“The state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Yep, we all recognize it, and for most of us, it’s a constant state of “being.”
When we’re stressed, hormones like cortisol produce what we call the “fight or flight response.” Our heart rate rises and our blood vessels restrict putting us in a state to escape that which we deem as a threat. When not kept in check, our stress response can lead to physical conditions like headaches, high blood pressure, or depression and anxiety disorders (among others).
On the positive side, we ALSO have a “relaxation response” which can be learned and here are 20 ways to do just that…
1. Deep Breathing
Yep, I know. That seems too easy. Medical research suggests that breathing exercises can help you reduce tension and boost oxygen, therefore helping to you calm down.
When I taught childbirth classes, this was one way to assist the mom-to-be to increase oxygen to her baby and naturally relax her body to make it through the contractions.
The power of deep breathing is under-utilized. Being aware of how shallowly and quickly we tend to breathe on a regular basis will allow you to use this technique more often.
So, take a few minutes each day and just sit quietly and breathe deeply… Slowly exhaling and allowing your blood pressure and heart rate to normalize. This activity alone can bring you back to a peaceful state and can be done anywhere (in a traffic jam, when tempers rise, when you stub your toe on the bed frame, etc.).
2. Take a Walk
Nature itself has an enormously calming effect on the body. Most walks can help you clear your head and boost endorphins which reduce stress hormones. We have numerous parks, walking trails, neighborhoods, and gyms to take advantage of in Frisco.
A short visualization is an easy way to get back to your center. The National Institute of Health recognizes “guided imagery” as a way to elicit the relaxation response.
First, make yourself comfortable (at your desk, on the couch, wherever you can escape for 5 minutes). Try to picture a peaceful scene: a previous good experience you’ve had at the beach or in the mountains, accomplishing a future goal, or in an experience that brought you the feeling of joy.
BTW… we love the Headspace app.
4. Eat Something Good for You
In my experience, eating doesn’t HAVE to be bad. Although food can be an addiction, the right food on a regular basis is a healthy habit. Have healthy snacks that you enjoy readily available in your home, car, or locker at work. This way you’ll avoid the impulsive need to eat that extra large brownie left in the break room. Nothing is more stressful to the brain than thinking you’ve run out of nourishment.
5. Buy Yourself Flowers
YOU choose your own flowers to display on your desk, in your kitchen, at work… Wherever you’ll see them the most. You deserve them, so buy them for yourself. Pick those that make you feel abundant. Enjoy them and think positive thoughts. Even a simple houseplant offers air purification and can induce a relaxation response.
6. Breaks from the Computer
Make it a habit to take mini-breaks away from your laptop or desktop. Constant computer use is associated with increased stress, sleep issues, and even pain in wrists and arms due to the repetitive movements. Plus, you definitely need to shut it off at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
According to WebMD, kissing helps your brain release endorphins and can relieve stress. If you go for it and kiss passionately, you might just burn 2 calories a minute! That’s more fun than the gym, for sure!
8. Turn Off the Cell Phone
Cell phones can be addictive. We don’t really want to admit it, but it’s true. Now that we can access literally anything via our phones… email, contacts, social media, games, the bank, Amazon, Netflix… It goes on and on, and sometimes there’s NO down time.
Be intentional about looking at your phone. Learn to set boundaries on how much you will use it (set alarms, turn off notifications), and make IT work for you in DECREASING stress. Check out a couple of apps you can use to increase your bliss: CALM and SpiritJunkie
9. Play Some Music
Even though we know that classical music can decrease blood pressure and those annoying stress hormones, most ANY music you love can raise your “feel good” hormones like dopamine.
Studies show that turning UP the radio on the drive home, or listening to music while studying, can enhance well-being. Playing music in the operating room has even been shown to be beneficial for both doctors and patient. So, putting in those headphones and singing to your favorite tunes can chill you out in no time.
10. Treat Yourself to a Sweet Treat (Just One!)
Yes, we remember #4 above, but sometimes, you just gotta give in. The sweetness of chewing gum may help to freshen your breath, but it also can help relieve stress during a busy day.
Or, instead of raiding the vending machine at work, try ONE Hershey’s Kiss, a mint, or a mini Snicker’s bar to stimulate the brain. Just don’t over do it. Did you know that Nothing Bundt Cakes here in Frisco will give you a FREE bundt cake on your birthday? It’s just ONE right?!?!
11. Laughter IS Great Medicine
Watch a viral funny video, comedy show/clip, or hang around someone who knows how to make you laugh. Laughter forces you to inhale more oxygen and ultimately leads to relaxation. Even the “anticipation” of something funny coming your way can do the trick!
12. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Try it, you’ll like it. Take a short break from work and try one of the 5-20 minute relaxation techniques that involve tensing up muscle groups and mindfully releasing as you breathe let go.
Start with your toes and work your way up your body. Feet, calves, quadriceps, abs, arms, shoulders, face/jaw… tighten all the muscles as much as you can then then relax them. It may seem silly, but this practice can help reduce anxiety and stress.
13. Talk To or Meet Up with a BFF
Most of use have that One friend… You know, the one who can make you feel better when the world is falling apart. Close friends can actually decrease the production of cortisol producing a relaxed feeling. Plan a date or a FaceTime chat to catch up!
14. Crocheting/Knitting (a calm craft of some kind)
Now, I know this may seem old fashioned, but really is stress relieving. The repetitive motions of making jewelry, latch-hook, sewing, and knitting can soothe anxiety. My mom makes beanie hats for the local baby nursery and some people make crafts with or for nursing home patients. So, you’re relieving your stress and giving to others as well.
15. Light Yoga
Yoga poses along with mindful breathing are excellent ways to decrease stress. Yoga, over time, will help strengthen your core muscle groups and increase overall flexibility. We have several options here in Frisco: Yoga on Main Street, Hot Body Yoga, Frisco Yoga & Nutrition, Yoga4Yu, and SunstoneFIT
16. Spend Time In a Religious/Spiritual Community
Being a part of a greater group with purpose can create a sense of peace, and one of the major reasons people practice religion is for stress relief. Plus, you can find a way to serve as one of the major stress-relievers is just “getting your eyes off yourself.”
17. Hang Out With Your Pet
Without a doubt, pet-owners are less stressed out. Animals tend to love unconditionally. Even when you have a bad day, they’re in your face trying to make it better. And puppies are the BEST… their smells, their wiggles, their unstoppable licks. I mean who could resist a little stress relief playing with an adorable fur baby, or watching a kitten act crazy. Even if you don’t have a dog, just visiting a dog park is a blast. I even watched a hilarious video recently that shows a dog “Just Chillin’ in the Pool.”
18. Create an Art Project
Now this is a fun one! Whether “Painting with a Twist” or “Sip ‘N Doodle,” it’s wine with a palette purpose! That’s what I call stress relief. Other forms of creativity can be found on Pinterest (another potential addiction, so be careful) and finger-painting with the kids or grandkids. Make it fun by doing it somewhere BESIDES where you will be stressed at the mess.
19. Write It Out
Journaling may be one way to effectively relieve stress-related symptoms due to its meditative and reflective effects. Just sit down and write… whatever comes to mind.
A perfect way to express your feelings privately and appropriately (sometimes shredding or burning evidence might be in line), you’ll find that journaling is really helpful in times of grief or when you’re wanting some creativity to come to light.
I keep journals of positive things I have learned, inspirational and motivating information, funnies, and things I plan to pass down to my kids. My mom created a “Grandy” journal that described my step-dad’s life as he went through his Alzheimers journey.
I have a friend who blogs about family and all the happenings, so the kids will have accurate and awesome memories of family times in the future. You can find journals at specialty shops or bookstores. Even a plain piece of paper works for me. Especially when it comes to venting, then tearing it up into pieces works wonders for stress relief.
20. Spark Some Scents
Certain aromas are naturally conducive to stress relief. Lavender, Frankincense, Rose, and Chamomile are among the top scents for relaxation. Whether through a diffuser, spray, incense stick, or candle, incorporating soothing smells will de-stress your environment.
Of course, one of the quickest ways to health is to eliminate your stress altogether, but we all know that’s not practical. With the stressors and triggers of work, family, extracurricular activities, couple time, and other commitments, we ALL need to look for the relaxers that work for us. Hopefully, you can use some of the ideas above and comment below if you have others as well.