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Tackling Mental Health in 2024: 20 Innovative, Low-Cost Ideas to Reduce Stress & Anxiety

Updated: 6 days ago

A pug dog wrapped in blanket looking sad

In May 2024, Mental Health Awareness Week serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of prioritizing mental well-being in our communities. With a growing recognition of the complexities surrounding mental health, this month offers a platform for destigmatizing conversations and promoting understanding and support.

In today's fast-paced world, stress and anxiety have become familiar companions for most people. Mental health difficulties are on the rise (see Mental Health Statistics 2024 by app Kindmind). And thanks to cuts in public spending, the number of locally funded services available to tackle these issues is on the decline, with mental health waiting lists commonly reaching 12 months! So an awareness of stress and anxiety, their impact, and the various ways of managing them is KEY to maintaining a healthy happy life.

Interesting Facts About Stress & Anxiety

  • Stress is the body's reaction to a threat or trigger, whereas anxiety is the body's reaction to stress. Stress activates the fight of flight response in the primitive part of the brain, which is designed to keep us alive. Stress is caused by both internal and external stressors, which can be interpreted as real or imagined threats.

  • Internal stressors include what a person is thinking, their memories and imagination, which may or may not be true/accurate. External stressors include Social, Societal, Economic, Environmental and Physical threats, which again might be real or they may be perceived, imagined, or inaccurate.

  • The body cannot differentiate between a real and perceived threat or danger; the stress reaction is the same whether we are being physically chased by a tiger or simply imagining it. Just because we think something, it doesn't make it true!

  • Stress affects people in different ways. Some people will be more resilient to stress compared to others, and it's a person's ability to manage and adapt to stress that will affect their response and the outcome of a situation – this is how emotional resilience develops.

  • Prolonged or chronic stress/anxiety causes too much cortisol to be produced in the body, which damages memory and the immune system, and can affect just about every aspect of our physical wellbeing, from our head to our toes and everything in between.  

A woman sitting on bed surrounded by books looking stressed

The GOOD NEWS is that there are numerous innovative strategies and techniques available to help combat these emotional challenges, which do not cost the earth. In this blog, we explore 20 creative and low cost ideas to reduce stress and anxiety, offering a range of options for you to try. Whether you prefer relaxation techniques, lifestyle changes, or engaging activities, there's something here for everyone. So let's GO!

1.     Cold Water Therapy: Cold water immersion, e.g. submerging hands and/or face in cold water for a brief period, can activate the body's "diving reflex," or parasympathetic nervous system, inducing a state of calmness by slowing down the heart rate. This technique is useful when feeling nervous, overwhelmed or experiencing an anxiety attack. For the more courageous of you out there, cold water baths are becoming all the rage thanks to Wim Hof, as are wild swims. Over time, cold water therapy is reported to help the body boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, helps with pain management, improves mood, reduces stress, and enhances mental resilience. To get started, try turning the cold water on for a few seconds when taking a shower and focus on your breathing as your body adapts. You can switch the water back to warm once done, or jump out and dry off while your internal thermostat adjusts

White flowers in bloom

2.     Nature Walks: Spending time in nature has a plethora of benefits for the mind and body. Spending time outdoors exposes you to fresh air, sunlight, and intake of vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and has been linked to mood regulation. Sunlight exposure also helps regulate the body's internal clock, potentially improving sleep patterns and reducing stress. Nature walks encourage mindfulness, aka the practice of being present and fully engaged in the moment. Being surrounded by natural beauty allows you to engage your senses, and temporarily detach from the stresses of daily life. This can induce a state of relaxation, reducing levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Try taking a break from your daily routine and go for a peaceful walk in a park or forest; breathe in the fresh air, observe the beauty of nature, and let go of your worries.

3.     Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be cathartic and enlightening; it can help you develop a greater self-awareness and connection to yourself and your life experiences. You can create a simple journaling habit, by dedicating a few minutes each day to reflect on your thoughts, feelings and experiences using either a journal and pen, a journaling app, or simply open up a Word document and start typing. This practice helps you gain clarity, release emotions, and reduce stress. Click the link to read my blog on why Reflective Journaling is the Most Powerful Self-Help Tool and how to get started.

4.     Digital Detox: A digital detox is a period of time during which individuals consciously disconnect from electronic devices and digital technology, such as smartphones, computers, tablets, and social media platforms. Constant exposure to digital devices and online activities can lead to information overload, cognitive fatigue, and increased levels of stress and anxiety. Disconnecting from technology allows the mind to rest and recharge, promoting relaxation and mental clarity. The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt the body's natural sleep-wake cycle and interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Limiting screen time before bedtime as part of a digital detox can therefore improve sleep quality and help individuals fall asleep more easily. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, and you know you are spending way too much time in front of a screen, consider taking regular breaks from electronic devices and disconnecting from technology, and allow your mind to rest and rejuvenate.

Bottle of aromatherapy oil surrounded by lavender

5.     Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy is a holistic healing practice that utilizes the therapeutic properties of essential oils to promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Certain essential oils, such as lavender, chamomile, and bergamot, have calming and relaxing properties that can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and tension. Inhaling these oils or using them in a massage oil can promote a sense of tranquillity and relaxation. Essential oils like lavender, cedarwood, and valerian have sedative properties that can help calm the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep and improve sleep quality. Citrus oils like lemon and orange are known for their uplifting and energizing effects, while floral oils like rose and jasmine can evoke feelings of happiness and well-being. Although oils can vary in quality, they are now easily affordable and accessible in supermarkets and health food shops as well as online retailers. Diffuse them in your home or office, or add a few drops to your bath for a relaxing experience.

6.     Breathing Exercises: Deep breathing exercises help like diaphragmatic breathing and box breathing are shown to instantly reduce stress and anxiety levels and activate the body's relaxation response. Box breathing is a simple technique to remember as it involves inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, and holding again for a count of four and repeating. This method regulates breathing and can be practiced anywhere, instantly calming the nervous system. Conscious connected breathwork is a powerful self-healing practice that involves conscious manipulation of the breath to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It's a form of controlled breathing that focuses on deep, rhythmic breathing patterns without pauses between inhalation and exhalation. Warning: there are contraindications or situations where caution should be exercised with this particular technique (e.g. cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, pregnancy, epilepsy and certain mental health conditions). Otherwise this is a very powerful tool which I recommend to clients who are struggling with chronic anxiety or suffering with Post Traumatic Stress.

7.     Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation involves focusing attention on the present moment without judgment. Regular practice can enhance self-awareness, promote relaxation, and improve overall well-being. Meditation techniques vary, and one involving focusing on a flame can be particularly calming. Find a quiet space, light a candle, and focus your attention solely on the flame even for just 60 seconds to give your mind a much needed ‘time-out’. If you can clear your mind then do so, otherwise just allow thoughts to come and go, redirecting your focus to the flame whenever the mind wanders. While not the most riveting of activities, this simple brain-training exercise will help you strengthen your mental muscle for focus and calmness, making it more easily accessible when you actually need it. Mindfulness practice is now a very common and widespread ideology, with volumes of material and guidance available for free online and using phone apps like Insight Timer, Calm and Headspace. To undertake a group or one to one program with a reputable Mindfulness Facilitator, check out the Mindfulness Teacher Register.

A woman doing yoga on the beach

8.     Yoga: While there are many different styles and variations of yoga, most practices typically involve a combination of physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), and meditation or mindfulness techniques. Through deep breathing, gentle movement, and relaxation techniques, yoga helps lower heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and promote a sense of calm and relaxation. Regular yoga practice has been shown to lower cortisol levels, leading to decreased physiological and psychological stress. Studies have also shown that yoga practice can increase GABA levels in the brain (Gamma-aminobutyric acid is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in regulating mood and anxiety), leading to a reduction in anxiety and improved mood. To get practicing check out your local community groups and centres to explore what kind of yoga is right for you; or follow guided yoga videos online to experience its benefits - I personally love Yoga with Adrienne who runs a 30 Day Challenge to help get people started on their yoga journey.

9.     Expressive Arts: Engaging in creative activities like painting, sculpting, writing, acting, dance or playing a musical instrument allows you to express yourself freely. Additionally the process of creation can be therapeutic and help alleviate stress and anxiety. That is because art can provide a safe and private outlet for individuals to express and process difficult emotions. Through creative expression, individuals can externalize their feelings, thoughts, and experiences, reducing emotional suppression and promoting emotional release. Engaging in expressive arts can be cathartic, allowing individuals to release pent-up emotions, tension, and stress held in the body. Activities such as painting, drawing, or improvisational dance can provide a nonverbal means of expressing and releasing emotional energy. Explore different modalities to reveal which resonates most with you and brings you the most enjoyment and release.

10.  Laughter: Laughter Therapy is a powerful and natural way to reduce stress and anxiety, offering both immediate and long-term benefits for mental and physical health. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals, which promote an overall sense of well-being and can temporarily relieve pain. Laughter stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce the physical symptoms of stress. Laughter decreases the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. And positive thoughts associated with laughter release neuropeptides, that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses. Regular laughter has been shown to improve immune function by increasing the levels of infection-fighting antibodies and enhancing the efficiency of T-cells, leading to a stronger immune response. So what are you waiting for - watch a comedy show, spend time with funny friends, or engage in activities that make you laugh (karaoke never fails to crack me up!).

11.  Progressive Muscle Relaxation: PMR is a relaxation technique which involves systematically tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body to reduce physical tension and promote mental relaxation. PMR is an effective tool for managing stress and anxiety by helping individuals become more aware of and release physical tension. By alternating between muscle tension and relaxation, PMR activates the body's parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the "rest and digest" system, which counteracts the stress-induced "fight or flight" response. Additionally PMR increases awareness of physical sensations and the relationship between muscle tension and relaxation; this heightened awareness can help individuals recognize early signs of stress and take proactive steps to manage it. For more information on how to practice this technique click here.

Three women laughing and socialising

12.  Social Support: Social support provides a sense of belonging and understanding. Talking to friends, family, or support groups about your stress and anxiety can offer emotional comfort and reassurance, helping you feel understood and less alone. Social support acts as a buffer against the adverse effects of stress. Knowing that there are people who care about you and can offer help can make stressors seem less daunting and more manageable. Supportive relationships can enhance your coping skills. Friends and family can provide different perspectives and practical advice on dealing with stressful situations, promoting healthier coping strategies. Consistent social support is linked to lower rates of mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. So what are you waiting for...pick up the phone, make the call or send the message and connect.

13.  Gratitude Practice: Gratitude is the feeling of being thankful and appreciative. It involves recognizing and acknowledging the good things in life, whether they are big or small, tangible or intangible, and expressing thanks for them. Gratitude is more than just a fleeting feeling; it’s a practice that can significantly impact your whole life! It can improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety; it promotes positive emotions and helps in developing a more optimistic outlook on life; expressing gratitude to others can promote social connection and improve interpersonal relationships; focusing on what you are grateful for can help you cope better with stress and adversity; and grateful individuals tend to have better sleep, lower stress levels, and overall improved physical health. Set aside a couple of minutes a day to focus on what you are grateful for, say it out loud or write them down; I always recommend bringing gratitude into journaling practice. For more creative ideas for practicing gratitude and harnessing it's true power, I strongly recommend the book The Magic by Rhonda Byrne.

14.  Herbal Teas: Herbal teas can be effective in reducing stress and anxiety due to their calming properties and the presence of various bioactive compounds. Ingredients like chamomile, lavender, and valerian root are known for their calming effects on the nervous system. Herbal teas like chamomile, valerian root, and passionflower promote better sleep, which can help alleviate stress and anxiety. Many herbs used in teas have antioxidant properties that help protect the body from oxidative stress, which can contribute to anxiety and other mental health issues. Some herbal teas contain compounds that can enhance mood by increasing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. St. John's Wort, for example, is known to help with mild depression. So why not put the kettle on and try a herbal tea as part of your relaxation routine either in the morning, before bed, or during the day if you are feeling frazzled!

15.  Sensory Activities: Sensory activities are tasks that engage one or more of the five senses—sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell—to help individuals connect with their environment and their bodies. Focusing on sensory input can ground individuals in the here and now, reducing worry about the past or future. These activities are often used in therapeutic settings to help reduce stress and anxiety, and are very effective for neurodivergent individuals. Sensory activities involve the use of various materials and experiences that stimulate the senses. These activities can be simple, everyday tasks or more structured exercises designed specifically for sensory engagement which anybody can benefit from. Examples include:

  • Sight: Watching nature scenes, looking at calming colours, or engaging in visual arts like painting or drawing.

  • Sound: Listening to soothing music, nature sounds, or engaging in guided meditations.

  • Touch: Playing with tactile materials like clay, sand, or stress balls, or engaging in activities like knitting or gardening.

  • Taste: Savouring different flavours and textures of food, mindful eating.

  • Smell: Using aromatherapy with essential oils, smelling fresh flowers or herbs.

Calendar showing 12 months of the year

16.  Time Management: Effective time management can significantly reduce stress and anxiety by helping individuals gain control over their schedules, prioritize tasks, and allocate their resources efficiently. Knowing what needs to be done and when, helps create a sense of control over what can otherwise me a hectic and unpredictable day. Effective time management helps avoid the last-minute rush to meet deadlines, which can be very stressful. Planning and breaking tasks into manageable chunks reduce the pressure and anxiety associated with procrastination. Creating a realistic schedule that includes breaks and buffer times prevents overcommitment and burnout. This balanced approach helps maintain a sustainable workload, reducing overall stress. To find out some more practical tips, head on over to my blog 10 Tips for Better Managing Your Time & Having it All.

17.  Cognitive Restructuring: Cognitive restructuring is a therapeutic process that aims to identify, challenge, and change negative and irrational thought patterns that contribute to stress and anxiety. This technique is a core component of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and involves several steps to help individuals develop healthier, more adaptive ways of thinking. The process includes identifying the negative thought; challenging the thought by questioning its validity (i.e. is it 100% true 100% of the time, for 100% of people?). Then the process requires you to replace the negative thought with something more positive; and finally repeat this new thought pattern over and over until it becomes automatic. There are a number of benefits to his technique including a reduction in cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions, such as catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, and all-or-nothing thinking, can amplify stress and anxiety. By identifying and correcting these distortions, individuals can reduce the intensity of their negative emotions. Cognitive restructuring can also promote more rational thinking and promotes better problem-solving. Instead of being overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, individuals can approach problems more calmly and logically, leading to more effective solutions. You can complete this technique with a trained Counsellor or with a Life Coach, or you can journal your way through it and practice the process for independently.

18.  Self-Hold Technique: The self-hold technique, also known as self-soothing or the Butterfly Hug, is a simple but powerful method for reducing stress and anxiety. The technique involves physically holding yourself in a way that provides comfort and reassurance. It works by engaging the body’s natural relaxation responses and promoting a sense of safety and calm. The self-hold technique activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps counteract the fight-or-flight response triggered by stress and anxiety, promoting relaxation. Physical touch, even when self-administered, can stimulate the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone" or "cuddle hormone." Oxytocin promotes feelings of warmth, bonding, and relaxation, reducing stress and anxiety levels. So next time you are feeling wobbly, try crossing your arms across your chest, placing each hand on the opposite shoulder or upper arm, apply gentle pressure and focus on taking slow deep breaths in and out You can try this sitting in your favourite chair, lying down, or wrapped in a nice blanket; be open to adapting the technique to what feels best for you (e.g. you may want to add rocking and tapping the shoulders gently to enhance the feeling of self-soothing).

19.  Exercise & Movement: This also happens to be the key theme promoted in this years Mental Health Awareness Week. Our minds and bodies are inextricably interconnected, so looking after ourselves physically also helps us prevent and even reduce problems relating to our mental health. Physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood enhancers, which also help reduce stress chemicals in the body. Engaging in physical activities you enjoy, such as walking, jogging, dancing, cycling, swimming, gardening etc, helps to reduce stress and promote overall well-being. If you prefer to exercise with others, like being part of a team, a class or group, the social element and opportunities for connection can also boost mental health. Most Local Authorities in the UK offer children and adults a range of physical activities as part of the governments Get Active scheme, and most areas run community activity groups which encourage people to get active at low cost, and sometimes even for free!

A woman sleeping in bed with an eye mask and bottle of essential oil on her pillow

20.  Sleep Hygiene: Adequate and good quality sleep is KEY in managing stress and anxiety as it helps regulate emotions, enhance cognitive function, and maintain overall mental health. Sleep issues like insomnia and sleep apnoea play havoc on mental health. Lack of sleep can lead to increased irritability and emotional reactivity. Getting enough rest helps keep irritability at bay, enabling more rational and calm responses to stressors. Sleep improves cognitive functions such as attention, concentration, and problem-solving. A well-rested mind is better equipped to tackle challenges effectively, reducing feelings of being overwhelmed by stress. Sleep helps regulate the production of cortisol (the body's primary stress hormone) and keep it balanced. Quality sleep supports the immune system, making the body more resilient to illnesses that can cause additional stress. A healthy immune system reduces the likelihood of physical ailments that can exacerbate anxiety. Therefore stablishing a regular sleep routine and creating a conducive sleep environment is essential to getting the right amount and quality sleep. Promote sleep quality by avoiding caffeine, alcohol and screens before bedtime, implementing evening relaxation techniques to unwind and prioritising sleep hygiene.

And there you have it! By incorporating any of these 20 innovative ideas into your routine, you can proactively manage stress levels and promote emotional well-being without anxiety taking over. There is no 'one size fits all' so experiment with different strategies, find what works for you, and remember that self-care is a continuous journey. Remember, prioritising your mental health and taking small steps towards managing stress and promoting relaxation, will over time have a ripple effect on every single area of your what are you waiting for, get started TODAY!

If you would like to learn more about managing stress, anxiety, the overwhelm that comes with everyday life, click the button below to request a FREE Consultation and explore how Transformational Life Coaching and Mindfulness practice can help you create a life you love, the balance you need and the resilience needed to weather any storm!

Nichola Pyrkos - The Mindful Life Coach UK

About Me: 

My Name is Nichola Pyrkos, I am a Transformational Life Coach & Mindfulness Facilitator, a Psychology and Social Work graduate; I am based in Hertfordshire UK, but I coach men and women from all over the world - from Costa Rica to Dubai, Singapore to Stevenage!

My mission is to empower people to create a life they can love, the balance they need, and build the resilience needed to weather any storm. Follow me on Instagram to find out more about me @mindfullifecoachuk or head on over to my website to find out more about the services I offer!

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