Stress affects both mental and physical health

But stress is not just hard on your mental well-being, it is hard on your body and can lead to many negative health outcomes.

Stress. No one wants it but we all experience it from time to time. Higher levels of stress can cause problems at work and at home. But stress is not just hard on your mental well-being, it is hard on your body and can lead to many negative health outcomes.

Stress levels can also increase significantly when economic times are tough. In England, the British Health and Social Care Information Centre found that stress had increased by 47 percent during that country's recession and that stress was the single biggest cause of sickness in the UK, affecting 20 percent of the population. In the United States, a survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that seven out of 10 people reported feeling some stress daily. To help you stay calm and focused, consider these four ways to reduce stress.

Smells

Certain smells can bring back very specific and detailed memories. These could be of a person, event or place. Most often the memory also has a deeply emotional feeling that is recalled. This is because smells are processed by a specific part of the brain that stores emotional memories. Taking the time to seek out the smells that bring back those happy memories can help reduce stress levels.

Salt

Stress is characterized in the human body by high levels of the hormone cortisol, referred to as the "stress hormone." Scientific research has shown, in animals and in humans, that increased levels of salt consumption are very effective in reducing levels of cortisol. Research from the University of Haifa, published in the science journal Appetite, confirmed the relationship between salt and stress in humans. Researchers found an inverse correlation between salt and depression/stress, especially in women. Craving salty foods may very well be a biological defense mechanism we evolved to cope with daily stress.

Pets

Animal therapy has long been used to relieve stress, improve mood and treat anxiety. Some studies have also indicated that just being around an animal can reduce blood pressure. This pet therapy has been used in hospitals and nursing homes and even with military veterans suffering from depression. And it is not limited to dogs and cats. Rabbits, Guinea pigs and even horses are used. An added benefit is that having a pet encourages exercise.

Exercise

Regular exercise, even if mild, may be the best stress reducer there is. When you are active the body releases endorphins, which produce a feeling of well-being. Regular activity can improve your concentration as well as your sleep, which can often be negatively affected by stress.

Just going for a daily walk can help improve how you feel. And the results of exercise can also improve your self-image and confidence.

Wintertime can be stressful for many people. The cold and shorter days mean less sunlight and fewer opportunities for outdoor activities. That is why it is important to take the time to take good care of yourself and your family by looking for ways to relax.