Our Wellness Challenge: 30 Ways to Reduce Stress This Month

Last updated: May 19, 2020

It’s been a rough month. You may be transitioning to remote work due to concerns about COVID-19. You may be juggling deadlines and home-from-school kids. You’re definitely scrolling through scary headlines. You are (hopefully) practicing social distancing, which means you can’t go to your favorite gym or local coffee shop to destress after a long day of work. How do you keep calm? We’re here to help. Dive into our wellness challenge: 30 ways to reduce stress this month.

 

man sits cross-legged in a meditation post

Day One Challenge: Meditate

We could all use some inner calm in the midst of this outer chaos. That’s where mindful meditation comes in. Not only can mindfulness reduce anxiety, it can improve productivity and lead to greater mental resilience. Today, give yourself the respite of 10 mindful minutes:

  • Headspace, one of the most popular meditation apps, is offering free sessions to help people cope with the stress of COVID-19. 
  • This mindfulness exercise will also introduce you to the basics.

 

man does push-ups

Day 2 Challenge: Exercise

Want to improve your mood, boost your brain function, and sleep better tonight? Time to exercise. We know you’re juggling a busy schedule, so we’ve compiled some easy ways to weave movement into your workday:

 

Day 3 Challenge: Connect with Nature

Enjoying the great outdoors has real benefits. One study found that “people who spent two hours a week or more outdoors reported being in better health and having a greater sense of well-being than people who didn’t get out at all.” You don’t have to schedule a hiking trip to connect with nature:

  • Spread a beach blanket in your backyard and soak up some sunshine. Be mindful: Note the sounds of birds and squirrels, the color of butterflies and flowers, the feeling of the blanket under your fingers. 
  • No backyard? No problem. Go for a walk and observe the nature you pass. (Just stay at least 6 feet away from other people.)
  • Incorporate reminders of nature into your workspace. Move a potted plant from your balcony onto your desk. Stream bird songs on Pandora. Change your desktop wallpaper to a photo of the beach. (According to this article, “staring at an image of natural scenery for 40 seconds” could help your brain ease “into a more relaxed state.”) 

 

woman walking her dog in a park

Day 4 Challenge: Destress with Your Pet

Spending time with your pet can decrease your stress hormones and improve your mood. Today, build some extra time to bond with your furry friend. 

 

Dog Owners

Just like you, your dog may be missing his usual routine: trips to the dog park, doggie play dates, outings that involve biscuits and pats. If Fido is feeling down, create this puzzle game from The New York Times to cheer him up: 

  1. Make sure Fido isn’t looking. 
  2. Hide treats in some cardboard boxes, leaving other boxes empty.
  3. Let him sniff out which boxes contain a reward. 

 

Cat Owners

If you’ve transitioned to remote work, your cat is extremely pleased with your new lifestyle. Make your cat’s day extra special by creating this interactive puzzle:

  1. Cut holes into a shoebox. 
  2. Hide toys and treats inside. 
  3. Tape the lid shut.
  4. Let the cat puzzle her way through the holes to find the rewards. 

 

Or you can just line stuff up on your desk and watch your cat knock it off. 

 

No Pets?

If you’ll be working remotely for a while, now may be a good time to foster a dog or cat. (Just make sure that you let the shelter know that your timeframe for fostering may be limited if you plan to return to in-person work.)

 

Day 5 Challenge: Declutter Your Desk

You’re going to be spending a lot of time at home, so why not make your workstation a little more Zen? Spend 20 minutes organizing your desk today:

  • Sort through your drawers and toss what you don’t need.
  • Designate a space for everything from computer cords to paper clips: “A colorful milk crate or a clear rubber box with a pink label will do. All items of the same type should be stored together,” explains this blog post. 
  • Embrace ergonomics: Arrange your spaces so your monitor is at eye level

 

Day 6 Challenge: Practice Gratitude

The world is a hard place right now, and it’s tough to feel thankful for anything. But practicing gratitude, even in difficult circumstances, may be the path to greater well-being: 

  • Watch this TED Talk, delivered by a monk and interfaith scholar, to understand the connection between gratitude and happiness. 
  • Try this tonight: Before bed, write down five things you're grateful for.

 

Day 7 Challenge: Do a Face Mask

You don’t need to go to the spa to relax. Treat yourself to a face mask you can make from ingredients you already have in your kitchen:

 

Day 8 Challenge: Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a great way to reduce stress and increase your ability to concentrate. Try this technique from WebMD

  1. Get comfortable. You can lie on your back in bed or on the floor with a pillow under your head and knees. Or you can sit in a chair with your shoulders, head, and neck supported against the back of the chair.
  2.  Breathe in through your nose. Let your belly fill with air.
  3. Breathe out through your nose.
  4. Place one hand on your belly. Place the other hand on your chest.
  5. As you breathe in, feel your belly rise. As you breathe out, feel your belly lower. The hand on your belly should move more than the one that's on your chest.
  6. Take three more full, deep breaths. Breathe fully into your belly as it rises and falls with your breath.

 

Day 9 Challenge: Embrace Scent

Incorporate soothing scents into your day. “Studies have shown lavender is calming, but environmental psychologists also recommend finding scents you personally respond to, perhaps one reminiscent of a Redwood forest vacation, nights by a bonfire or even baked cookies,” says this Washington Post article. Here are a few ideas:

  • Rub essential oils or other calming fragrances on your wrist. 
  • Place a bar of lavender soap on your desk, within easy reach, to inhale whenever deadlines loom and children start screaming.
  • Raid your holiday box and light a candle that reminds you of happy times.
  • Dab vanilla extract on a cotton ball and set it on your desk (away from curious pets). 

 

Day 10 Challenge: Silence Your Inner Critic

Do you constantly berate yourself? Are you quick to self-blame? It’s time to practice positive thinking — and to silence that inner critic.  

  • Notice how you talk to yourself. “If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you,” suggests this Mayo Clinic article.
  • Along with telling yourself these affirmations, write them down on a piece of paper and refer to it throughout the day.

 

Day 11 Challenge: Read Poetry 

Can poetry be therapeutic? You bet. “The idea of poetry as a way to ‘get better’ or ‘get healed’ remains powerfully alive in our society today,” explains the article, “Mary Oliver Saved My Life.” Meditate on a poem today: 

 

Day 12 Challenge: Watch Wildlife

Feeling lonely during your remote workday? We’ve got you covered. Tune into a wildlife cam that features adorable creatures such as these baby otters

 

Day 13 Challenge: Unplug

Between holding virtual work meetings, Skyping with loved ones, and constantly checking the latest headlines, it’s harder than ever to unplug. But limiting screen time is crucial to maintain mental health. 

  • Only check the news once today. 
  • Set limits on how much time you spend mindlessly scrolling through social media. 
  • Schedule a screen-free activity such as baking cookies or playing a board game with your cohabitants. 

 

Day 14 Challenge: Cook Something Delicious

If you’re like most of us, you’re limiting your trips to the grocery store. But that doesn’t mean you have to live off cold, canned beans. Cook yourself a delicious meal using ingredients you have in your pantry or freezer: 

 

Set a nice table. Light some candles. Play the bossa nova station on Pandora. Enjoy. 

 

Day 15 Challenge: Practice Self-Compassion

It’s been a hard couple of weeks. Many of us are missing the soothing embrace of loved ones who are self-distancing in other houses. Today, practice self-compassion: 

  • Don’t suppress your feelings. Instead, voice what you’re experiencing: “I’m really scared right now.” 
  • Give yourself a hug by wrapping your arms around yourself, suggests this New York Times article. Say to yourself, “May I be strong. May I accept myself as I am.”

 

Day 16 Challenge: Engage your Spiritual Side

Nurturing your spiritual side can relieve stress and give you a greater sense of purpose. Try one of these activities today: 

  • View a virtual church service.
  • Read an inspirational quote. (A personal favorite by theologian Frederick Buechner: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.”)
  • Meditate with a crystal such as quartz.
  • Burn sage.
  • Listen to a podcast for spiritual searchers.

 

Day 17 Challenge: Color

Coloring can help you focus on the moment, which relaxes your brain and relieves anxiety. Print one of these free Crayola templates and get started. 

 

Day 18 Challenge: Drink Tea 

Tea is a simple, easy treat you can make yourself during the workday. Depending on the kind of tea you drink, it may also provide health benefits, including boosting your immune system. Take a five-minute break to drink your tea while engaging in another soothing activity, such as watching birds outside your window or listening to music.

 

Day 19 Challenge: Make a Playlist

If you don’t have time to create your own, here’s our playlist:

  • Our House. Because your house is a very, very fine house, and you’re going to be seeing a lot of it.
  • Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Remind yourself that your loved ones will be there for you, even if it’s through a virtual chat. 
  • Let It Be. Because it sure is a time of trouble. 
  • It’s Nice to Have a Friend. When you’re stuck inside with your significant other for weeks, remind yourself why you love them. 
  • Morning Has Broken. If nothing else, we can praise the new morning. 
  • Immigrant Song. Get yourself pumped up to tackle the hard things in life. 

 

Day 20 Challenge: Read a Book

A good book may be the best way to escape your current reality and go to another universe (ideally, one where there’s toilet paper). If you’re too mentally drained to focus on a new novel, give yourself permission to revisit a favorite childhood story. It may provide the comfort you need.

 

Tonight, try to read for 20 minutes before bed. (A perk: It’ll encourage you to put down your phone.)

 

Day 21 Challenge: Find Support

Be brave enough to ask for help today:

  • Talk to a friend on the phone, and be vulnerable about how you feel.
  • Contact an online therapist. (Some therapists are offering free, virtual support.)
  • Tell your partner you need them to watch the kids for an extra half hour so you can take a break. 

 

Day 22 Challenge: Laugh 

“When you laugh, it not only lightens your mental load but also causes positive physical changes in your body,” explains this post from Mayo Clinic. “Laughter fires up and then cools down your stress response.”

 

Do something that makes you laugh today. If you’re looking for a comedy on streaming services, we recommend John Mulaney’s stand-up The Comeback Kid and the Canadian sitcom Schitt’s Creek, both on Netflix.

 

Day 23 Challenge: Tour a Museum

You may be stuck at home, but you can still explore the world’s best museums. On your lunch break, spend half an hour among the wonders of the art world:

 

Day 24 Challenge: Take a Spa-Like Bath 

Nothing says “stress relief” like a luxurious bath. Treat yourself to a spa experience at home:

  • Put away any bathroom clutter so your view is spa-worthy.
  • Light a candle.
  • Play your favorite relaxing music.
  • Create your own version of a bath bomb: Mix three drops of lavender essential oil with a tablespoon of coconut oil. Run the bath, then stir in the essential oil mixture. Read more about the do’s and don’ts of bath-time essential oils here.

 

Day 25 Challenge: Practice Generosity

It’s easy to feel disconnected from others when you’re social distancing. But even from your living room, you can make a difference in people’s lives.

  • If you have the money, consider donating to an organization that helps those who will be affected by the pandemic. Even a dollar can help.
  • Call someone who may be feeling extra lonely. 
  • Reach out to people in your community. “Now is a good time to exchange contact information with your neighbors, especially folks near you who are older or immunocompromised,” explains this CNN article

 

Day 26 Challenge: Connect with Artists

Artists around the world are sharing their creations to lift people’s spirits. Take advantage of the chance to listen in — from this cellist's inspiring songs to performances at The Metropolitan Opera.

 

Day 27 Challenge: Spark Your Creativity

Is there a creative project you’ve been dreaming of? A manuscript to finish, a song to write, a watercolor to complete? We give you permission to take an hour today and explore this project. 

 

If you don’t have an existing project, now is a great time to explore creative outlets:  

  • Take an online art tutorial.
  • Write the first line of a novel.
  • Download an app that shows you how to play an instrument.

 

Day 28 Challenge: Give Yourself a Neck Massage 

First, learn the right technique. This article demonstrates the best way to massage yourself with a tennis ball, and this article shows you how to combine stretching and massage to relieve tension. 

 

Next, create the atmosphere of a spa. Turn on soft music. Dim the lighting. Refresh yourself with a glass of spa water made from ingredients in your pantry, like lemons. 

 

Day 29 Challenge: Journal

You’re almost done with our wellness challenges! Our second-to-last activity is simple but effective: journaling. Research has shown that “writing in a journal can lead to better sleep, a stronger immune system, more self-confidence and a higher I.Q.,” according to this article.  

 

Today, write for 15 minutes about a topic of your choice. It could be a list of your worries. It could be a diary of what you’ve done today. It could even be a free-write, where you write without thinking and give your subconscious free rein. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation: Allow yourself to connect with, and work through, your emotions. 

 

Day 30 Challenge: Reflect

Congratulations! You finished a month of activities focused on achieving greater well-being. The fact that you committed to this challenge is admirable. You should be proud of how you’ve invested in yourself. 

 

Today’s challenge is to reflect on your journey. What activities did you find most beneficial? Can you integrate those into your routine? Discard what didn’t work; keep what did. You can download our 30-day wellness challenge for easy reference to your favorite activities:

 

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And remember, USF is ready to support you. Explore USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education website, or contact us at 813-974-0950.