Recognizing and reducing stress in your everyday life is vital to maintaining good overall health. Here are 5 simple and fun ways to relax with minimal effort.
In today’s fast-paced world, stress is extremely common. In fact, a recent poll suggests that 8 in 10 Americans are afflicted by chronic stress, but few recognize the toll stress takes on both our mind and our bodies. Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress, but we are not equipped to handle constant, long-term, chronic stress. Recognizing and reducing stress in your everyday life is vital to maintaining good overall health. When you relieve stress, your mood is improved, your immune function gets a boost, you promote longevity and you are more productive. When you let your stress get the best of you, you put yourself at risk of developing a range of illnesses – from the common cold to high blood pressure, obesity and severe heart disease.
But why is relaxation so complicated? How can you reduce stress when you are so…STRESSED?
Everyone has their own kind of crazy and their own kind of calm. What relieves stress for one person may create stress in another. Below are my 5 favorite ways to de-stress. They are simple, fun and most can be done on the spot as soon as you start to feel overwhelmed, agitated or moody.
Deep breathing is one of the best ways to relieve stress in the body. When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax (think about how you feel as you are falling asleep at night or upon waking in the morning). The brain then sends this message to your body. Those symptoms of stress, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax. And the good news is, it can be done anywhere, anytime without much effort.
Simply stop and close your eyes (you don’t have to, but it helps)
Inhale slowly through your nose (count to 4, 6 or 8 as you inhale)
Pause at the top of the breath,
Release into an exhale calmly and deliberately (exhale 4, 6 or 8 seconds).
Do this 3-5 times when tensions are high. After several repetitions, you should feel more relaxed and able to move forward with a much calmer state of mind. Keep breathing until you are fully settled.
Walk, dance, do 10 jumping jacks! Virtually any form of exercise or movement can help to decrease stress. Movement increases endorphins (considered natural painkillers because they activate receptors in the brain that help minimize discomfort). Endorphins also help bring about feelings of euphoria and general well-being, which is why exercise is often associated with stress relief. If exercise is not your thing, pick an activity that you enjoy and don’t make it complicated. Sometimes just walking away from a stressful situation is enough (walk away for 5-10 minutes or more). Consider spending time outdoors. Sunshine and fresh air are known stress relievers. Other examples include stair climbing, jogging, bicycling, yoga, tai chi, gardening, weightlifting and swimming.
You’ve heard it before, laugher it the best medicine and has been proven to have beneficial effects on various aspects of your biochemistry. It has been shown to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. When laughing, the brain also releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone, and can also relieve physical pain. Sometimes you have to fake it before you make it. A trick I use with my kids is to force them to laugh on purpose. It usually irks them at first, but once we force out a few loud HA HA HA’s, we’re usually giggling together on the floor. I’ve tried it on myself too, only to find myself laughing into my pillow. It works like a charm. Try it! 😊
Sing out loud
Be like the Carpenters and Sing. Sing-a-song, sing out loud, sing it strong! Like laughing, belting out a tune produces those feel-good hormones. The elation felt when singing may come from endorphins or it might come from oxytocin, another hormone released during singing, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. So, when tensions are high, get in your car or the shower, and grab your hairbrush-microphone and turn up the volume until you become the amazing singer you know you are. Side note: notice the tension release.
Involve Your Senses
Intentionally engaging your five senses – hearing, touch, smell, taste, and sight – are incredibly powerful tools in providing instant relief in a hectic world.
Inhale calming scents, slowly and deeply…a few times in a row. Lavender or peppermint oil, fresh laundry, fresh air, your child’s blanket… What’s your scent?
Listen to Music. Music can have a profound effect on both the emotions and the body and is an effective tool for stress management. Faster music can make you feel more alert and concentrate better. Upbeat music can make you feel more optimistic and positive about life. A slower tempo can quiet your mind and relax your muscles, making you feel soothed while releasing the stress of the day.
Animal lover? Go ahead and pet Fido or Mr. Whiskers. Pet lovers know how having a pet can help reduce stress and improve your mood. Their fur is so soft and cuddly, which instantly calms you. Interacting with pets lovingly helps release oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.
Cook, paint, draw…Using your hands to create is a great way distract your mind and help you enter into a calmer state of being. No matter a person’s skill level, taking time to create is likely to reduce stress hormone levels.
You get it, right? Find the thing you love and do more of it. Chances are stress hormones will subside and feel good hormones will be released. And it doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. Just breathe!
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