If you've been feeling more stressed than usual lately, that’s understandable—everyone has. The good news is that there are ways you can both cut your stress levels and boost your overall well-being.
1. Get Into Exercise
“Imagine a drug that improved sleep, reduced stress and lifted mood,” says consulting psychiatrist Henry Emmons, MD. There is: It’s called exercise, and you can go on it at any time. Consult your practitioner first if you’re out of shape.
2. Control Your Media Consumption
Yes, you need to stay informed about what’s going on but no, you shouldn’t follow the news obsessively. Carefully consider what you watch and for how long; the same goes for social media. And for pre-bedtime viewing, go with movies or TV shows that are on the relaxing, nonviolent end of the scale.
3. Turn to Time Management
Much of the stress in life comes from a sense that there’s never enough time...or, ironically, how to fill available time. The answer for both situations is the same: Create daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists. Prioritize tasks so that you work on the most important items first. (Software such as Microsoft Outlook’s calendar function can help you schedule activities.) Once you have your lists in place, keep a daily activity log for a week or two so you can cut down on time-wasters—do you really need to check Facebook a dozen times a day?
4. Become a Laughter Yogi
Whether you prefer watching the latest HBO comedy special or cat antics on YouTube, doing something that makes you laugh on a regular basis feels good—and is good for you. “The potential benefits of giggling include improvements in immune function, a better tolerance for pain and fewer responses to stress,” says Malissa Wood, MD, co-director of the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center.† You can even sign up for an online laughter yoga class, in which laughing is combined with yogic breathing.
5. Practice Gratitude
One way to cut down on the dissatisfaction and irritation that breeds stress is to show gratitude for the good things in life. “Make a list of the people, experiences, places, events or things for which you genuinely feel grateful,” says Ohio State College of Medicine professor Kathi Kemper, MD. Then focus on a part of your body that feels comfortable or neutral and notice your breath. In this aware state, think about one of the items on your list and consciously feel grateful for it. Kemper says putting yourself in a state of gratitude helps to lower stress hormone levels and enhance nervous system function.
6. Take a Deep Breath
One sign of stress is shallow breathing, which can result in lower blood oxygen levels. Breaking this pattern by consciously attending to your breath helps deflect your thoughts away from worry while telling your body to relax. To practice deep breathing, first lie or sit with your back straight and your eyes closed. Then inhale; imagine that the air is slowly filling your torso from the bottom to the top. Hold for a few seconds and then slowly exhale, feeling your breath descend back down to the bottom of your torso. Do this for about five minutes at least twice a day.
7. Improve Your Communication Skills
For many people, one major source of stress is conflict in their relationships with partners, children, coworkers and friends, often as the result of poor communication that leads to misunderstandings. In conversations, actively listen by concentrating on what the other party is saying without automatically thinking about how you’ll respond. Let them finish without cutting in, then restate their position as you perceive it. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but learning how to communicate more effectively will not only strengthen your bonds to those you care for but also make life—yours and theirs—less stressful.
8. Invoke the Relaxation Response
Herbert Benson, MD, was once a young cardiologist trying to help patients reduce high blood pressure without drugs. His studies revealed that “the body is imbued with what I termed the Relaxation Response—an inducible, physiological state of quietude,” says Benson, founder of the Benson/Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Mass General. As described inThe Relaxation Response (HarperCollins), Benson’s 1975 classic, you can enter this state by sitting quietly with your eyes closed. Deeply relax all of your muscles, working from your feet to your face. Then, as you exhale, say the word “one” (or any other neutral one-syllable word) silently; repeat with each in-breath and out-breath. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes, sitting quietly for several minutes afterwards.
9. Sleep Away Stress
It’s no coincidence that both stress and insomnia are hallmarks of modern life. “Adults get about 10% less sleep every night than our great-grandparents,” says Kemper. To promote sound shuteye, she suggests going to bed at the same time every night, using lavender or chamomile essential oils as aromatherapy and taking a warm shower within an hour of bedtime.
10. Declutter Your Life
Cutting clutter can help reduce stress—think of how you feel when trying to pay bills at a desk overflowing with papers. Work your way through each room and ask yourself: Do I need to keep this? If not, when was the last time I used this? If I haven’t touched it for the last six months, why is it here? Designate spaces for each type of item, and try to keep flat surfaces and floors as clear as possible.
11. Start a Stress Journal
Journaling can help provide mental clarity; an artfully bound notebook might be nice, but a plain writing pad will do. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day and simply let the words come. Once you’ve vented, try solving specific problems. For example, if you’re always late to work, examine what keeps you from getting there on time (“I hate feeling rushed”) and brainstorm things you can change (“I should lay out my clothes the night before”). Keep your journal private to avoid self-censorship.
12. Let Your Stream of Consciousness Flow
Part of the agitation that stress invokes is the sense of being driven by negative thoughts and emotions. One solution is to get in touch with “the part of us that remains above the fray,” says Emmons. To access this place of repose, Emmons suggests seeing yourself on a riverbank, watching the water—your stream of consciousness—flow by. Individual thoughts are like objects in the stream. Concentrate on one, observing it until it disappears downstream without getting lured in by it; do the same thing as other thoughts arise.
13. Find Time to Pray
One way to ease stress is to seek connection to a divine presence greater than yourself. “There are numerous scientific studies showing that in general, people who pray regularly enjoy better mental health than those who do not,” says Kemper, citing research showing a link between a steady prayer life and reductions in stress, anxiety and depression.† What’s more, praying for others fosters a sense of connection and an ability to see beyond one’s own concerns.
14. Let Music Soothe the Savage Stress
Favorite tunes can help drain the strain out of your day. Kemper says, “Listening to music affects a variety of chemical messengers in the brain.” But you need to “choose your musical intake as carefully as you choose your food and friends,” avoiding music that produces a jittery effect. Recorded nature sounds such as birdsong or ocean waves can also provide a sense of calm.
15. Enjoy Calming Scents
Aromatherapy uses the power of scent to promote well-being, including the reduction of stress. Scents that fall into the chill category include frankincense, geranium, lavender, orange, rose and sandalwood; for best results use pure essential oils, either in a diffuser or mixed with a carrier oil for massage purposes.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.