Free Ways to Manage Stress

It’s not uncommon for stressors to lead to smoking, overeating or excess drinking to cope with stress, but that can make matters worse in the long run. Rather than letting your challenges take a toll on your happiness — or your health — take a proactive role in managing stress in healthy ways.

The good news is that you don’t have to spend lots of money on a day spa, fitness club or big night out in order to relax. Minimize stress and benefit your health with these wallet-friendly activities.

Start a journal.

Something bothering you? Try writing about it in a journal for 15 minutes each night. This focused writing exercise can benefit both your mental and physical health, says University of Texas psychologist James W. Pennebaker, PhD It can also help you pinpoint your problems and work out solutions.

Unwind with music.

Pick a quiet place and listen to music you find calming. Researchers have found that classical, jazz or easy listening music that is instrumental, harmonic and has 60-70 beats per minute (similar to a heart rate) can reduce anxiety. Consider joining a community choir or singing group for the added benefit of social interaction.

Be creative.

Draw, paint, sculpt, embroider, crochet or knit at home or in a social circle. Creativity can reduce stress, and focusing on a creative project can be an inexpensive and entertaining way to pass the time.

Get regular exercise.

Physical activity doesn’t have to mean a fancy gym membership. You can still get all the benefits from regular brisk walks around the neighborhood or light jogs through a nearby park. Or look for online fitness videos that you can follow in your living room for free. “Walking gives a physiological, mental and emotional benefit,” says Ruth Ann Carpenter, an active-living consultant. “I have solved many, many challenges in my life on long walks.” For an added benefit, go with a friend: research shows this improves your odds of sticking with new health habits.

Relax your body.

Take a few deep breaths. “Simple deep breathing is as simple as it sounds,” Carpenter says. “It’s tremendously beneficial in reducing heart rate and bringing down perceived stress.” Try progressive muscle relaxation: Start at your feet and tense those muscles, then relax. Then tense your calves, then relax. Move up your body, repeating with each muscle group until you get to your head.

Borrow a pet.

Pets can cheer your mood and also help you get out and about. If you don’t want the extra work and expense of owning a pet, volunteer to walk a neighbor’s dog or help out at an animal shelter.

Relax your mind.

Relaxation skills such as meditation require little more than a quiet space and basic directions you can find online or at the library. Slow, rhythmic breathing while sitting in an extremely comfortable position can help manage stress.

Create an at-home spa.

Enjoy a relaxing soak in your bathtub. Look around your house for inexpensive ways to add to your soothing experience: light a candle, use that good-smelling soap you got as a gift, use a portable speaker to play some relaxing music in the bathroom.

Volunteer your time.

Volunteer to read to kindergartners. Serve food at a homeless shelter. Or help your elderly neighbor with yard work. Volunteering can help you feel better, and can bring you satisfaction from helping someone else.

Have a laugh.

Listen to your favorite comedian. Watch a funny movie. Read a humor book. Share a joke with a friend. Whatever it takes to make you laugh.

© Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Some of the information in this article may not reflect current recommendations for reducing the spread of Covid-19. Please refer to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control or your local health department for current recommendations.