Stress is an inescapable aspect of modern life and for most of us it can seem like there’s no escape. In our desperation to cope with stress, we often turn to unhealthy quick fixes, whether it’s binge eating, drinking or smoking. However, there are healthy ways to lower stress levels and most of them don’t require much time, money or expertise.
Chronic stress has been linked to a variety of lifestyle diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, which is why it cannot be ignored. Here are some simple stress reduction techniques that can provide relief the next time you start to feel weighed down.
If you can look past some of the pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo surrounding meditation, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find. The practice has proven stress reduction benefits, not just providing quick relief but also helping you better manage stress in the long term. It improves your focus, sense of wellbeing, and cultivates mindfulness; in other words, you learn to live in the moment and appreciate all of your experiences without the clutter and chaos of anxiety.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
It’s one of the most effective techniques of stress reduction and once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it to be a life saver. The practice involves tensing a specific muscle group as you breathe in, while you relax it as you breathe out. You can start by learning the technique from instructional videos, books, or apps. It won’t take you long to learn and you can also use the technique to help cope with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
3. Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is a great way to lower stress levels quickly, no matter where you are. You simply need to focus on your breathing and control the way you breathe. This provides some quick relief, calming your mind and also relaxing tense muscles within minutes. Deep breathing is so effective because it counters some of the effects of stress, helping lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
4. Physical Activity
There’s a clear link between sedentary lifestyles and chronic stress, but it’s not just because of our hectic work lives or careers. It’s more direct. Physical activity, including mild forms of exercise like walking or yoga, can stimulate the release of endorphins or feel-good chemicals that counter stress, improving your ability to cope with the pressure. Spending more time in nature has also been found to lower stress, while some studies found that simply floating in water triggers your body’s natural relaxation response.
If you’re an introvert this can seem counterproductive, but it’s not. You don’t have to socialize with large groups or attend parties to reap the benefits of socializing. We are social animals and stand to benefit from both emotional and physical contact. You can spend time with friends or just one loved one to lower those stress levels. Simply hugging a loved one has been shown to trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of happiness and relaxation. It’s worth noting that this stress reduction strategy is particularly effective at promoting feelings of wellness in women.
Yes, it’s sometimes hyped up, but when it comes to stress relief, aromatherapy can be quite effective. There is now evidence that some scents may actually alter brain activity, lowering the levels of stress hormones. To reap these benefits, you can just use scented candles or essential oil diffusers, focusing on fragrances like lavender, rosewood, or sweet orange.
Sometimes seemingly insurmountable problems can be overcome using the simplest solutions. Listening to music is the best example, as it’s an activity that we all enjoy and indulge in. Soothing music can have a dramatic effect on your mood, promoting relaxation, a reduction in heart rate, and lower blood pressure. Similarly, listening to upbeat music can help you feel better and also raise your energy levels.
8. Planners and Journals
From personal experience, using a planner or journal can give you clarity and focus, helping reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Writing down your thoughts, feelings, and worries can be cathartic and it helps you evaluate your life or rather those things that are causing you stress. You can also use a journal to keep track of your experiences and to take note of things that fill you with joy or gratitude. Both practices are often recommended in counseling and behavioral therapy sessions.
You’d think that petting or cuddling with a furry cat or dog would only benefit an animal lover, but that’s not entirely true. Studies show that contact with animals promotes innumerable health benefits, including stress reduction. Animals can reduce feelings of loneliness, motivate you to stay active, improve your heart health, and even boost immunity. I’m not one to proselytize, but if you love animals or at the very least don’t dislike them, you should get a pet!
If you have faith in a higher power, nothing can be more therapeutic than prayer. It’s something you can do anywhere, at any time, and it can be pretty effective. Studies have found that individuals who pray are less likely to be stressed, while another study found that the very practice of chanting, whether mantras or scriptures, could help cope with stress induced problems like anxiety and insomnia.
Article courtesy of my friends at Everyday Health