(Part 2 in the stress series.)
After reading my previous post, hopefully you aren’t a ball of nerves worrying about the effects of stress on the body and saying, “Great, so now what?”.
Don’t worry, I wouldn’t leave you hanging. Now that you understand what stress can do, I want to discuss some basic techniques for stress relief. These are techniques that I use every day and can really help to calm down your system. Many of them can be done anywhere, anytime, as well, so no excuses!
Techniques for stress relief
Breathing– How often do you think about breathing? If you’re like most people, probably not very often. However, this is truly the most important technique to remember. If you aren’t breathing correctly, you can’t fully oxygenate your brain and decrease your stress.
Try this: sit or stand with a straight back and put your hand on your belly. Breathe in deeply and push out your hand so your belly fully expands for a count of two. Then slowly breathe out and completely empty your lungs for a count of four. Creating a longer exhale than inhale activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest mode), which turns down the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight).
Walking– Preferably outside if possible. However, even a 5-10 minute walk inside your office building can still be beneficial. I used to walk just five minutes to work, but in that time I was able to give thanks for the day and calm my mind before starting my stressful job. This article discusses some of the benefits of walking.
Meditation– You don’t have to go to an ashram in India working towards the path of spiritual enlightenment a la “Eat, Pray, Love” in order to meditate. Meditation can be done anywhere, anytime by anyone. The benefits are numerous as discussed here. A quick meditation session of just 2-5 minutes can truly reset the mind and help with stress relief.
If you have no idea where to start with meditation, try one of the numerous apps available, many for free. I used to take forever to fall asleep, sometimes up to an hour or more. Now however, I currently use Calm every night before bed and it really helps to calm my mind and get me to sleep faster. Plus, it can help improve your sleep quality.
Being in nature– I don’t know about you, but as soon as I enter an area with trees and flowers I feel instant stress relief. I know not everyone has access to a vast forest every day, but it can be helpful to hang out in nature, even in your own backyard. Just sitting outside listening to the birds can bring calm to any mind.
Movement– You might be saying that you don’t have time for this, but I bet you have more time than you realize. Exercise doesn’t have to be an hour of intense weightlifting or cardio in the gym. It can be short bursts throughout the day and can do wonders for your stress. It can also be a walk in the woods if that’s what feels good to you. If you only have five minutes between meetings, it might be a couple of minutes of squats or lunges. The most important thing is to get movement in throughout the day and to do what works for YOU.
Talk to a friend– Sometimes we get so busy in our lives, that we lose connection with those we are close to. Don’t underestimate the power of a good friend, someone who builds you up and always makes you feel better. Of course, make sure this person is a positive person and not critical of you or others. That negative energy from an unhappy person will just worsen your stress- kind of like listening to the media.
Laughing– Laughter truly is the best medicine, as discussed here. Especially when it comes to stress relief. I don’t think most of us laugh nearly enough nowadays, because we’re too stressed out. Laughter can make any situation better. You simply can’t be angry or frustrated after a satisfying laugh. So grab your children for a ticklefest or an episode of “Modern Family” and get your belly laugh on!
Hugging– Such a simple thing, right? But have you ever thought about how much physical contact you actually have every day? It might not be as much as you think. I know when I would work 10-11 hour days, there was no hugging at all in that time. Of course, I could snuggle briefly with my furry patients (hey, it counts!), but a lot of you don’t have that option.
Hugging is absolutely essential for stress relief because it increases the hormone oxytocin (the love hormone) and decreases blood pressure and heart rate, as discussed here. So next time you say goodbye with a hug, make it count, literally!
Hopefully you now have some practical ideas for stress relief that can be implemented today. So go take a walk outside with a good friend, then hug your children when you get home, watch a funny movie and see how you feel!
“Handle every stressful situation like a dog. If you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away”
-author unknown (Bet I made you laugh!)