Stress is bad for the body. It’s therefore in our best interests to stress less. Below are some stress reduction techniques. The recommendation is not necessarily to commit to them all. Rather, just try those which resonate with you. Maybe one will, or maybe a few will. Anything to contribute to just a small reduction in your stress levels is worth a try.
1. It’s been proven that there is a direct link between regular meditation and improved emotional health. Meditation apps such as Headspace, Insight Timer and Calm offer some amazing guided meditations and tools to get you started. Befriending an app like one of these could really help you find peace during intense and stressful times. If meditation isn’t your thing try some simple breathing. This will help anchor you to the present moment. For example, try closing your eyes and taking ten deep breaths. Exhale slowly and calmly, really focusing on your breath in the now. Some find it useful to focus on a specific characteristic of the breath such as the rise and fall of the belly, or the air flowing in and out of the nostrils. This helps guide the mind away from busy, unhelpful thoughts. The apps above also have built-in timers to help with simple breathing exercises, so they’re also useful for those of us who simply want to pause and breathe for a minute or two. Deep breaths are simple but powerful.
2. Take a break. Studies have shown that taking just a five-minute break from work leads to higher productivity. Not only that, regular breaks help improve mood and lower stress levels. Next time stress builds up maybe take it as a request from your mind and body to step away for a short break (a long break might be even better if circumstances permit). Integrating breaks into your routine is a gentle and simple way to reduce stress while boosting productivity.
3. A real sense of catharsis can be achieved by writing thoughts and feelings down. Journaling is a great way to release stress and difficult emotions. It can really put us in touch with what’s happening inside and is a great way of giving ourselves permission to feel and express stuff. Reflecting on journal entries over time can increase self-awareness which helps us become more emotionally balanced. Pinterest has hundreds of structured journal entry suggestions, and places like Paperchase stock a great selection of creative journals. It’s equally effective to keep it simple too. You can pick up notebooks for next to nothing from bargain shops these days. Stock up and allow yourself ten minutes each day to write freely about how you’re feeling and what’s going on for you emotionally.
4. Being organised might be an effective way of preventing stress. Sounds so simple but setting time aside to plan for coming weeks or months can help prevent feelings of being overwhelmed. Think of it as getting on top of your to-do list before your to-do list gets on top of you.
5. Following on from the previous suggestion, is it possible to ask for help or delegate? Whether it be at work or home, is it possible to ask a colleague, friend or relative to help you out with something? We often feel the urge to do everything for ourselves and manage alone, but we need to remind ourselves often that relying on others does not equate to flaw or failure.
6. Laugh. Research shows that laughter reduces stress levels and relaxes tense muscles. Laughing also triggers the release of endorphins (the body’s natural feel good chemicals). It’s therefore in our best interests to laugh often. Who makes you laugh? See them often. What films/TV shows do you find hilarious? Watch them often. What are your funniest memories? Reminisce about them frequently.
7. Healthy relationships. Lots of research shows that healthy relationships are a major protective factor when it comes to mental health and general wellbeing. This is noticeable when we’re going through a bad patch with a loved one. How bad does that feel inside? Likewise, how good does it feel to be deeply close and connected to those we love? Making the most of time with the people who matter to us is a really loving way of keeping ourselves well emotionally.
8. Hug somebody. Stress makes the body produce cortisol: the hormone responsible for making us feel anxious and tense. Hugging on the other hand boosts production of oxytocin which is the hormone responsible for making us feel relaxed and content. You could therefore say that hugging is the perfect little antidote to stress. Give it a go next time you feel tension rising. A simple hug is likely to work wonders for your mind.
9. Connect with nature. Growing evidence suggests that connecting with nature can make us happier and healthier. Research consistently proves that spending time in naturalistic environments can improve mood and reduce anxiety levels. Therefore, how about a walk in a local park (kill the daily exercise bird too)? Or maybe some time by the sea? Whatever floats your boat in the nature department is likely to help reduce your stress levels. Maybe it’ll help put things in order too. Wilderness therapy works on the premise that spending time surrounded by something much greater than ourselves provides a sense of perspective over perceived problems. Evidently, connecting with nature boasts so many great benefits (improved mood, reduced anxiety, a sense of perspective, a chance to exercise). Lucky for us it’s just waiting in all its glory for us to make the most of it.
10. Do the things which make you happy. It’s fair to say that a degree of stress is to be somewhat expected in life. We all encounter hurdles, challenges and rough patches. It’s also fair to say that we often force ourselves to work jobs we don’t enjoy, engage with relationships which don’t nourish us, socialise in places we don’t find enjoyable and generally do things we’d rather not do. In other words, we often unintentionally invite stress and dissatisfaction into our lives. At the same time, we wonder why we’re not living a happy life. A really kind thing you could do for yourself is list your favourite things (e.g. films, music, places, drinks, foods, people, activities, clothes etc.) and let yourself experience them often. We need to remind ourselves frequently that our time is short and sacred. Why not spend it doing the things we enjoy the most as opposed to doing things which stress us out? Imagine getting to the end of your life and realising that, instead of doing the things you loved, you spent your time here doing avoidable but stressful things.