch hummingbirds
4. Shift a few heavy objects
5. Read
6. Dance
7. Fool around with DH
8. Bake something (okay not 100% free)
9. Walk around neighborhood and enjoy other people’s roses
10. Do my filing (what a NERD)

Expensive way to de-stress: leave the bad job and get a good one! (worked for me)

Beth
Beth
8 years ago
Reply to  chacha1

lol. I need a DH and a cat 😉

Julien Couvreur
Julien Couvreur
8 years ago

Watch a lolcat or kitty video 😉

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

Besides exercise, I tend to eat when I am stressed. I can always tell, if it goes on too long because I gained wait!

Christa
Christa
8 years ago

When I was working 80 hour work weeks, I often took coffee breaks to de-stress. I’d simply walk to the coffee shop, pick up a latte, and either walk or sit with my coffee for 10 minutes. It helped tremendously (but I still don’t advise 80 hour work weeks!).

CASHisKING
CASHisKING
8 years ago

Heres a good way to De Stress

Get some high grade marijuana…break it up…roll it .. get a lighter .. spark it

inhale

exhale

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  CASHisKING

Is that FREE? Really? Where do you live exactly?

http://www.priceofweed.com/

Ash
Ash
8 years ago

I so needed to read this article after an extremely stressful week and was planning a spot of retail therapy. I will try some relaxation techniques instead. As for relaxing activities, I find crosswords, Freecell(card game) on my computer or sitting in my garden or lying on my bed with a good John Grisham novel.

Matt, Tao of Unfear
Matt, Tao of Unfear
8 years ago

I definitely spend too much when I’m feeling stressed. Walking is definitely one of the things I do to cope (and what I’m getting ready to go do). I’ve also been focusing on developing and deepening my real life social network. From a comment I left on the Happiness Project blog, here’s what I’ve been doing: *I installed a program on my computer that will popup a short series of short, customizable, messages on an interval. Things like “I resolve to do things every day with other people.” They all resolve around building more and deeper relationships. *I’ve resolved to… Read more »

Bjorn
Bjorn
8 years ago

For me, destressing after work too often takes me to a resturant – steak and beer or two. I can afford it without a problem, but since I’ve realised that I kind of got stuck in a rut about this, it’s no longer as pleasing.

Since I realized this, I do it much less often. Results: Almost ten pounds lighter and some more money in the bank.

I’m a happy camper. 🙂

CRivers
CRivers
8 years ago

Not related to *free* ways to deal with stress, but I had an epiphany this week on stress and eating out. I’m generally the frugal one, do most of the cooking, and usually have to reign in my husband on eating out. However, I’ve been enmeshed in an awful project at work and have been working crazy long hours. It was really great to give myself permission to set aside my cook-at-home goals and allow us to eat out and get take out, and recognize that yes, we can comfortably afford it. And it is worth it to me to… Read more »

Jasanna
Jasanna
8 years ago

This is so true! Why all the feelings of “need” to buy something when we’re feeling displaced? I think it’s a lot of the advertising. Jewelry commercials showing a happy couple that a bracelet makes life perfect. People looking serene with cucumbers on their eyes in a beauty spa commercial…I think you’re right. We definitely need to get rid of that mentality! It can truly become an addiction.

Eileen
Eileen
8 years ago

3 very simple relaxation options (at work, especially):

– Say to yourself, “Gee, I am feeling/acting/sounding a little tense.” This interrupts the immediate stress cycle and makes you aware of it.

-Relax your jaw.

-A quick meditation, even for the meditation-averse: sit in a chair, close your eyes, and count backward from 100 as slowly as you can. Alternately, sit down and say to yourself, “I know I am breathing in, I know I am breathing out” as you inhale and exhale.

Tessa
Tessa
8 years ago

I tend to watch a happy movie or read a book if I’m a little stressed. It helps me to lose myself in the lives of fictional characters who have a happy ending.
If I’m really stressed, I just cook up a storm. I guess the good news on that is that I don’t spend the money at a restaurant! It’s at least (a little) cheaper at home! 🙂

JP
JP
8 years ago

Thanks April. Spot on with spending money and feeling stress. I recently came off of a couple stressful months at work. During those two months my spending habits went waco.

Personal financial systems are critical to combat stress induced purchasing:
– Set up auto 401k contributions
– Set up auto savings contributions
– Set up a time to check your finances every day

Setting up an automatic system is 100X more important than combating stress in any one given moment.

Jason
Jason
11 months ago

I think this is really important! I have a coworker that is fascinated with financial independence, it’s one of his favorite things to talk about, in fact. Nonetheless, he tells me his favorite de-stresser is to buy things on amazon because it feels good to buy things. It’s very hard to get rich if spending money is a hobby! I particularly like working out as a non-spendy way to de-stress. Going for a run or hitting up the gym provides a fantastic way to release those endorphins and feel better about everything. That said, sometimes I need to buy an… Read more »

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