How to reduce stress seems to be the million-dollar question these days. Stress is something that we all face. Whether chronic stress or situational, the symptoms can be challenging.
Stress affects people mentally, but the physical effects can be significant. Symptoms range from high blood pressure to chest pain, stomach and digestive issues, skin conditions, and diabetes. Some people experience extreme weight loss while others experience weight gain.
Studies have shown that chronic stress can lead to more severe illnesses such as cancer. We live in a fast-paced, overstimulated, and crazy world that increases our daily stress levels.
So, what can we do to start managing stress better? Here are a few tips that can help manage stress and the effects of stress on our lives.
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1. Get Active
Getting active and staying active is so important.
We all know how good it physically feels to be active. Your blood starts to flow, your heart is pumping, endorphins are awake and engaged, and you might be sweaty if you are working hard enough!
However, you don’t necessarily need to work up a sweat. Getting up to stretch, going for a short walk, or even doing ten jumping jacks gets the blood flowing and allows you to clear your head.
According to thegoodbody.com, meditation can help reduce stress by 22%.
The last 10-12 years have seen an increase in meditation apps you can download for a monthly or yearly fee that pretty much everyone can afford. Most apps provide guidance, and many now offer hypnotherapy sessions that you can do in the comfort of your own home.
The meditations can range from 5 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on your need. Most even provide relaxing music to listen to or nature sounds, with the intent of de-stressing and helping you feel relaxed.
Headspace is the number one meditation app and probably the oldest too.
It’s reasonably priced, and the voice of founder Andy Puddicombe puts even the most stressed-out person at ease.
An ancient practice that has gained popularity over the years, yoga is an excellent way to de-stress as it focuses on relaxation.
Yoga practices can be gentle or intense, but the one thing all yoga practices have in common is the focus on breathing throughout the movement.
You generally breathe in yoga and use several techniques for different practices.
The most common Ujjayi is breathing deeply through your nose and exhaling through your nose by keeping the mouth closed.
When practicing this breathing correctly, you should feel your breath moving within your throat and nasal passage like ocean waves.
The controlled breathing techniques, stretching and holding physical poses take your mind off of whatever stress you may have in your life for the length of the practice.
Even 20 minutes of yoga a day can help alleviate stress and keep you feeling calm.
4. Dance Like No One is Watching
Turn on your favorite music library app and dance like no one is watching.
Shake your head, swivel your hips, jump, twirl, and do a booty shake.
Dancing is a fantastic stress reliever! And while you are dancing, sing your heart out! You will be surprised at how quickly your start smiling and even laughing.
You forget that you were feeling overwhelmed and stressed because you are bopping around to your favorite 80s pop song.
You begin to relive the memories of how that song made you feel when you first heard it.
5. Find the Sun
Finding the sun in the middle of a stressful day can shift your focus.
I don’t mean standing in front of your office window; I suggest getting your coat on and physically going outside and standing in the sun for a few moments.
Sunshine is helpful in the winter and fall seasons when the days are much shorter, and we often don’t see the sun.
The sun has positive impacts on our mental and physical health, so there is no reason you shouldn’t find the sun every day. But what about those cloudy days, you ask?
Even when it’s cloudy, taking a break to go outside and breathe in fresh air is never a bad thing.
The point here is to take a break and change the environment that is causing you stress for a few minutes. Your perspective will change once you allow yourself a few minutes of fresh air, no matter the season.
6. Breathing Techniques
There are a variety of breathing techniques that can help alleviate stress, but the one that
comes to my mind is the 4-7-8 breath.
You inhale slowly to a count of four, hold your breath to a mental count of 7, and then “whooooooosssshhhhhhh,” your breath out to a count of 8.
According to Headspace, “research shows that deep breathing and other breathwork techniques help us calm down during moments of stress.
When we breathe deeper, and through the nose, we might notice our breath is pushing our stomach. That’s a sign that our lungs are expanding and increasing airflow in the body. We’re also activating our “rest and digest” system, which tells the body to relax.” https://www.headspace.com/breathing/meditation/meditation-exercises
So, whenever you feel stressed or anxious, take a moment to breathe.
We all know how important sleep is, and when feeling stressed, it almost feels like a double-edged sword.
Stress can lead to exhaustion which for most would help in sleeping, but stress usually causes insomnia which then causes you more pressure because you are getting enough sleep! Crazy, right?
Sleep is when your body restores itself. You need it for “proper cognitive and behavioral functions.”
So how can you ensure a good night’s rest when you feel stressed?
Many of the items in this list will help you feel less stressed, which will then help with sleep. But there are a few other things you can do, such as the following:
- Keep your room cool and not too warm. Feeling hot and sweaty does not bode well for a good night’s sleep.
- Turn off your phone an hour before bed.
- Take a warm bath or shower.
- Use essential oils such as lavender that promote sleep.
- You can take supplements such as melatonin on those days when the stress may have been overwhelming.
- Read a few pages of a book before bed.
- Drink a glass of warm milk or tea that promote sleep, such as chamomile, valerian root, or passionflower.
Sometimes stress can be deeply rooted in past trauma.
Determining the root cause of stress in your life can be the first step in healing.
Therapy can be quite expensive; however, over the years, therapists have adjusted the way they practice and offer phone and zoom appointments and treatment based on tiered levels based on your income.
The less you make, the lower the cost of your session.
Most workplaces offer a specific dollar amount per year through employee benefit programs. Finding the therapist that feels right for you may take time, and therapy is a process.
It is not a quick fix by any means.
As long as you are patient and put in the work required, you will see that it can help alleviate stress in your life.
9. Connecting with Others
Connecting is so important on so many levels.
The past two years have shown us that we don’t want to be isolated and alone.
We want to celebrate, laugh, talk, and hug in person, not on zoom.
The physical and spiritual aspects of connecting with others are significant and can immediately alleviate stress.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we all know that family member or friend causes us stress, and this is not about connecting with them! But, being a part of a community is vital to our health and well-being.
That community can be anything that you want it to be: a group of high school girlfriends, a dog walking group, the yoga studio where you practice, a new mom group, a book, you get the idea.
The goal of connecting with others is the chance to talk, share and enjoy the company of others.
An excellent practice to help alleviate stress is to write it down. It doesn’t have to be a fancy journal; it can be a spiral notebook.
Whatever your journal looks like, it’s an opportunity to purge your feelings.
And once you write it down, it’s a signal to your mind and body to forget the incident, person, or place that caused you the stress in the first place.
Journaling is also a great way to identify the changes you need to live a calmer and more productive life.
11. Practice Gratitude
Taking a few minutes each day, whether in the morning or the evening before bed, to say aloud all the things you are grateful for really puts things into perspective.
Your tough, stressful day won’t seem so bad. When you focus on the good in your life, the stressful things in your life seem a little less critical.
Gratitude is an easy practice and should not cause more stress. We can all find something for which to be grateful.
Even saying thank you for the day is enough to help you focus on the positive and feel less stressed.
12. Meal Prep
For many working Mothers, dinner falls on their shoulders.
Trying to balance a healthy diet and prepare food that the entire family enjoys is a significant cause of stress!
Meal prepping can alleviate some of that. Some great websites and apps provide weekday quick, easy, and nutritious recipes to add to your repertoire.
Most websites offer free recipes. However, some do sell meal prep downloads that are inexpensive. Then you have meal prep ideas and recipes at your fingertips.
Meal prep does take some time, so there will be a bit of an adjustment period. When you first try meal prepping, you may use most of your weekend to shop and cook. However, once you get the hang of what works best for your family, it will feel like less of a chore.
Coming home from work and school, knowing that your meal needs to be heated up or needs just a few fresh ingredients encourages you to feel less stressed.
You open up more time to connect with your kids or spouse, help with homework, or fold the laundry from yesterday.
It also helps keep you organized throughout the week because you know which meals you need to accommodate those nights when there is dance practice or swimming lessons.
13. Balanced Diet
Your diet is crucial in helping you deal with stress.
Stress tends to cause overeating, binging, and other unhealthy eating habits. When I feel stressed, I look to comfort foods to ease the pain.
Chips, cookies, and chocolates are my go-to’s.
There is nothing wrong with indulging, especially after a stressful day, but it is never a good thing when indulgences become the norm.
Try your best to focus on foods that power you, keep you alert, are nutritious and delicious, and are easy on saturated fats, sodium, and calories.
The word balanced is the key here. Remember that you can have a high fat, salty, cheesy meal here and there, as long as you eat healthy, like 80% of the time.
I mean, can you imagine a world without loaded nachos? I sure can’t!
14. Get Organized/Declutter
Living and working in a space that feels unorganized and cluttered increases stress levels.
It makes you out of control and stuck. Decluttering and organizing the environment you lie and work in allows you to feel more in control, more productive, and happier.
Taking the time each day to put away things, straighten pillows, and clear your desk will make you feel accomplished.
You can wake up to an organized space that will automatically brighten your day.
Do this a few times during the week and see how you feel.
It will start to become a habit that benefits your mental health and one that you will stick by.
15. Get Creative
Grab your kids’ crayons and markers, paint, put on a smock, and get creative!
Drawing, coloring, knitting, and painting are all great activities you can do to help alleviate stress. And who cares if you aren’t the next Picasso?
It’s not about impressing people with your mad drawing skills; it’s about doing something for yourself. Adult coloring books hit the market a few years ago, and there are some cool ones available to purchase, along with comical and naughty ones!
Knitting is a go-to for many people. Something about the gently clicking of the needles brings you into calm headspace.
16. Create a Zen Space
Creating a zen space for yourself to sit quietly, have a cup of tea, or read a book can help de-stress your day.
It doesn’t have to be the perfect spot or even an ample space; it can be anywhere in your home that you find comfort. Make that place sacred.
Candles, a soft throw, a fluffy pillow, and ambient lighting can make your zen space relaxing and calming.
Visualization techniques help tell the body and mind to act as though the imagery is accurate. When you picture your happy place, for example, right away, you begin to calm down.
If you mentally picture a beautiful, serene place, like the beach at sunset or a mountainous range, you trick your mind and body into thinking you are there.
You shift your focus from the stress and anxiety you might be under to a place that makes you feel safe or happy.
That is an effortless way to give yourself a moment to breathe.
18. Assert Yourself
Learn to say “NO.” No, I can’t work an extra hour today.
No, I will not respond to emails after hours. No, I will not engage with that toxic family member. No, I can’t do not want to go out tonight.
Asserting yourself does not mean that you are being selfish. Asserting yourself is a minor selfish thing you could do for yourself.
Especially when you know that by saying no, you are doing so to help alleviate your stress.
Saying no will surprise some, especially if you have always been the person that says yes. You may get a reaction to your stance that you weren’t expecting.
However, I have seen that when people start to say no, they quickly figure out who has always been on their side and who hasn’t.
Asserting yourself may mean that certain friendships get lost, or family members separate themselves from you. That may not be a bad thing in many cases.
19. Ask for Help
Women are notorious for taking on too much, then taking on more, and never asking for help.
As much as social media and the world say, women (especially working moms) are supposed to be superheroes. That’s a high standard to keep.
But unfortunately, we aren’t superheroes. We are human and can only do so much before reaching a breaking point.
Ask for help. It’s probably the most challenging thing a person can do. However, being able to delegate things off your plate can alleviate stress very quickly.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. The strongest, most powerful, and most successful people did not get to their place in this world alone. They had a team of family and friends that supported them. And they asked for help.
It’s probably the most challenging thing a person can do, but being able to delegate things off your plate can alleviate stress very quickly.
20. Hug it Out
Hugs instantly make you feel calm. When I feel stressed, I ask for hugs from my husband and kids. Hugs raise your Oxytocin levels.
Oxytocin is a chemical in our bodies that scientists call the “cuddle hormone,” according to healthline.com, and studies show that hugs can make you happier, reduce stress and fears, and boost heart health.
If a simple hug can do that, I will hug my kids and husband every day!
I don’t believe we can ever live a life free of stress. Stress is a constant, like death and taxes. However, we have so many resources at our fingertips to help us manage it. Whatever your go-to technique is, alleviating stress and keeping it to a minimum is critical to living a happier and calmer life.
If you find it challenging to de-stress, practice two or three of these tips. You have little to lose and much to gain when you do.
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.