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Four ways to reduce stress!

October 29, 2019
By Heather Herriot

Four ways to reduce stress! Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Feeling stressed? It’s that time of year again, where the weather gets colder and the days are getting shorter and shorter. This can leave many of us in a lower mood than we’re used to, which can put our mental and physical health at risk. So, it’s important that we find ways to reduce our stress. With that, below are four ways that may help you do that!

1. Prioritize time over money

Busyness is the latest status symbol and people increasingly feel the need to place their worth on how much work they are doing. This may lead people to jump at the chance to take on extra projects or an extra shift at work — even when they don’t need to. In the short-run, doing this may provide you with a small boost in money, but it could leave you sacrificing your personal time as a result.

However, does this actually matter for our mental health? Well, new research is highlighting how people’s preference for time versus money can actually have implications for your well-being.

Studies tend to demonstrate that the majority of people value money more than time. However, the people who value time more than money tend to be happier, even when you take into account how much money and time they already have.1 Further, longitudinal research found that those who reported a preference for valuing time over money were happier a year after graduating compared to those who valued money over time.2

So what steps can you take to start making your time a priority? Try saying no to extra shifts — if your basic needs are met — or ask for an extension on a deadline so you don’t lose a weekend of rest and relaxation to work.

Outside of our jobs, we can try to outsource activities that we don’t enjoy doing to free up extra time that can be used for things we enjoy — see the next tip on what you should do with that time. For example, if you really dislike going for groceries, you could pay for a food delivery program that frees up the time you would otherwise spend doing something you dislike.

2. Spend your free time with purpose

The previous tip just highlighted the importance of making time for ourselves, but how should we fill up any of that extra free time? Many of us spend countless hours doing relatively meaningless tasks like scrolling through our phone. Yet research suggests that doing activities that you find meaning and purpose from might be the best choice!

Some of my previous research has shown that engaging in activities that you find meaningful and purposeful when you’re stressed can protect you from feeling more depressed.3 Other researchers have even found that people who report that they are living more purposeful lives actually outlive their less purposeful peers.4

What activities are purposeful to one person may not be the same as another. You may derive a lot of value from running, whereas another person may really enjoy the chance to cook a meal to enjoy with family or friends, or you may just value being able to read quietly. What’s important is that you find the activity to be meaningful!

3. Find ways to enjoy nature — even when it’s cold out!

I know what you’re thinking: 'But it’s cold out!' Spending time outside is easy in the summer and we can easily max out the happiness benefits of being outside during the summer months. However, it’s important to remind ourselves of nature’s mood-boosting effects when it gets cold out, as we may need to be more deliberate about finding time and ways to enjoy nature.

You don’t need to spend hours outside either, research has demonstrated the just 20 to 30 minutes is sufficient to produce a 10 per cent reduction in the hormone related to stress, cortisol (beyond the natural daily decline in cortisol).5

But what about when it’s -40°C?!’ Yes, I hear you. How can you get your nature fix when it’s an absurdly cold day? Well, research seems to suggest that even ‘fake’ nature can trick our brain into feeling less stressed.

Researchers used virtual reality technology to simulate visuals and sounds of nature during a stress test.6 Compared to a control group and a group who experienced only nature visuals (but no sound), they found that the visual and auditory virtual nature group showed enhanced stress recovery via activation of the parasympathetic nervous system!

These results suggest that perhaps we don’t need to always be outside to reap some of the benefits of nature. This could mean listening to nature sounds while visiting indoor green spaces like Montreal’s Botanical Gardens or Concordia’s Greenhouse, could help you feel less stressed.

4. Surround yourself with soothing smells

Smells are one the most powerful triggers of emotions and memories. A foul smell can trigger disgust and discomfort. We also spend lots of money to buy candles, essential oils or other products that smell nice and help us feel more relaxed. In the media, it’s even common to see people holding onto a partner’s clothing as a sense of comfort. But is there any evidence that smells can actually help us feel less stressed?

Some researchers were interested in whether the smell of a person’s romantic partner — without the person’s actual presence — could help people feel less stressed.7 To study this, researchers recruited females in a relationship to participate in a stress task.

During the stress task they had the females smell a T-shirt that had been worn by their partner, a stranger or no one. Interestingly, they found that those who smelled their partner’s shirt reported feeling less stressed during the task.

It’s still not clear whether this would extend to the smell of other positive things in our lives, such as the smell of friends, family or even our favourite candle. But this research points toward the possibility that certain smells may help us feel less distressed in overwhelming situations.


1. Hershfield, H. E., Mogilner, C., & Barnea, U. (2016). People who choose time over money are happier. Social Psychological and Personality Science(7), 697-706.

2. Whillans, A., Macchia, L., & Dunn, E. (2019). Valuing time over money predicts happiness after a major life transition: A preregistered longitudinal study of graduating students. Science Advances(9).

3. Herriot, H., & Wrosch, C. (2016). Purpose in life and stress-related increases in older adults' depression: A within-person analysis. In Gerontologist, 56, 369-369.

4. Hill, P. L., & Turiano, N. A. (2014). Purpose in life as a predictor of mortality across adulthood. Psychological Science25 (7), 1482-1486.

5. Hunter, M. R., Gillespie, B. W., & Chen, S. Y. P. (2019). Urban nature experiences reduce stress in the context of daily life based on salivary biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology10, 722.

6. Annerstedt, M., Jönsson, P., Wallergård, M., Johansson, G., Karlson, B., Grahn, P., ... & Währborg, P. (2013). Inducing physiological stress recovery with sounds of nature in a virtual reality forest—Results from a pilot study. Physiology & Behavior118, 240-250.

7. Hofer, M., Collins, H., Whillans, A. V., & Chen, F. (2018). Olfactory cues from romantic partners and strangers moderate women's responses to stress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114, 1–9.

About the author

Heather Herriot is a doctoral candidate in Psychology at Concordia University. She received her Bachelor's with Honours in Psychology from UBC in Vancouver. Heather’s research focuses on the intersection of health, personality, and developmental psychology. She uses longitudinal research to explore how self-compassion can help older adults cope with stress to prevent declines in biomarkers of stress and health, such as cortisol and inflammation.

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