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From epic traffic jams and work deadlines to unhealthy lifestyle and pollution, you're exposed to numerous daily stressors. And while there are many circumstances you can't control or change, you can change how you react to them.
Some people experience stress more intensely than others. The problem occurs when stress becomes chronic and so overwhelming that your anxiety gets to be your default state of mind. This is the point where stress can take a toll on your health and well-being.
For this reason, it's important to recognize when you're stressed out, take a step back, and cut that feeling in its roots. This is where various de-stressing methods take place, calming both your body and your mind.
But first, let's find out what stress exactly is and what it does to the body.
What Exactly Is Stress?
Stress is a perfectly normal, innate reaction. It's a fight or flight state that played an essential survival role in the pre-civilization world. Stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, flood the system, the heart rate goes up, and blood vessels constrict. The blood rushed to the heart and muscles, creating an alert state that helped our ancestors escape from predators and other life-threatening situations.
Nowadays, predators are not here anymore, but the fight or flight response remained. And so, our body can't tell the difference between a displeased boss and an approaching predatory animal. The adrenaline kicks in, but instead of fighting or escaping, we're holding it in and letting it accumulate.
As a result, we develop chronic conditions, such as chronic fatigue, headaches, hypertension, and other heart issues. No less harmful are the psychological consequences, such as anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and others.
But, luckily, the news is not all that bad! While we can't escape stress, we have the power to undo its effects and learn how to get through it.
To find out what best works for you, you can try out a few of these simple but effective de-stressing techniques:
The 23 Simple Relaxation Techniques
If you apply them for only a few minutes a day, these relaxation techniques will not only help you deal with stress in a particular moment, but also create a kind of reserve of mental strength and inner peace for all the upcoming stressful events:
#1: Have a Go at Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
In this technique, the focus is on gently tightening and relaxing each muscle group. It's supposed to help you feel the difference between muscle tension and relaxation, with a goal to establish control over these physical sensations and reduce stress [source].
Start tightening and relaxing the muscles in your feet and gradually move to other muscle groups, all the way up to your forehead. Let the muscle spasm last for five seconds and the relaxation for 10. Repeat two times for each muscle group before continuing onto the next one. You can perform this exercise in a sitting or lying position and stay relaxed for a couple of minutes after you've finished the whole exercise.
#2: Try Visualization or Guided Imagery.
This technique consists of creating mental images that will relax you, both mentally and physically [source]. In other words, during this exercise, you're going to your "happy place," a relaxing environment, where all the senses can be involved, such as sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch...
For example, you can close your eyes and imagine that you're on a beautiful beach. You can smell the sea, hear the waves and seagulls, feel the sand under your toes, and the soft breeze on your face. The more details, the better.
Of course, tastes are different, so different people will imagine different environments – for someone, it could be a forest, a Japanese garden, or something completely different. Simply close your eyes, and walk yourself through a peaceful place for a few minutes. After a couple of minutes of visualization, gently return to the present moment.
Some people may find it easier to use guided imagery. This is when somebody else is describing and guiding you through such relaxing scenarios.
#3: Practice Meditation.
There's a variety of different meditation techniques that you can try, each one bringing unique benefits. However, each of them can relieve stress in the present moment, but also help you develop lasting stress management benefits [source].
You can try practicing transcendental meditation, where you focus on repeating a mantra. Or give mindfulness meditation a shot, where you practice being present in the moment. In any case, you're focusing on the now, and your mind doesn't have time to ruminate about the past or worry about the future.
#4: Give Yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong a Shot.
These ancient skills combine rhythmic breathing with a series of special poses and movements. These are very effective relaxation techniques, primarily because each of them combines physical activity with a mental focus on the present moment. Like meditation, these mind-body exercises can help you gain long-term benefits, especially if you incorporate them into your daily life [source].
Yoga, tai chi, and qigong are not too demanding for the body, like boxing or weightlifting, but be mindful if you had some injuries in the past or other more serious health issues. In that case, you should consult with your doctor before starting with any of these exercises.
Additionally, it would be helpful to take classes initially, use an app, or enroll in an online course.
#5: Take a Walk in Nature.
Talking a 10-minute walk in nature will clear your head and stimulate endorphin production, a feel-good hormone that helps reduce stress. Consider taking a stroll in a park or any other place where you'll be surrounded by greenery. According to research, certain colors, such as green and blue, have calming effects, lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate.
#6: Do Breathing Exercise.
Shallow breathing stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate and causing blood vessels to narrow. Without being aware of it, you can put your body in a stress mode just by taking short and shallow breaths.
On the other hand, just several slow, deep breaths will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which will help you relax. According to yogis, breath is a life force, or pranayama, that plays a pivotal role in nourishing the body. And researchers couldn't agree more.
Gregory Scott Brown, a Texas psychiatrist, suggests the following technique: Take a deep breath through your nose and count to 4, hold your breath in for 7 seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds. Deep breathing is something our bodies do automatically when relaxed. With this 4-7-8 exercise, you'll get the extra boost of oxygen, helping you relieve stress and tension.
#7: Immerse Yourself in Artwork.
Doing something creative, like painting, photography, and even cooking, can help you shift your focus and take your mind off whatever was causing you stress. These activities require concentration and physical activity, and in that way, they work similarly to meditation.
If you're not keen on taking on baking or drawing, you can get yourself a coloring book for adults. One study suggests that coloring mandalas, complex geometric patterns, have meditative effects and can relieve anxiety.
#8: Try Aromatherapy.
Research shows that certain scents can change brain wave activity, affecting mood, working capacity, and stress. These scents stimulate smell receptors in your nose. Through the nervous system, these receptors then send messages to the limbic system – the area of the brain responsible for controlling emotions.
There are many different ways you can use aromatherapy; the most common one is using essential oils. You can inhale them directly from the bottle or use a humidifier or diffuser. You can also add a couple of drops to your skincare, like body lotion or shampoo.
#9: Write a Journal.
Express your feelings with your most trusted friend – your journal. Writing down everything that troubles you, concerns you, or causes you fear, can help you recognize day-to-day patterns and triggers and learn how to better deal with and control them in the future.
According to research, writing a journal is a healthy way of expressing and dealing with overwhelming emotions and can help you manage stress, reduce anxiety, and cope with depression.
#10: Hug a Loved One.
Physical contact with a loved one can relieve stress. Research suggests that self-soothing actions, like hugging, lead to releasing of the so-called cuddle hormone, oxytocin, and reducing the stress hormone norepinephrine.
Oxytocin is linked to lower levels of stress and higher levels of relaxation and happiness. So, don't hesitate to ask a loved one to give you a hug from time to time.
#11: Get Yourself a Plant.
A 2015 study revealed that houseplants aren't just beautiful to look at but can also reduce stress and anxiety. Researchers discovered that interaction with indoor plants lowers blood pressure and promotes soothing and comfortable feelings.
So, find your inner gardener and get yourself a plant or two. Who knows, maybe you discover a new passion you didn't know you had.
#12: Try Autogenic Training.
In this technique, you use both visualization and body awareness, like warmth and heaviness of particular body parts, to reduce stress. Pleasant words or statements are repeated in your mind to help you relax and release muscle tightness. Think of a pleasant and soothing phrase for each part of your body, for instance, My legs feel warm and heavy.
Studies show that autogenic training can reduce blood pressure and heart rate, leading to relaxation and relieving stress and anxiety.
#13: Practice Gratitude.
Make gratitude a daily habit by thinking of and appreciating everything you have to be thankful for. Whether it's a warm meal on your table or a friendly face from your neighbor, savor that feeling and express your gratitude to other people. You can even keep a gratitude journal and write three things you're thankful for each day.
Research shows that grateful people have less stress, better mental health, and lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
#14: Start Working Out.
Regular physical activity is essential for better overall health and well-being. Studies show that physical exercise is the key to mental health and stress reduction, especially for people facing acute stressful situations.
Physical activity boosts the production of feel-good hormones, endorphins, and reduces the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. So whether it's hiking, weight lifting, or kayaking, find what works for you and stick to it.
#15: Find Time for Leisure Activities.
The key to living a stress-free and fulfilling life is making time for some fun and hobbies. It will not only make you feel better and reduce stress, but also make your working time more efficient.
Research shows that any pause from your day-to-day routine and busy work schedule can help you deal with daily stressors more easily. So find some time for meeting with friends and some extra fun as it will help you de-stress and recharge your batteries for new challenges.
#16: Listen to Music.
Many studies have shown beneficial effects of classical music on the body – reduced blood pressure, slower heart rate, and decreased stress hormones. However, further studies revealed that any music you love will have similar soothing effects, especially for those in the middle of a stressful event, like an upcoming exam or surgery.
So the best way to soothe your everyday anxiety is by listening to music you enjoy. Therefore, turn on the radio on the way home or hum your favorite song whenever you have the opportunity.
Turn off your Internet, your smartphone, and get some time away from the screen. These are all linked to the increased stress response as you feel the urge to respond to every message or email immediately and at all times [source].
So, unplug and completely disconnect at least for an hour or two each day. You should try doing this before bed, as many studies show that late-night screen time causes depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
#18: Chew a Gum.
In 2019, a study was conducted to determine the effects of gum chewing on stress, anxiety, short-term memory, attention focusing, and exam success. According to this 100-student study, gum chewing relieved psychological stress while multitasking, increased alertness, and improved performance in a long-term group of 19 days [source].
#19: Don't Be Hungry.
According to Dr. Drew Ramsey, a professor of psychiatry and author of The Happiness Diet, there's nothing more stressful to your brain than feeling like you've run out of precious fuel and nourishment.
Dr. Drew Ramsey says:
The connection between the gut and brain is huge - called the 'gut-brain axis' - and lots of interesting data supports the idea that the gut is a major mediator of the stress response.
Therefore, if it's not time for lunch yet but you feel hungry, have a hearty but healthy snack that will fill you up, like a hard-boiled egg, a banana, or a handful of nuts.
Do it away from any distractions, like your computer, and enjoy the tastes and textures of your snack. You'll notice it will have positive meditative effects on your mood.
Laughter is an effective de-stressing method, increasing oxygen intake and endorphin levels. Recent studies show that self-induced or simulated laughter has similar benefits to spontaneous laughter, causing a drop in cortisol levels and reducing blood pressure.
So, the physical aspect of laughing itself, without humor or any stimuli, is associated with chemical changes in the brain that can increase pain tolerance and reduce stress. Therefore, you can enroll in a laughter yoga class or, as crazy as it may sound, simply laugh. Your body won't know the difference.
On the other hand, if you still think spontaneous and genuine laughing is more your thing, then browse YouTube for some viral videos, watch a comedy, or whatever works best for you.
#21: Steer Clear of Things That Cause You Stress.
At times, the best strategy to reduce stress is to avoid stressors whenever possible. So, if reading the news, watching TV, or drinking coffee or alcohol only add stress to your life, it's best to get rid of them or avoid them. Changing some everyday habits may be hard in the beginning, but it'll make you feel better in the long run.
#22: Try the Naam Yoga Hand Trick.
If you find yourself in the midst of a stressful situation, you could try this yoga hand trick, explained by Sharon Melnick, author of Success Under Stress, for Business Insider.
Find a point between your second and third knuckle, close to the spot where your finger and hand meet. With your palm facing up, use your thumb to go down the middle finger (towards your palm), and once you've found a slightly indented spot, close to your palm, apply medium pressure with your thumb. It should loosen the area around your heart and help you feel instantly more relaxed.
#23: Surround Yourself With Friends.
Numerous studies have confirmed the link between social support and mental and physical health. Social support is the key to emotional well-being, increasing your stress resiliency and even reducing mortality.
Therefore, create a network of support around you, be it your partner, family, or friends, and always seek to expand that network. If you feel like you lack support in your life and feel isolated, attend a support group, join an organization, or ask for professional help.
Whichever method or methods you choose, it's important to apply them regularly to enjoy all the benefits they have to offer. Some might take some practice and experimenting, so try not to get too discouraged if it doesn't work out immediately.
Even though there's plenty to choose from in this article, it's essential to keep looking for techniques and tools that will help you manage daily stress in the best and healthiest way possible.