If you are constantly under stress, it’s costing you more than lost sleep and headaches. The body responds to stress in a wide variety of negative ways, from increased depression, insomnia, heartburn, high blood pressure, stomach pains and muscle tension, to more serious effects like fertility problems, high blood sugar, higher risk of heart attack and a weakened immune system. Over time, continued and ongoing stress can literally kill you.
Here are twenty practical ways to reduce stress on a daily basis:
Breathe.Simple breathing exercises once an hour are proven to reduce stress. The Apple Watch and most smart phones offer a breathing app. Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your relaxation response. The slower and deeper your breathing, the more relaxed you become.
Laugh. Laugh at a funny YouTube video, or a joke among friends. Laughter reduces your blood pressure and hormone levels and triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. Laughter also boosts the production of t-cells in your immune system.
Find quiet. Sit in a quiet room, or outside away from the office noise. Put on some noise cancelling headphones. Getting away from the noise of tv, radio, podcasts, the sounds of work and conversation, or traffic, rests the brain and relieves tension. Famous British nurse Florence Nightingale wrote that “unnecessary noise is the most cruel absence of care that can be inflicted on the sick.” Silence also puts the brain into a mode called “self-generated cognition” where stress relieving mental activities like daydreaming, memory recall and idea generation take place.
Music. Relaxing music can slow the body’s physiological functions. Studies show persons experiencing anxiety will experience reduced stress when listening to music. Music is also linked to relieving depression, reducing burnout and improving mood. A study of cancer patients found music reduced emotional distress during treatment.
Walk. A 10-minute walk, even around the office, will increase cardiovascular activity and blood flow, which reduces stress. Even better, weather permitting, is a walk outdoors, where the senses can be engaged in nature and the change of scenery will help you put stressful thoughts out of your mind for a spell. When at home, walk your dog—pets are an additional mode of stress relief.
Pray. Prayer is emotionally comforting and spiritually uplifting. The Bible promises benefits to those who pray, and frequently reminds us that God hears and answers prayer. Psalm 94:19 says, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.
Dark chocolate. It’s antioxidant-rch and reduces stress by lowering certain hormones in your body. One or two ounces that contains at least 65% cacao can also lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Rest. Most people need at least 7 ½ to 8 hours of sleep per day to maintain mental health. Lack of sleep is an immediate cause of stress, and can exacerbate other daily stressors. If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, consider a 30-40 minute nap. If you’re cramped for time, eat a light lunch in 20 minutes then use the rest of your lunch hour for rest.
Get a massage. Massage is relaxing, can lower your blood pressure, improve circulation, release tense and stiff muscles, and increase flexibility. Regular massage has also been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, hostility and the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Reduce caffeine. It can increase alertness, but caffeine also is known to increase anxiety, nervousness, cause jittery behavior, reduce restful sleep, increase digestive issues and raise your blood pressure. A recent study of men who consumed about 300mg of caffeine daily (amount in one cup of coffee from Starbucks) found they had more than double the stress level of men who did not. Simply put, caffeine and stress go hand in hand.
Read a book. A 2009 study found reading can reduce stress up to 68%. The mind enjoys creating images of places, circumstances and people that are the natural result of journeying into a literary world. Fiction, non-fiction, even a magazine of interest are all great mental escapes.
Schedule your time. A realistic schedule for your day is a great stress reliever, as a typical person experiences stress when they feel they don’t have enough time to complete their obligations.Scheduling time also means you can more clearly see what can reasonably be done or prioritized, and be more empowered to say “no” to the impossible.
Draw a picture. Drawing and coloring provide a great distraction for the mind. They benefit from a quality of thought called “flow”, which is to be completely engaged in something that it is near meditative. Activities like drawing, gardening and hiking all benefit from this relaxing and mind-consuming mentality. Adult coloring books have become very popular, with complex designs that take thought and planning to complete.
Intimacy. Sex with your wife is a tremendous stress reliever. Social connection, touch, the endorphins and chemicals associated with the physical act—all of these are great at reducing stress. Cuddling and kissing your spouse can also release oxytocin, which lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
Aromatherapy. Certain scents can be incredibly soothing. They’re available in everything from oils to air fresheners to cancles. Lavender, rose, vetiver, frankincense, sandalwood, orange blossom and geranium are among those that decrease anxiety and can improve sleep.
Citrus. The vitamin C found in oranges, strawberries and grapefruit can relieve stress. Other vitamin C rich foods include red and green peppers, kiwifruit, baked potatoes, tomatoes and broccoli.
Daydream. Close your eyes and mentally remove yourself from a stressful situation. Daydreaming can involve reliving a great experience, and creating new ideas or fantasies that help your mind unwind. Daydreaming also helps you “turn off” the analytical, decision-making part of your brain, which leaves the “free thought” parts of your mind free to play. Sometimes if your mind starts to wander—go with it!
Dietary supplements. Green tea, kava kava, valerian root and lemon balm are all known for their anti-anxiety properties. These foods and supplements are aimed at altering the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors and increase serotonin levels, which has the benefit of lowering stress and anxiety. You may also benefit from B-complex vitamins. As always, with any dietary supplement or change in your eating habits, consult your doctor.
Family time. Being among friends and family can help you through stressful times, bringing a sense of belonging and self-worth. One study in particular found that women who spend time with friends and children release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. Another study found that men and women with few family and social connections were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
Unplug. Research shows a person can spend up to 16 hours a day in front of their various screens. This constant availability and connectedness can be quite stressful. Unplug for a certain number of hours per day. Use your phone’s “screen time” feature to limit your interruptions during personal hours. Go a step further and schedule a media detox—a cell phone free weekend, or skip social media for a day or TV for an evening.