10 Simple Ways To Reduce Stress
Stress is the silent killer in our modern society. It slowly lures its way into our lives and attacks when we are at our weakest.
In fact, 80 percent of visits to primary care physicians are attributed to stress: insomnia, problems with digestion, headaches, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, anxiety, nervousness, cardiovascular disease, low energy...
Ok, we get it, so stress is bad. But the reality is that we can't completely eliminate stress from our lives.
That's why I've compiled this list of simple ways to manage stress to help you maintain balance during stressful times and incorporate more wellness into your life.
What is stress?
First of all, let me explain what stress is all about. Even though stress is responsible for many health problems, not all of it is bad.
Stress is a natural response to a perceived threat. It activates the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response which starts sending messages (stress hormones) to prioritise only the vital functions of our body.
For example, stress helps us to run faster when we encounter a dangerous situation. It does it by compromising the function of "less vital" systems such as digestive system and increases others by raising our pulse, and pumping up adrenaline to give us energy to run away. This reaction can be a lifesaver.
So what’s the problem then?
As you already might have guessed, the problems start when your stress becomes chronic and your body thinks it's in danger 24/7. Unfortunately our bodies don’t recognise the difference between running away from a bear or trying to meet a work deadline.
If this prioritisation process that is designed to temporarily shift the balance is prolonged, its quite obvious that it's going to lead to problems. Stomach aches from poor digestion, decreased cognitive skills and declined rational decision making due to blood rushing out from the pre-frontal lobe, high blood pressure from the constricting your blood vessels and speeding up your heart rate are common stress related issues that can lead to serious imbalances and chronic disease.
How to manage stress
So should you just take a pill for the stomach ache, elevated blood pressure, headache and continue your life as normal?
The pills might mask the symptoms, but the cause is still there. Therefore, it's better to choose healthier ways to manage stress that address the cause instead.
Activating the parasympathetic system, our natural “rest and digest” response is one of the most effective ways to do so. When parasympathetic nervous system gets activated it starts restoring and repairing the body automatically from the negative effects of stress.
Shockingly many people spend their whole life in the mode of “doing” and never giving their bodies a proper break to shift from the sympathetic to parasympathetic system by just focusing on “being”.
I’ve collected the most effective natural ways to manage your stress that'll activate your parasympathetic nervous system, decrease stress hormones and increase the feel good happiness hormones in your body to better the everyday stressors in our lives and restore the natural flow of prana, the life force energy within you.
Just like everything else, stress management also needs to be individualised as not every every method works for everyone. Trying different things is the best way to find the best tools for you!
1. Spend time in nature & play with your pets
Getting outdoors, walking barefoot on the beach, laying in the grass or spending time an a forest is great for our health. Studies show that nature has healing benefits that reduce anger, fear, and stress.
New theories about earthing — being in contact with the Earth’s electromagnetic field – suggest that the transfer of negatively charged electrons from the Earth’s surface into the body neutralize positively charged free radicals in our body. Free radicals cause chronic inflammation and wreak havoc in our cells and therefore earthing naturally prevents chronic inflammation in the body and reduces the effects of stress.
Also being in contact with animals has shown significant stress relieving effects. Just the simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response in our body and increases serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin- all hormones that have to do with our wellbeing.
2. Meditation & Pranayama
Meditation is certainly one of the most effective ways to cope with stress. It has numerous stress relieving healing benefits including lower blood pressure, heart rate, decreased amounts of stress hormones, and less anxiety just to name a few.
Starting a meditation routine is a great way to reduce stress and bring more awareness to your breath — another major stress reliever.
Conscious breathing is one of the oldest tricks in the book to calm our nervous system and relax. Breath is the link between our mind and our body and therefore once we calm down our breath, our mind will calm down as well.
Unfortunately, it works the other way as well. When people get stressed they forget to breath properly which sets our mind spinning.
Pranayama, a part of yoga that focuses on controlling and directing our life force energy through breathing exercises, is a great tool for relieving stress and balancing our energies.
Alternate nostril breath, nadi shodana, is one of the most effective breathing exercises to reduce anxiety and stress.
1. Fold your ring and pinky finger of your right hand and place your index and middle finger on your third eye.
2. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb.
3. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your ring-little fingers.
4. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it, and open and exhale slowly through the left.
5. Repeat the cycle 3-5 times.
Traditionally Nadi Shodana includes breath retention, but if you are a beginner I recommend following the instructions above until you become more accustomed to the practise.
3. Physical Exercise
Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries. It pumps up your endorphins, improves mood and it can also work as an active meditation.
However, the type of exercise you do matters. If you are running every day secretly hating it and just wanting to lose some extra pounds, it's not going to be the same as doing something you enjoy. When your goal is to relieve stress and not just to count calories, you should focus on the type of exercise you love the most.
Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi gong have shown specifically good results on reducing stress as they also naturally help you to calm down the breath and therefore calm your nervous system as well. They are also great for restoring the disrupted flow of prana caused by stress.
4. Eat your stress away
And I’m not talking about comfort food like a bucket of Ben & Jerrys here. I’m talking about adaptogens and other foods that help us fight stress and boost immunity.
But remember, its not only about adding- its also leaving out. Say no to processed foods and reducing the intake of stress promoting substances like caffeine. Leave out that 3rd cup of coffee of the day, or switch it to green tea. Green tea has an amino acid called theanine, which has calming effect on the nervous system.
You also want to make sure to have sufficient vitamin B intake to support a healthy functioning nervous system, adequate amount of omega 3’s to help with adrenal health and sufficient amount of probiotics and probiotics to calm down your second brain -- your gut.
5. Relax, take it easy
It's all about being instead of doing and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, remember?
Have you noticed how stress doesn’t only make you emotionally tense - it makes you physically tense as well? Therefore, getting a massage is one of my favourite ways to wind down after a busy day.
Acupuncture is an effective remedy for the same reason. Both of them have been used as a stress reliever for thousands of years in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine to open blocked energy channels and restore the natural flow of prana.
If you're in need or a DIY stress relief, another way to effectively do nothing and get wonderful benefits is taking a relaxing bath with aromatherapy. Certain scents can stimulate the limbic system, which in turn releases chemicals that affect the brain, promoting feelings of relaxation, calmness, love and excitement. Most common oils for stress relief are lavender, cypress and rosemary.
Another of my favourite ways to release stress is restorative yoga. Its idea is just to relax and activate the parasympathetic nervous system by focusing on simple long held poses that will help you release stress, rest and recover.
Energy medicine, Reiki, is also a very powerful healing method that restores the flow of prana and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. I like to get the best out of both worlds and combine energy healing and restorative yoga in my classes. I've seen a huge difference how much faster my students were able to let go and relax while doing so!
Laughter releases endorphins that improve mood and decrease stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Laughing tricks your nervous system into relax, so even if you force it it works. Fake it til you make it!
7. Hug it out
Physical touch can do a lot to relieve your stress and its power is ofter undervalued.
Presence of loving physical touch has significant effects in the physical and mental development of infants, but wellbeing of adults as well.
When you hug someone, oxytocin also knowns as the love hormone, is released. Oxytocin is associated with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress. It also causes a reduction in blood pressure, reduces the stress hormone norepinephrine and can produce a sense of relaxation.
8. Find your tribe
Having supportive people in your life is one of the keys to stress management. If you feel like lack emotional support and friendship, it’s time to find your tribe.
Join an organization, a women's circle, or whatever suits you. Remember, you are not alone wherever you are.
According to Dalai Lama, the lack of community is one of the main causes of unhappiness. The importance of community is also a common nominator in many of the "blue zones" such as Ikaria, the healthiest and longest lived populations in the world.
9. Turn your phone off (or at least log out from the social media!)
According to the studies excessive mobile use and social media contribute to our stress.
By turning off our phones we can focus living in the present and foster gratitude. And also - have more time to do all the other things that relieve stress instead of add to it!
An average internet user spends over 2 hours on their devices daily. Imagine taking that time everyday for self-care instead!
It's especially important to cut off electronic use before sleep so we get a good and refreshing sleep and let our bodies recover from the pervious day properly.
10. Giving back
Life is an echo. You get back what you send out.
Even if you don't believe in karma or the law of the cause and effect, there are studies that confirm that helping others and volunteering showed physical, emotional, and mental benefits. A study revealed that of people who participated in volunteering, 94% noticed an increase in their mood, 76% felt healthier, and 78% has reduced stress levels.
Helping others activates the parts of the brain related to pleasure, trust, and relationships with others and makes our brain secrete important chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, which are linked to better mood and happiness.
We literally rise by lifting others!
So removing stress completely might be a mission impossible, but managing it well isn't unattainable at all.
All you need to do is try different techniques and see what works out best for you. And if you have your own stress release tips to share, I'd love to hear them in the comments below!