Reducing Stress

Most of us think we’re smarter than average, quicker than average, weigh less than average and that our choices are better than average.(1) Can we really also be so good? Take stress relief for example. Most of us, when asked to list our top five ways of de-stressing, think of what we do – and assume it’s effective.

Think for a moment about your favourite methods of stress reduction… according to the American Psychological Association (APA) National Survey on Stress (2010) the most used strategies were:(2)

  • Eating (esp. snack food),
  • Drinking (esp. alcohol),
  • Shopping (esp. on credit),
  • Watching TV (for more than 2 hours),
  • Surfing the web (or playing games)
  • Procrastination,
  • Gambling and
  • Smoking.

Does anything on that list tickle your fancy? Respondents were later offered a longer list of stress relief alternatives, and asked to rank them in terms of actual effectiveness. This list (above) then went from the top (most used) to the bottom (least effective). How bizarre. The things we use the most are the least effective. It turns out that most of us are not smarter than average after all!

It also turns out (ironically) that the least used strategies were also the most effective – again inverted. If you’re thinking of engaging an effective de-stresser strategy, you’d best pick from the following list:

  • Exercising (a nice walk),
  • Playing sports (of any kind),
  • Praying (or meditating, or yoga),
  • Reading,
  • Listening to music,
  • Spending time with friends or family,
  • Getting a massage or
  • Doing your favourite hobby.


1) David McRainey, “You Are Not So Smart”2011, Chapter one.
2) Kelly McGonigal, “The Will Power Instinct”, 2011, Chapter six.