In this day and age, stress has become an inherent part of life. According to the World Health Organization, stress, particularly when related to work, is the second most common health issue.1 Studies investigating stress have revealed a strong connection to hypertension,2 metabolic syndrome,3 cardiovascular disease,4 obesity,5 emotional eating,6 and depression.7
Despite these findings, there are many ways that we can manage our stress to ensure that it does not impact our mental or physical well-being, or prevent us from experiencing the pleasure and joy that this life has to offer.
Below are a few of the many different techniques that have been scientifically proven to reduce stress effectively.
When you are very relaxed, how do you breathe? This is a good question to ask yourself when you want to transition from a stressed state to a calm one. Consciously taking deep inhales and exhales will send a message to your brain and body to relax. The results of stress in the body, including a rapid heart rate, disturbed breathing and high blood pressure are all dramatically decreased with deep breathing.
There have been many studies supporting the use of this technique for stress and anxiety management. One study took 60 pregnant women and taught them a breathing technique8 which they practiced 3 times per day for 3 days. The results found that those taking part experienced significantly less emotional stress.
To begin a basic technique that you can use put your hand just below your navel. Inhale through your nose, hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly and repeat until you feel relaxed.
Another technique which has been found to be highly effective in reducing stress is visualizing a calm state. This can take many different forms depending on what offers relaxation to us on a personal level. Begin this exercise by closing your eyes, and taking a moment to picture a relaxing scene, such as lying on a beach in the sun or taking a walk in a beautiful rain forest. Accompanying these visualizations with music or atmospheric sound tracks can make them even more effective. Focus on the details – the smell of the ocean or the feeling of the wind against your skin.
The results and benefits of this exercise have been proven by many different studies, including one that found that it assisted people struggling with stress by ‘increasing, their general feeling of well-being, increasing positive thoughts, improving their ability to cope in stressful situations, decreasing the incidence of insomnia, and in feelings of anger and negative thinking.’9
Massage relaxes the body, improves circulation and releases tension. Giving yourself a massage will bring you back into a feeling state and the present moment. A 2010 review10 concluded that massage may help older people relax by letting them enter a parasympathetic state. There are many extra benefits associated with this technique, including but not limited to:
– Stimulation of energy pathways
– Increased flexibility
– Alleviation of headaches
– Lessening of depression and anxiety
– Stimulation of endorphins for natural pain relief
– Boosted immune system
Sometimes it’s not easy to keep a smile during stressful situations, but studies show that it has direct health benefits. A 2015 study published in Psychological Science found that smiling can result in a lower heart rate during stressful tasks. Another study found11 that smiling helps to manage anxiety by releasing endorphins, and essentially making us feel happier.12 The next time you’re feeling overly stressed, try to muster up a smile, even if it feels fake at first. You may be surprised at how that changes!
In the early 1970’s Dr. Herbert Benson, the founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard Medical School, experimented using Sanskrit mantras. He guided his subjects to sit quietly and repeat the phrase either mentally or verbally for twenty minutes. The study found that those who repeated the mantras for as little as ten minutes a day, experienced physiological changes including ‘reduced heart rate, lower stress levels and slower metabolism.’13
In this way, choosing a short, optimistic statement that focuses on your strength can drastically improve your stress levels. For example, “Everything is well in my world.” or “I can handle this, everything will be okay”.
Yoga reduces stress levels in several ways by lifting your mood, allowing for increased mindfulness and increasing self-compassion. Multiple studies have shown that yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol.14
By improving our state of mind, bringing us into presence and encouraging us to be kinder to ourselves during these stressful periods in our lives, yoga is a very effective stress reliever. If practicing yoga does not resonate, simply stretching reaps very similar benefits.
This technique has been proven time and time again to be an effective means of stress reduction. By helping us to prioritize our concerns, track symptoms from day-to-day and engage in positive and encouraging self-talk, journaling helps us to identify the cause of the stress or anxiety we are experiencing. Once you have clarity around what is triggering the stressed state, you can make a plan to resolve or accept the issue.
If you are new to journaling, it is encouraged to write every day, even if it’s just a small amount. Write whatever you want to express, letting the words flow freely in a place that feels relaxing – maybe all cozied up with a cup of tea. It can become a very enjoyable activity when you realize that you’re doing something very beneficial for your mind and body. Pennebaker believes that journaling helps us come to terms with the stress in our lives, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on our physical health.15
Caffeine is not recommended for those struggling with stress. A 2004 study16 revealed that drinking coffee stimulates the cascade of hormones and increases levels of cortisol, one of the body’s stress hormones, intensifying the physical stress response.
Switching to decaf or tea are two great options. Chamomile has several calming properties and health benefits which reduce stress levels rather than intensifying them.
Several herbal supplements and vitamins have been shown to help alleviate stress and its’ symptoms.
This 2014 Study revealed that dietary supplementation with B group vitamins17 are an effective intervention against occupational stress.
B vitamins are known for improving energy levels and cognitive performance. Clinical trials have also shown that supplementing your diet with a vitamin B complex can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Walking has many stress-relieving benefits. Whether it’s a stroll out in nature or a power-walk home from work, introducing more walking into our daily routine will improve our health on several levels. According to this UK study , walking through greenery contributes18 to a meditative state which is sure to reduce stress and provide more mental clarity. Getting some exercise will also boost stress-busting endorphins, alleviating stress hormones and mild depression. For the best results, take a walk with a loved one for some uplifting social interaction.
By Victoria Reid, Eat Your Cake
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1 World Health Organisation. 2005. Mental health: facing the challenges, building solutions.
2 Tanya M. Spruill. 2013. Chronic Psychosocial Stress and Hypertension.
3 Tamashiro KL1, Sakai RR, Shively CA, Karatsoreos IN, Reagan LP.. 2011. Chronic stress, metabolism, and metabolic syndrome..
4 Lambert G, Schlaich M, Lambert E, Dawood T, Esler M.. 2010. Stress reactivity and its association with increased cardiovascular risk: a role for the sympathetic nervous system?
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8 Yu WJ, Song JE.. 2010. Effects of abdominal breathing on state anxiety, stress, and tocolytic dosage for pregnant women in preterm labor..
9 Elizabeth Carter. 2006. Pre-packaged guided imagery for stress reduction: Initial results.
10 National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health. 2006. Massage Therapy for Health Purposes.
11 Kraft TL, Pressman SD. 2012. Grin and bear it: the influence of manipulated facial expression on the stress response..
12 R. I. M. Dunbar, Rebecca Baron, Anna Frangou, Eiluned Pearce, Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen, Julie Stow, Giselle Partridge, Ian MacDonald, Vincent Barra, Mark van Vugt. 2011. Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold.
13 The Summit Lighthouse. 2017. Harvard Study: Repeating Mantras Relieves Stress.
14 Vedamurthachar A, Janakiramaiah N, Hegde JM, Shetty TK, Subbakrishna DK, Sureshbabu SV, Gangadhar BN.. 2006. Antidepressant efficacy and hormonal effects of Sudarshana Kriya Yoga (SKY) in alcohol dependent individuals..
15 Harvard Medical School. 2017. Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma.
16 Meri Rafetto, RD, Stephen Cherniske, MS and Gerri French. 2004. Health Effects of Coffee and Caffeine on Stress.
17 Con Stough, Tamara Simpson, Justine Lomas, Grace McPhee, Clare Billings, Stephen Myers, Chris Oliver, and Luke A Downey. 2014. Reducing occupational stress with a B-vitamin focused intervention: a randomized clinical trial: study protocol.
18 Aspinall P, Mavros P, Coyne R, Roe J.. 2014. The urban brain: analyzing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG..