Deadlines, finances, relationships, physical health…There exists no shortage of stressors in the day-to-day grind. While we all experience moments of extreme stress, we can often be thankful for a strong support network to help us through tough times. It can be tough to watch friends struggle through difficult times. Whether your friend is going through a breakup, looking for a new job, or has a family member that is sick, she could use your moral support during stressful times. In the event your BFF is in the thick of it, we’ve come up with a host of ways to spend your next bonding session. Here are our favorite ways to help out someone who is stressed, especially if that someone is a good friend.
Learn to Meditate
A meditation practice offers plenty of benefits, from increased productivity to anxiety relief. Sign up for a group meditation class or retreat, or simply download an approachable meditation app like Headspace. A slew of different techniques and practices are available, such as loving kindness meditation, or a technique called noting, where you specifically name or note what is distracting the mind.
Take a Restorative Yoga Class
Compared to the steady movement to breath sequencing of a vinyasa class, yin (also known as restorative) yoga incorporates fewer poses, and they are held for longer (up to five minutes, for example). "Restorative yoga offers you time to adjust, and readjust, and readjust again, which helps you settle and drop in," explains a Yoga Journal article. In other words, gentle, mindful movement like yoga may help a stressed friend.
Make a Vision Board
Creative visualization can be a powerful tool for organizing thoughts and planning the future. Head to your local bookstore for a magazine binge, and spend the day manifesting positive vibes via a craft project. And if you're caught up wondering if vision boards really "work," consider self-care expert Nitika Chopra's perspective. She's been creating vision boards for nearly a decade. "Being connected to your personal truth is never a wasted effort," Chopra writes for Well + Good.
There’s arguably no better soundboard than the person who knows you best. Extroverted thinkers may need to talk a problem out aloud to effectively find solutions, while introverts may need to work through challenges solo first. The simple act of lending an ear—without trying to fix anything—can be the best and most effective medicine.
Energy-proof the Space
We asked reiki master, Jenni Finley, for her thoughts on the importance of décor in one’s personal space. She offered up easy, practical additions to any bedroom, including everything from sage to spirit-animal totems. Bring over some good vibrations the next time you pay a visit.
Schedule Some Tea Time
Rife with potent herbal compounds, chamomile tea is widely considered for its calming properties. It's also caffeine-free.
Bring in a Professional
Sometimes you need to call in the big guns. Depending on the root of the stress, dedicated time with a licensed mental health professional may be in order. In the context of friendship, having an objective, unbiased third party to help you through tough times can help maintain healthy boundaries on both sides. “A healthy friendship is a give-and-take,” said therapist Grant Brenner, in an interview with Talk Space blog.
Share a Laugh
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter touts both physical and mental benefits. Whether you choose to rewatch Bridesmaids for the 20th time or scroll through your camera roll to remember "that one time when..." a good laugh eases stress response, helps relax muscles, and in the long-term, can help improve immune function, says the Mayo Clinic. Since laughter is universal, it may just be one of the best ways to help someone destress.
Try a New Workout
Regular movement is a pillar of any healthy lifestyle; beyond doing wonders for stress, writes Self magazine, working out helps you sleep better, gives you more energy, and may aid in managing anxiety. Experiment with new class formats; grab a ClassPass trial and work your way through a few stress-relieving options for a few weeks. For example, if yoga is your typical go-to, take a chance on pilates, barre, or a spin class.
Raising your heart rate for 20 minutes of intense exercise, or 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise, according to Harvard Health, is enough to effectively lower anxiety and stress. Go for a brisk walk or hit a quick gym session together on your lunch break.
"Scent is such a powerful yet understated way to influence our mood," said Sara Panton, co-founder of essential oil company Vitruvi, in a previous interview with MyDomaine. "Using scent strategically can help us feel more energized, calm or focused, and specific aromas have even been shown to influence different parts of the brain." To promote relaxation, for example, try diffusing lavender and frankincense, or bergamot.
Bestselling author Andrew Weil, MD, introduced a classic yoga-inspired breathing technique in his book Spontaneous Happiness, called the 4-7-8 breath. To practice the 4-7-8 technique, completely exhale through your mouth, and then inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Then slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of eight.
Have a Breakfast Meet-up
When rushed or anxious, the morning breakfast ritual sometimes goes out the window. Start the day off on a sunny note with a breakfast date. Get plenty of omega-3’s and good fats to boost your brainpower, and reach for everything from eggs to cold-water fish.
Take Something Off Their Plate
You might be thinking: What can I do now? Consider your distinct and unique skillset. If you’re a master at organization, why not offer to tackle a bit of spring cleaning? Ask to see a task list, and hit it with your best shot.
Plan a Netflix Binge
Reveling in the catharsis of make-believe is a time-honored pastime in the West. Maybe go in for a theme? Sweeping romance? Girl power? Need to just watch buildings explode? Give your mind an escapism vacation.
Play Personal Chef
There’s nothing like a meal cooked with love. Master your bestie’s favorite comfort food or pick a locale that means something to them personally. Pick a memory that’s tied to delicious eats. Traveled together? Why not re-create the street tacos from that vacation you both dream of returning to?
Rediscover the Power of a Nap
As a culture, we’re not getting enough z’s on the daily. Remember kindergarten, when nap time was a group activity? There was something to it. It worked for Einstein. Next time you’re together, hit snooze for 20 minutes and then get on with your hang.
Heat Things Up
There’s a reason hot tubs are so relaxing. Science says sensations of warmth can help regulate our mood. Curl up in front of the fire, run a hot bath, or seek out a sauna together.
Explore the Great Outdoors
If breath is the key to relaxation, why not take in the crisp, cool, clean air? Head out for a hike and bask in the healing powers of Mother Nature.
Sign up for a local charity. Giving your time enables a sense of contribution, purpose, and community. And according to a Scientific American article, doing good for others is great for wellbeing. All those positive vibes will have a ripple effect!
Curate a Care Package
If you’re not in the same city, put together a gift box of favorite essentials, from a thoughtful candle to cookbooks or a handwritten note. Box gifting services offer a wide array of customizable options, too.
Plan a Staycation
Can’t get out of town? Check for a rate or package at a local hotel. You don’t necessarily need to traverse the globe to live like you’re on vacation. Sometimes a hotel robe and a poolside sunset are an oasis unto themselves.
Make a Killer Playlist
Music is mood medicine. Whether it’s making a motivational Spotify playlist to charge up their morning run, or a soothing list of tracks to unwind with at the end of the day, the cathartic power of the mixtape is undeniable.
Start a Gratitude Journal Together
Writing down what you’re grateful for on a daily basis is a beautiful habit. According to transformational coach Christina Carlin, it is the key to finding happiness on even your worst day.
Create a Diversion
Sometimes you just need to take your mind off of something. We’re not sure of the exact science, but karaoke feels like a legitimate coping mechanism. Get spontaneous and goofy. Pick a neighborhood you don't typically frequent and putter around, or stay in for a game night.
Get out of Dodge
Travel is food for the soul. Have your best friend clear her calendar, and assure her you will handle all the details. Even if it’s just a quick road trip, getting away from it all is sure to clear some headspace and usher in a fresh perspective.
Indulge in Some Retail Therapy
To keep things under control, set a budget, whether you're strolling the brick-and-mortars or scrolling online.
Join a Book Club
There’s a world of knowledge out there. Dive into our recommended list of most effective anti-stress books to read now, or make a reading selection you two can tackle and dissect together.
Choose Nourishing Foods
When you’re stressed out, eating right should be a top priority. Some foods—like magnesium- or B vitamin-rich foods—have better stress-busting properties than others. "While nutritional psychiatry is not a substitute [for medication]," says Uma Naidoo, MD in a post for Harvard Health, "the relationship between food, mood, and anxiety is garnering more and more attention. There is a growing body of evidence, and more research is needed to fully understand the role of nutritional psychiatry."
Block out a chunk of time and make zero plans. Think of it as a Seinfeld day. Your brain needs downtime. "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets," wrote essayist Tim Kreider, in The New York Times. And according to another Scientific American article, taking a break recharges the brain by boosting attention, motivation, productivity, and creativity.
Hoge EA, Bui E, Marques L, et al. Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity. J Clin Psychiatry. 2013;74(8):786-92. doi:10.4088/JCP.12m08083
Restorative Yoga 101: 7 Must-Know Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Restorative Practice. Yoga Journal. September 18, 2017.
Rauch J. How Working With a Therapist is Different Than Talking to a Friend. Talkspace. August 23, 2016.
Tucker A, Sgobba C. 10 Amazing Benefits of Exercise That Are Extra Important to Hear Right Now. Self. April 1, 2020.
Harvard Health Publishing. Exercising to Relax. July 7, 2020.
Weil A. Spontaneous Happiness: A New Path to Emotional Well-Being. New York, NY: Little, Brown, Spark; 2013.
National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Consumers. July 11, 2019.
Martela F. Exercise, Eat Well, Help Others: Altruism's Surprisingly Strong Health Impact. Scientific American. September 7, 2018.
Naidoo Uma. Nutritional Strategies to Ease Anxiety. Harvard Health Publishing. April 13, 2016.
Kreider T. Opinionator: The Busy Trap. New York Times. June 30, 2012.
Jabr F. Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. Scientific American. October 15, 2013.