Are you feeling pressured, overwhelmed, buried, stretched thin, and at your breaking point?
You’re not alone, as stress is affecting more people than ever these days, both at acute levels and over the long term (chronic stress). Just look at the prevalence of anxiety, depression, addiction, etc., in our society as a sign of how we’re coping with increased stress (and not very well at that).
If you’re like many of us, just getting up, going to work, paying bills, raising children, trying to keep a relationship together, and then taking care of your own health and needs can stress you out.
Sometimes, it’s just too much!
In last month’s blog, we covered the facts and stats about stress.
But this month, I get to deliver the good news – there are plenty of tactics you can take to lower your stress levels quickly and effectively – sometimes even immediately. Keep some of these tactics in your “break in case of emergency” stress toolbox, while others should be practiced every day as a habit to keep stress at bay.
So, take a deep breath, smile (both of which are on the list), and then read on because you’re about to become a lot less stressed!
1. Put on some music (and feel free to sing along and dance).
When you’re wound tight, there’s no better way to feel uplifted and looser immediately than listening to music. This is actually scientifically proven, as music lowers blood pressure, reduces cortisol, and has other positive benefits on your brain.
So, crank up the tunes, sing along, and don’t be afraid to dance a little, as just about any type of music (but research shows especially classical music, interestingly) will put you in a better mood and put your problems in perspective.
Save a go to favorite to your playlist that you can listen to regularly. My favorite is “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars.
2. Eat a better diet and cut down on alcohol and caffeine.
While we might feel like we need a stiff drink at the end of a long day to reduce stress, it will usually be counterproductive in the long run. In fact, alcohol inhibits good sleep and may increase the prevalence of anxiety and depression, disturbing your peace.
Likewise, we may need an extra strong cup of coffee in the afternoon to get us through a chaotic day, but that will cause a short-term spike in blood pressure and may over-stimulate your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (sounds bad, right?).
Instead, drink tea, which has some caffeine but is far gentler, and cut back or stop alcohol altogether during particularly stressful periods. You also want to eat a clean, healthy diet to make sure your body and mind are running well! Highly recommend an anti-inflammatory diet as stress can increase inflammation and we know our brains do better with a healthy diet.
3. Exercise (even a little bit).
Exercise is one of the best natural stress relievers, as physical activity releases endorphins almost immediately, enhancing your mood. The good news is that we don’t need long hours at the gym to see the physical and mental health benefits of exercise, but even a short walk, standing up and stretching at work, or a bicycle ride will reduce stress.
This is a great alternative to having that drink to unwind.
4. Take a nap.
Being stressed out can really affect your sleep, as many of us toss and turn, ruminate on negative thoughts, and feel anxious when we should be getting some ZZZs – usually around 2-3 am!
Unfortunately, missing a good night’s sleep starts the vicious cycle where you feel more stressed, more anxious, and think less clearly the next day.
So, it’s important to get enough rest by carefully guarding the right conditions for sleep. Take a nap during the day – but not too long. Get plenty of morning sunlight. Try to keep a consistent sleep schedule. Dim the lights, turn off those screens and put down the phone in the evening, and try some deep breathing before it’s time to hit the sack.
5. Deep breathing.
Of course, deep, mindful breathing will relax your body and clear your mind, reducing stress.
But if you really want to reduce anxiety in an uncomfortable situation or physical state, try Box Breathing or the 4-box breathing technique. This is used by Navy Seals to calm down and change their physiology when they need to deal with incredibly stressful and even dangerous situations. This simple breathing technique allows them to calm their nervous system, think clearly, recuperate, and even fall asleep fast.
6. Reach out to friends, loved ones, or a mental health professional to talk.
When you’re just about at your breaking point with stress, the worst thing you can do is hold it all inside. Instead, call your best friend, talk to your spouse or family, and chat with a confidant.
Don’t worry about being vulnerable or view asking for help as a weakness – it actually takes huge strength and emotional intelligence to be able to lean on supportive people. And when stress really takes hold of your life (or, even better, far before!), reach out to a counselor or therapist for professional help.
7. Practice meditation, mindfulness, and yoga.
One of the most effective ways to change your physical and mental state immediately is to utilize relaxation techniques, mainly mindfulness, meditation, or even yoga. This will quickly get your body out of fight-or-flight mode, slowing the heart rate and blood pressure, increasing oxygen flow, reducing good hormones, and lowering cortisol.
You can practice meditation and mindfulness techniques just about anywhere you are, including at work, in the car, or on the go.
8. Time to get away!
When the daily grind starts wearing you down, it’s a great idea to step away and gain a new perspective. So, jump in the car and take a drive to a destination unknown, plan a day trip to the beach or hiking, or even plan your next vacation!
A change of scenery and a break from your routine will really help you recalibrate your mental and emotional outlook, relieving some of the stress and helping you feel refreshed.
9. Get back to your hobbies and passions.
Take a break, slow down, and reengage with something you love by getting back to those long-forgotten hobbies. Whether you love painting, gardening, fishing, or baking, being creative and doing something you’re passionate about will bring you joy and peace. In fact, research proves that these activities you cherish can reduce your stress level by nearly half and lower your heart rate significantly.
Laughter is one of the best stress relievers, whether it’s a good chuckle, a quick hahaha, or cracking up at something hilarious. Yes, laughter truly is the best medicine!
A good laugh “tricks” your nervous system into shifting to a positive state, releasing endorphins, improving your mood, and lowering levels of cortisol and adrenaline, the stress-inducing hormones. So, listen to a comedy sketch, watch your favorite funny movie, or just hang out with that hilarious friend who always leaves you in stitches.
I hope these tactics really help you reduce the stress you’re feeling, helping you be in the moment and find more joy in life!