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20 free (or really cheap) ways to relieve stress

'Retail therapy' isn't the cheapest way to feel better, and it can have a nasty hangover. Here are budget-friendly ways to free your mind and feel better.

By Smart Spending Editor Sep 17, 2013 10:10AM
This post is from Paul Michael of partner site WiseBread.

WiseBread logoYou've had a hard day; things have happened at every turn that made you think "I'm going back to bed to restart the day." Of course, you soldier on. But stressed to the edge of sanity, your patience wears thin. You continue your day with that weight upon your shoulders, chugging expensive coffees and praying for the day to be over already.

Image: Reflections and Dreams © Uygar Ozel, Vetta, Getty ImagesStress like this needs to be avoided. Not only is it a rotten way to live, it's also detrimental to your health. It can lead to headaches, depression and more. Thankfully, there are so many affordable, or even free, solutions out there to help you ease the tension.


1. Take your pooch for a walk

Walking is a great way to relieve stress. And if you own a dog, it's a good excuse to get your mutt out of the house to keep you company. If your dog is on the "chubby" side, you'll be doing your best friend a favor, too. And your dog will thank you for it. It's far better than the alternative -- sitting on the sofa loading up on ice cream while your dog does circles on the linoleum. 


2. Use YouTube to learn a new skill

Self improvement makes us feel good. It's also one of the easiest ways to improve self-esteem. YouTube has hundreds of how-to videos on almost every skill or hobby you can imagine (and even some you can't). From learning a musical instrument to crocheting, photography, model-making, or even pottery, you'll find simple, free instructions online. Other sources include Instructables.com, wikiHow, Howcast, and VideoJug.


3. Declutter your home

This is a twofer. Not only is decluttering a good way to take your mind off other things, the end result also leaves you feeling less stressed. Most people hate mess, even if they can live with it. So, grab yourself two plastic shopping bags each day, one labeled Trash and the other Donate. Walk around your home and fill them up. The clearer your surfaces, the clearer your mind. Which brings us to No. 4 . . . .


4. Meditate

It's not new-age silliness or a passing fad. It's not religious. It's all about self; a spiritual thing that comes from within. We've all heard of meditation and know it's supposed to relieve stress by reconnecting with the present moment and our inner being. If you're unclear about that, you'll know soon. And you'll find plenty of free instruction videos online, including mantras, plus background music if you need a more calming environment.


Remember, this takes practice. It's actually quite hard to sit, clear your thoughts, and return to center. But, it gets easier with time. And by clearing your thoughts, and focusing on your body, you're giving yourself some of the best free medicine there is.


5. Get everything down on paper

Or a white board. Or a tablet. Just choose an outlet for your thoughts and exorcise them. Maybe you are feeling a higher sense of stress than your situation should allow. Quite often, you can become overwhelmed by things that, in retrospect, aren't that stressful after all. It can help to sort your thoughts instead of going over and over them in your head again. Get them out, get them on paper and get on with your day.


6. Talk to someone

Whether it's a friend, or a doctor or therapist, don't be afraid to seek help. If you're not sure why you're stressed, visiting a doctor could be an especially good move -- your stress may be related to a physical condition or another kind of imbalance.


7. Take photos

If you have a Facebook account of your own, or if you visit Instagram or Tumblr, you'll realize that pictures are a wonderful focus on the good things about people's lives. After all, how many people post pictures of themselves looking sad and lonely?


So, adopt this "positive photos" way of life. Soon, you will look at your Facebook or Instagram feed and think, "hey, I'm doing great!" What's more, if you make a conscious effort to take photos, you'll start focusing on great things to photograph. You'll look for the good in everyday life, and find those needles in the haystack. Even when it all looks gloomy, there's a beautiful image to capture.


8. Pet Your pet

There is scientific evidence that human beings feel less stressed when they are petting a dog, cat or other animal. Dogs are used to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers, relieve stress in students, and even make dangerous prisoners feel more at ease. If you own a pet, give your companion a little extra love. If you don't, pay a visit to an animal rescue center. You can visit with dogs, cats and other animals, walk them, pet them, and give them some much needed care. It's a win-win situation. You may even find a new friend to bring home.


9. Clean your bathroom

Really? Well, it's not pleasant. If it's anything like the bathrooms in my house, where two kids destroy anything they touch, it's more like cleaning up a war zone. BUT, there are a few benefits to this. First, it's a tough job. You're scrubbing, wiping, getting up and down, sometimes on your hands and knees. You don't have much time to think. Put some tunes on and crank them up. When you're done, you'll feel better about the clean bathroom, and you'll feel like you accomplished something.


10. Listen to music from memory lane

We all have music that transports us back to a time or place when things were so much easier (or at least, they seemed easier). For some of us, it's high school. For others, our days being single and carefree, clubbing it and being completely irresponsible. Well, music can actually make you feel those emotions again. Put on some of those classic tunes from times when stress was not in the picture. You'll even start smelling things from times gone by.


11. Rearrange the furniture

They say a change is as good as a rest. It's also a great way to take your mind off things, and look at the world through new eyes. Or in this case, from a new bedroom or living room.

Rearranging the furniture is exercise, helping you exert energy. It's also really cathartic, giving you a new environment without spending anything more than a little of your time and effort. A rearranged room can make things feel fresh, and with some feng shui added in, who knows? You could even improve your finances or your love life.


12. Soak up some rays

A study by dermatologist Richard Weller says that the benefits of sunbathing might outweigh the risks involved. The biggest one -- low blood pressure. Yes, when the skin is exposed to sunlight it releases nitric xxide into the blood vessels. This helps lower blood pressure, which can assist in relieving stress. And let's not forget that Vitamin D is another benefit of sunbathing, which assists bone growth and boosts the immune system. No matter what, just getting outside is a great way to de-stress.

13. Concentrate on your breathing

It's another form of meditation, but one that doesn't require the same kind of commitment. Whether you're stuck in your cubicle at work, stressing out from another project, or you're at home with the kids who won't stop screaming, you can breathe. In, out; in out.


14. Make faces in the mirror

In other words, laugh. Make the time to stop taking life so seriously, even if it's just for a few minutes. Use props. Get some invisible tape out and turn your face into something from an episode of Face Off. It may seem silly (because it is), but even this small departure from reality can make a big difference to your day.


15. Play like a kid

How many kids do you know who are stressed out and feeling like life is all too much? Not many, right? Granted, they don't have the pressures and responsibilities of an adult, but they do have something we don't; playtime. From Lego and PlayDoh to jigsaw puzzles and Etch-A-Sketch, there are toys "meant for kids" that are just as fun for big kids to play with. Try it. I keep Lego and other mind-freeing toys in my office. Why should kids have all the fun?


16. Paint. Sketch. Sculpt. Free your mind
You don't have to be "good" at art. Just create. You may be surprised at just how much fun you have. When you're done, you could have some timeless memories for your walls.


17. Break something

We all have some nasty old crockery in the basement or attic. Or some old ornaments that even Goodwill would be skeptical about accepting. Well, instead of throwing them in the trash, get one final use out of them. Find a place you're not going to do any damage, and throw those things down. Break 'em. Smash 'em. Annihilate 'em. If you've got an old baseball bat (and safety glasses and gloves), and something that needs to be "disassembled," get to work. It's amazing how much stress you can relieve.


18. Scream

Let it all out. You can drive to a secluded spot. You can bury your face in a pillow (or three if you scream like a banshee). The benefits of screaming are documented, and yet it's a raw, human response to stress that we have taught ourselves to bury inside. Why? There's no harm in it. You aren't screaming at anyone else. You're just releasing some of the pressure, much like a pressure cooker. And when you're done, and your jaw is tired, and your throat is sore, your head will feel light as a feather.


19. Reduce sugar and caffeine consumption

These stimulants are good at keeping us awake, alert, and energized, but they also fuel our stresses. Did you know that just 15 oz. of coffee (that's a Grande from Starbucks) is enough to raise your epinephrine levels by over 200%? Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline -- and that can really pump up your stress levels. Sugar, too, is not your friend. Our bodies often crave sugar when we're stressed, due to a hormone called cortisol. But each too much sugar, you'll crash, gain weight, and have even more to stress about. Dump the coffee and sugary treats.


20. Concentrate on the good things

Stress can make us focus on the bad things in life, with blinders on. We don't look at everything that's right in our lives, we just obsess over the bad stuff. One way to get out of this depressing rut is to keep a gratitude journal. A simple notebook is all you need. And every day, you should take the time to write at least one thing you are grateful for in your life. Read it at the end of every week. You'll be amazed at how much you have.


Remember -- there are many different ways this has been written, but in short: "Other people do not cause us stress. They merely cause or contribute to a situation, and it's our reaction to that situation that causes stress." Basically . . . we all have the power to rid our lives of stress.


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5Comments
Sep 17, 2013 2:35PM
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After seeing that this article could be read on a single page instead of in "slide show" format, it brought  me an immediate relief from stress.
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4, 10, and 12, have always worked well for me. Doing them all at once is a reallt good thing : )
Sep 17, 2013 11:29AM
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Scream?!?  Seriously.  Good gosh, you're an adult, suck it up.
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