Occasional stress is a normal part of life. In fact, up to 71% of working-age Americans report experiencing at least one symptom of stress, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can think of stress as the body’s in-built mechanism for dealing with situations that involve change or challenging circumstances. Although you may tend to associate stress with negative consequences, stress can also be positive (also called eustress) and can occur after an exciting life event, such as a promotion at work, getting married, or having a baby. The feelings of emotional or physical tension that accompany stress help you perform to meet the expectations of a new or challenging situation. Your body physically does this through the production of a certain stress hormone, like cortisol and epinephrine.
What can you do to release some of this tension and bring balance into your life? Simply put, how do you reduce stress? First, identifying what causes stress, or the ‘stressor,’ is important. Is it your job, your relationship, or perhaps a health problem that is causing you to feel stressed? Once you’ve pinpointed the reason for your stress, you can find ways to bring your stress levels down by implementing certain lifestyle changes. Here is a guide with tips on how to reduce stress levels on your own.
1. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to help relieve stress. Whether you prefer exercise in the form of walking, running, yoga, aerobic exercise, or group sports, all forms of physical activity are great stress-busters. It’s important to find the type of workout that you enjoy, as you’ll be more likely to stick with it and incorporate it into your regular exercise routine (always make sure to check in with your healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise regimen). There are many reasons why exercise works so well for reducing stress. First, aerobic exercise, like running, releases chemicals in the brain, called endorphins, that make you feel happy when you exercise. They also reduce the amount of cortisol, or stress hormones that are produced by the body, leading you to feel more relaxed overall. Additionally, exercise can help you sleep better, which is also an important factor for reducing stress on your body. If you don’t have time for a lengthy exercise regimen in your daily routine, try starting small with short 10-minute walks every day.
2. Practice Relaxation Techniques
Some of the major symptoms of mental stress are quickening of your heartbeat, breathing faster, headaches, and restlessness. You can engage in certain relaxation techniques to relieve these physical symptoms. Breathing techniques that focus on deep breathing can help you relax and slow down your heart rate. Deep breathing has also been shown to stimulate endorphin-release by the brain, thereby relieving stress and promoting positive feelings instead. Mindfulness, or focusing on the present moment, while breathing deeply can help you cut out excess stress. Meditation and yoga are also practices that incorporate deep breathing exercises and can help you relax.
3. Know Your Limitations
For many people, it can be challenging to know when to draw the line on taking on extra responsibilities at your job or committing to a new social or family obligation that may not fit in with your current schedule. Although it can be hard, saying no in advance is part of a healthy lifestyle that can prevent unnecessary stress of trying to achieve something that is beyond your limitations. Set priorities for what you can and can’t manage in your daily life. Making lists of your tasks and checking them off as you complete them can be helpful in allowing you to keep track of everything you have going in your life. Making these lists can also help you find time for motivating and self-challenging activities that can help you grow.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Not getting enough sleep is the cause of many physical and mental health problems. Stress is no exception to this. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night can help to prevent many health problems, including being a great stress buster. According to a recent poll by the American Association for Anxiety and Depression, sleeping is one of the top ways people report helping them relieve stress. This may be the easiest way to reduce stress, so try giving yourself a good night’s sleep to see if that’s all you need to feel more relaxed and less stressed throughout the day.
5. Listen to Music
Music as a form of stress relief therapy has been extensively studied. In short, listening to calming music can have positive benefits on both the physiological and psychological effects of stress on the body. Music can help to reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones and cortisol levels, as well as reduce symptoms of anxiety and restlessness that accompany stress. This is an especially effective method of stress relief that can help you remain calm during stressful situations like being stuck in a traffic jam.
These effects are not limited to just music. You can also try listening to calming soundtracks of nature sounds. This approach can help you get better sleep too, leading to lower stress overall.
6. Socialize with Friends or Family
Support from friends or loved ones is a big factor in learning how to reduce stress on a regular basis. Research has shown that low social support is associated with symptoms of high stress response, including a faster heartbeat and high blood pressure. Therefore, getting social support is an important component to support both physical and mental health.
You may be able to resolve a stressful situation by talking it over with a friend or loved one who can offer good advice. Many people do not make time for social interactions throughout the work week, which can lead to elevated stress levels. Try to pencil in some social time every week to help you relax. Spending time with friends or family on a regular basis can also keep you from being over-worked by setting limitations to the amount of work stress you impose on your lifestyle.
7. Laugh More
Find more ways to help you laugh throughout the day. This can be through social interaction with friends and family, watching a funny TV show, reading a funny book or comic, and looking for the positive things in your life. Laughter helps to decrease stress hormones and promotes the release of endorphins that relieve stress. The American Institute for Stress recommends laughter for both short-term stress relief and long-term health benefits, such as improved mood and healthy immune system support.
8. Cut Out Unhealthy Habits
High stress levels are directly linked to unhealthy dietary habits that include processed foods with high sugar content. Eating a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables can help to provide you with natural stress-fighting nutrients.
9. Talk to a Healthcare Provider
Importantly, know when it is time to talk to a healthcare provider. If you are experiencing stress lately, get a conversation going with your doctor. Recognizing when you need to get professional help for stress in your life can make a huge difference in helping you get the right solution for your stress problem.
Pay attention to your body and mind. It's never too early to start taking measures towards living a balanced and stress-free life. Taking the necessary steps to relieve stress can help keep you stay healthy and balanced.
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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