Updated on 11.09.10

Low-Cost Methods for Stress Relief

Trent Hamm

Mindy writes in:

How do you deal with stress? I know that with three kids and managing The Simple Dollar and all the other stuff you have going on, you have to feel some serious stress at times. What do you do to manage it? I have twin babies at home and I also work from home as a freelance graphic designer. Some evenings I get so stressed out that I start crying.

I absolutely deal with serious stress at times. In the past, I would often attempt to de-stress by buying things and, on occasion, drinking. Today, I really don’t do either of these things. Instead, I have a repertoire of techniques that really help me with de-stressing.

Meditating and praying I spend twenty minutes a day meditating. I find this practice extremely helpful in minimizing stress in my life. It’s an opportunity for me to clear away all of the things in my mind that are stressing me out and just let go for a while. I find that after I’m done meditating, it is much easier for me to deal with the challenges in my day.

I wrote about meditation at length a couple of months ago on the site.

Taking time for stuff I truly enjoy I set aside specific periods of time to engage in the hobbies and activities that I personally find deeply enjoying. For example, Wednesday nights at our house are an ongoing gaming night which I set aside to just unwind and play board games with a few close friends. I set aside an hour each evening for reading for pleasure. I usually set aside a large chunk of my Saturday for some specific activity or another.

Sometimes, I share these activities with my children – sometimes, I don’t. A mix of the two also helps me to de-stress.

Exercising, particularly walking I strive to take an hourlong walk three days a week, during which I usually listen to a podcast and just let my feet guide me wherever. My mind usually wanders a bit during this, dancing over the words of the podcast or just drifting off into nothingness.

When I get back home, with some sweat on my shirt and a smile on my face, everything just feels much easier to deal with than before I left.

Eating asparagus, blueberries, and citrus fruits As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been on a plant-based diet for more than a month now. That diet has actually helped quite a bit. In the course of eating this diet, I’ve focused a lot on the impact different foods have on how I feel.

In terms of feeling calm and not stressed out, few things beat asparagus, blueberries, and especially citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruits. I usually have a very low-stress day if I start off the day with a couple of oranges.

Making it easy to pick up abandoned tasks One big element of stress in my life is all of the projects left undone because I ran out of time or energy. The best method I’ve found for mitigating that stress factor is to make the project as easy as possible for me to pick up again at a later date – in effect, “finishing” it to a small extent.

For example, if I’m in the middle of writing an article or an email, I jot down quick notes on what I want to include in the rest of that article or email. If I’m making a meal, I leave out the ingredients for the rest of the meal along with a mark on the recipe indicating where I’m at.

Spending time with people who care about me The ongoing process of eliminating negative people from my life and keeping positive people in place has been a major positive influence in reducing stress.

I simply ask myself regularly if there are people in my life that are causing me to stress out because of their behavior (not because of my own worries reflected on them). If they are, then I strive to reduce the role that they have in my life, plain and simple.

Saying “no” sometimes When someone straight-up asks you for something, it’s much, much easier to say “yes” than say “no.” Yet, it’s those “yes”es that end up haunting you later on when you’re overwhelmed with things that need to be accomplished and you’re stressed in choosing between them and allocating your time and energy.

The best solution is to simply say, “No, I’m sorry, I just don’t have time to take that on properly.” Most people will respect that statement and move on from there. Careful use of that type of response can help you filter things that are really important to you away from the things that aren’t so important, leaving you with more efficient use of your time and energy, and less stress to boot.

Eliminating irritants For me, messy rooms are a big irritant. If I find that my office is messy, I usually become less productive than before. Thus, one effective way for me to de-stress and get more done is to simply take on that irritant and clean up my office (something which I need to do now, incidentally).

Seek out the irritants in your own life and do what you can to rub down those burrs so that they’re no longer bugging you. It’ll help you subtly with every moment that passes.

In the end, stress can be quite an obstacle for successful personal and financial living. Finding ways to minimize that stress can make all the difference in the world, and there are many effective ways of managing stress that don’t involve shelling out cash.

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  1. Johanna says:

    It looks to me like Trent’s main technique for making his life less stressful than Mindy’s is that he has someone else care for his children while he’s working.

  2. Johanna says:

    …but unfortunately for Mindy, that’s not really a “low-cost method.”

  3. S01 says:

    Nice answers from Trent (+1 here on the don’t take up a bad habit to deal with stress).As it’s difficult to tell if there is a partner involved and the space avaliable in the question the below might be of little use or be to costly to implement however I’ve add the below as it sounds like Mindy could be feeling very “trapped” @ home:

    ~ Set aside some time to get out of the house on your own with some friends. The on your own part is very important as it removes all the worries of Children etc and the stress of work which is also home based for the time your away.

    ~ If possible set up your office or workspace in a separate room which you can close the door to or at least is remotely located in your house. Us humans are funny beasts if we can’t see something all the time we tend to be able to forget about it or at least put it to the back of our minds more easily. By being able to close the door to your workspace it will help blot out the perpetual reminder you’ll be getting every time you walk past your workspace and the work you have pending.

    Good luck with your stress management and don’t worry to much about the crying it’s actually a natural way for the body to get rid of/deal with to much stress :).

  4. Valerie says:

    I think one baby is plenty enough to stress most people out, much less TWIN babies and freelancing from home!

    Some other ideas:
    – Hire a mother’s helper or babysitter. A mother’s helper is essentially a babysitter when you are home. You can hire kids who are not really old enough to babysit, but are old enough to take care of kids with you under the same roof (i.e. 12 year olds). Even a few hours one or two mornings a week can help a lot for your own productivity and sanity.

    – Try the “Getting things done” strategy of managing your home/work tasks. Obviously doesn’t work for baby-related things like feedings, but could help with the other stress inducers.

  5. Leah says:

    a hard one for parents, but Trent did miss my favorite stress relief technique: the proper amount of sleep. For most this means more sleep (tho a few need less and should go exercise instead). When I’m well-rested, I am better able to deal with the little bumps and issues.

  6. Gretchen says:


    Everyone’s favorite fall food.

  7. Wesley says:

    I will start this by saying my situation is very much different than Mindy’s due to the fact that I don’t have kids.

    But for me I get rid of stress by setting out an hour every night where I do whatever I want, no expectations no plans. This comes right after I eat then take a shower (or before the shower if it is exercise). A lot of times this will just be playing a video game, reading a book, or taking a walk. But having that time is invaluable in reducing my stress.

  8. Vivek says:

    My most tried and tested way is meditation. I learned a meditation technique from the non-profit Art of Living Foundation — from their Art of Meditation Course. Twenty minutes twice a day acts as a “shower” for the mind and the wisdom from the course prevents the “dirt” in the mind from getting in.

  9. cynthia says:

    that was a great question and a very thoughtful and helpful answer. thanks for sharing.

  10. Patty says:

    If you only have a few minutes – sit back in your chair, close your eyes, breath in through your nose to a slow count of four. Then exhale to a slow count of six. We do this in my yoga class. About six rounds of breath and my focus comes back.

    Yesterday was a tough day – I also was saying to myself – ” be good to me” and a big smile

    Walking, like what Trent said, is great. Even if it is only a little bit, getting out of the current environment – I walk out to the mailbox or out to the back yard for a few minutes. Nature helps with putting it back in order.

  11. Briana @ GBR says:

    I need to do all of these and more. The stress can definitely start to get to you

  12. Courtney20 says:

    @ Valeria – I don’t have kids, so maybe I’m missing something. How exactly does one get a mother’s helper? Aren’t all the kids that age in school when you’d need them (i.e “one or two mornings a week”)?

  13. valleycat1 says:

    Some people I know get up earlier than the kids. Some stay up later than the kids. Some take a break while the kids are napping (or make a point of napping/relaxing when the kids do – my personal choice!). Whatever it takes to get some “me” time that’s uninterrupted.

  14. con says:

    Maybe, just maybe, in addition to all of the great comments here, when you feel stressed, you stop and realize all the blessings you have, even if it is what upsets you. Sometimes, when I go outside and it is freezing cold (I hate winter), I think well, at least I’m alive to feel the cold.

  15. Janis says:

    As another commenter observed, it is difficult to tell if there is a husband or partner involved in Mindy’s home life. That in itself makes a huge difference. My brother and his wife are raising twins while holding stressful, full-time jobs and the key for them is being able – and willing – to pinch hit for each other as necessary.

    Johanna (#1 and #2), I used to think your comments were insightful, but lately they just seem shrewish and contrarian, as though your real goal is just to snipe at Trent rather than add anything useful to the discussion. Please examine this behavior and consider finding a more positive outlet for your energy – perhaps on your own blog.

  16. Cheryl says:

    I’d definitely agree with the mother’s helper, though you may have an auntie, neighbor or a grandma who wouldn’t mind stepping in to help out. Once you have a baby you are on call all the time, and can hardly shower in peace, so I can’t imagine twins. I am sure there is an online support group for mothers of twins that may be able to offer encouragement. The crying is quite normal, between hormones, sleep deprivation and major life change caused by being a mom, but if it’s too bad, talk to your doctor and watch for postpartum depression. And if possible, get Dad to give you a night off! Hang in there, it does get better, but in the meanwhile, get some helpers and don’t feel bad about doing it!!

  17. I schedule destressing. Every Wednesday is “me” time. I schedule minimum work and get it out of the way early so I can spend the rest of the day doing whatever the heck I feel like. Works for me!

  18. andrea peck says:

    I think this is a nice long list and it seems anyone could benefit from at least one! Thanks – I relate to the question – with kids it is so hard to get anything done, get sleep and get time for yourself!

  19. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    I’ve found walking to be the best way to remove stress and relax. A nice 30 minute walk allows me to get my thoughts in order, relax and get a nice bit of physical activity. I’ve also tried meditation but that needs a quite place with few interruptions, which I do not have at home.

  20. valleycat1 says:

    Mindy – I forgot to mention this earlier, but sometimes we moms forget that we can take a walk with the baby(ies). Bundle them up in the stroller, plug in your mp3 if you need a little bit more of an escape – walk outside unless the weather is truly frightful. I used to buy a generic box of oat cereal & take the baby to the park to feed the ducks (it throws better than breadcrumbs).

    Low cost massages, mani-pedis, and hair cuts are available at schools for the same. Even our small town has a massage school where you can get just a neck/shoulder or foot massage for almost nothing.

    Our library just started a story time just for infants/small toddlers (lap babies & their moms) – you might want to talk to your library to see if they have one or might start one.

    You can grab a quick break by putting the babies in their cribs or swing or whatever (where they’ll be safe) & just walk outside to get a few breaths of fresh air (or go outside for a few minutes when they’re napping) – sometimes I just needed a little space to myself when I was a stay-at-home mom.

    Just keep in mind it’s ok to find your situation stressful. More moms than you may realize feel the same way by the witching hour.

  21. Time for yourself has got to be in there.

    And the “saying no” part is huge too!

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