stress management woman with anxiety

One of the best buffers against stress is completely free

You know exactly what I mean if I tell you it’s been one of those days because we all have them. While there are some lucky personalities that just sweat the small stuff less, no one escapes without some rough patches. There are plenty of stress management techniques out there. Many of them cost money, like meditation classes or adaptogen supplements. And, sure, those work well for long-term mental health. Just don’t forget that there’s a zero-dollar stress management tip that works almost instantly.

I don’t want you to think I’m undermining more long-term stress management techniques. Ashwagandha is valued part of my supplement regimen. Though I’m not big on the traditional form, I do like walking meditation as an outlet for my nervous energy. But both of those need time to build up to real benefits. Sometimes when I have a day that’s utter garbage, I need something that will ease the stress right then and there. (Let’s face it, otherwise I have a hard time sleeping with the stress weighing on me.)

This stress management tip is a zero-dollar way to feel better

But there is a science-backed stress management tip that many of us forget. It’s completely free. (And it pairs perfectly with this mental trick to protect yourself from a toxic workplace.) Lowering your stress levels and feeling better is as simple as getting a hug from a loved one. A simple hug has the power to help you experience less of an increase in negative emotions and less of a decrease in positive emotions after a hard day, a recent study found.

stress management tip two women hugging

Hian Oliveira

Researchers interviewed 404 adults every night for two straight weeks. They asked about and tracked the conflicts they had, the hugs they received, and their general positive and negative emotions throughout the day. “We still have questions about when, how, and for whom hugs are most helpful,” Michael Murphy, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict.”

That adds to existing research that asking for a hug from a loved one might be the easiest stress management tip of all. Hugs have already been found to help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (It’s worth noting, though, that cortisol does play a healthy role in your body and is not something you want to eliminate entirely.)

When to use this stress management tip

Although this recent study points to hugs as a great stress management tip after a stressful event, past research shows it also works before. You might want to ask for a hug before you leave for a hard day or a big presentation. Another study found that a 20-second hug from a partner lowered the heart rates of study participants who had to give a public speech.

It’s easy to get bogged down in specifics here. Just remember that you have a support network of people who love and care about you. Don’t be afraid to go to them for support, even if it’s just a simple hug. The effects can be profound and, pay attention to what I’m typing here, it’s not a burden for someone who loves you to support you. Just pay it forward and remember to hug the people you love before or after their rough days, too. Well, as long as they want a hug, that is.