Six Strategies That Don’t Shrink Stress

stressWhen we are stressed out and overwhelmed, we often turn to activities or habits that actually increase our stress, not soothes it.[1] Below, two experts reveal what surprisingly does not reduce stress, and why—plus, what really does.1

Watching TV

“Many of us—myself included—tend to unwind after a long or stressful day by spacing out in front of the TV,” said Carla Naumburg, PhD, LICSW, a clinical social worker and writer for the Psych Central blog “Mindful Parenting.”1

However, many of us typically watch television to relax after a long, stressful day.1 Between the evening news and television dramas, our body’s levels of stress hormones actually increase—even if we aren’t aware of it.1

Heidi Hanna, PhD, author of the book Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress, said, “The problem is, your brain is always scanning your environment to see what might be potentially threatening, and will turn on the stress response just in anticipation of something dangerous.”1

Therefore, even if we are watching a fictional crime show, it still amplifies our senses, increasing our stress.1 Also, watching television takes time away from nourishing activities.1 Instead, we could be cooking, crafting, meditating, reading, journaling, and spending time with loved ones—all of which decreases our stress.1 Plus, the bright screen and rapid images make it more difficult to sleep, so no TV in the bedroom, as stress is increased when you aren’t able to get quality rest.1

High Intensity Exercise

Exercise increases endorphins, which improve your mood.1 However, according to Hanna, “if you’re physically exhausted, your brain and body are in a deprived state, and the extra energy required to work out may end up pushing you over the top, leading to overtraining. This may potentially weaken your immune system, increase inflammation, and even cause hormone imbalances that lead to more long-term issues.”1

Instead, practicing less intensive exercise is a good way to relieve stress.1 Yoga and walking both work well to relieve stress.1

Thinking Your Way Out

“It may sound pretty obvious, but most of us move through life lost in a storm of thoughts without even realizing that we are soaking wet,” said Naumburg. “Reflecting on our thoughts and reactions to a certain situation can help us gain clarity. However, that’s quite different from the endless mental spinnings that so many of us engage in when we’re faced with a confusing or challenging situation.”1

Ruminating about the past just adds another unnecessary level of stress and anxiety to our lives.1 Instead, observe your thoughts to gain clarity and reveal the next steps in solving the problem.1


Social connections are vital to our overall health, but being constantly connected to others can be exhausting, especially if you surround yourself with people who bring you down.1

“Because the brain is so sensitive to stressful cues in the environment, being around people who are stuck in a stress response, such as talking quickly, running from one place to the next, and complaining can quickly shift your own body into fight or flight,” said Hanna.1

Therefore, it is important to spend time with individuals who make you feel positive.1


“If you feel disconnected, being alone also can boost your stress,” said Hanna. “And when you’re alone you might turn to social media and the Internet for a sense of connection. These are often full of negative, stressful news that puts us in a fear state and triggers the stress response.”1

Ignoring Stress

Choosing not to think about a problem is not the same as ignoring it.1 It is healthy to observe our thoughts, consider them, and then decide if we would like to engage in them at the moment.1 However, ignoring them completely can lead us into unhealthy habits to help us do so—watching TV, compulsive shopping, drinking, etc. Ignoring stress does not help it go away.1

“Stress may pop up in an angry outburst, an aching back, sleepless nights, or any other number of unhelpful outcomes that will only serve to increase our stress—the exact opposite of what we are hoping to achieve,” said Naumburg.1

Instead, confronting what is causing our stress, while intimidating, is likely to help us be less stressed in the long run.1 Engage in healthy activities, such as journaling, talking to trusted loved ones, meditating, or working with a therapist.1

[1] Tartakovsky, M. (2014). 6 Strategies That Surprisingly Don’t Shrink Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/05/14/6-strategies-that-surprisingly-dont-shrink-stress/

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