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3 Super Simple Ways to Reduce Stress

Written by S.O.

Posted on February 4, 2015 at 6:14 pm

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How To Reduce Stress

A great many of us live stressful lives. It’s something millions of people experience every single day, and the reasons for the stress are as diverse as the people themselves!

Photo by Steve Erickson

From jobs and kids, to money, time, self-esteem, relationships, health concerns, politics… almost anything we deal with on regular basis can be a source of stress. But stress, at least the way most of us deal with it, only does more harm, makes us less effective and less productive, and poses real risks to our health and longevity.

So, how are you supposed to manage stress? If being stressed out actually makes us less likely to accomplish the tasks that cause stress, what can we do to overcome it?

There are a few useful ways to approach this problem – the physical, the mental, and the practical (which is more like a combination of the first two).

Physical Stress Relievers

Stress makes us tense, plain and simple. When we experience a stressful situation (or struggle with chronic stress), our bodies have a very physical reaction, from tensed muscles to labored breathing, to increased heart rate and the production of “stress hormones” like cortisol in our endocrine systems. The physical symptoms, however, can actually be combated with more physical activity!

All forms of exercise, from yoga to weightlifting, are helpful in fighting the effects of stress. According to WebMD, exercise can, “ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals and by giving your body a chance to practice dealing with stress.”

Not only do the neurochemical “rewards” for exercise help relieve the tension of stress, the exercise also gives your body a chance to “get used to” those feelings of elevated heart rate and harder breathing – and thereby change the way you mentally respond when those physical stress symptoms occur. In moments of severe stress, a brisk walk around the block, some jumping jacks, or even a few simple stretches can put some “feel-good” chemicals back in the mix, and take some of the edge off your stressed out feelings.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can also take physical action to slow yourself down. Pausing for a few minutes to take intentional deep breaths – inhaling slowly through your nose, letting your diaphragm and abdomen do the work, and exhaling through your mouth – will help lower heart rate and blood pressure.

Another aspect of physical stress reduction is actually other people! Sexual activity provides excellent stress relief for many of the same reasons exercise does, but with an added component – connecting with another person. For the same reasons, non-sexual human contact, like a simple hug, is shown to help reduce stress by decreasing heart rate and cortisol levels. Hugging also causes the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with love and bonding, that helps fight against feelings of stress.

As with so many other problems we face in modern society, maintaining a healthy diet will also help reduce the severity of your physical response to stress.

Mental Stress Relievers

Stress is as much mental as it physical. The bodily symptoms are reactions to our psychological state, so it only makes sense that managing the mental components will help regulate the physical parts as well.

For starters, getting your mind away from the stressor can have powerful effects. Even if it’s just a short break to listen to music, dabble with an art project, show some attention to your pet, enjoy some pleasant and relieving smells, etc., getting out of that mental “space” can make a world of difference, and help you get back to the stressful task with renewed energy and resolve.

Like the physical connection with others mentioned above, reaching out to a friend over the phone (or in person) to talk about your feelings – or to simply distract yourself with another topic that gets you excited – is a another powerful way to dial back the stress you feel.

If you can, find a way to laugh! According to the Mayo Clinic, comedy is truly some of the best medicine for stress – for both physical and mental reasons. Laughter releases endorphins that fight against adrenaline and cortisol, and also acts as a distraction from whatever is stressing you out! Laughing feels good, and likely will make you feel better about the world around you, no matter how stressful it may be in the moment. You can seek out ways to make yourself laugh in stressful situations, or as some people are able to do – laugh at the stress itself!

Last, but certainly not least, an ongoing sense of gratitude can have a tremendously positive impact on stress levels. By keeping the things you’re grateful for at the front of your mind, and regularly reflecting on what’s going well in your life, you build some mental resistance to succumbing to feelings of stress and helplessness.

Practical Stress Relief

As noted above, stress is both mental and physical, and there are approaches to stress relief that look at the problem from those individual angles – but there are also a few methods of defeating stress that include elements of both.

First and foremost is the idea of meditation – and it doesn’t have to be hippy-dippy or spiritually oriented to be effective (though it certainly can be). Really, meditative stress relief is about combining physical stillness with mental calm. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, try to sitting still, breathing deeply, and focusing on a single, positive mantra.

The other “practical” method is a little less common – embracing the stress and training yourself to think about it in a wholly different way. There’s a fantastic TED talk about this very topic, where Kelly McGonical talks about ways to “make stress your friend” by viewing it as a positive force – namely a way that your body is preparing you for greatness.

Stress hurts happiness, it stunts productivity, it threatens health, and it harms relationships – most of us know this from firsthand experience. So why let stress continue to be a burden when they are so many ways to fight against it? Start with just one method, and continue to try others until you find the combination that works the best for you.

You don’t have to be a prisoner to your stress, no matter what its source might be.

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