Stress. We all seem to know what it is though it isn’t always easy to define (apart from the old physics definition referring to elasticity), and its causes can vary from person to person. The American Institute of Stress says, “Stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition. And if you can’t define stress, how can you possibly measure it? The term ‘stress’, as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as ‘the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change’.” Selye was also the guy who first noticed that stressed out lab animals developed stomach problems and ulcers, kidney stones, heart attacks, strokes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Causes of stress, according to WebMD, can include your health, emotional problems, relationships and family, life changes, conflicts with your values or beliefs, your surroundings, your social situation and your job. The holidays can also be a trigger for feelings of stress.
Amazon says that more than 24,000 books that they sell fall into the category of “stress management” (and that doesn’t include the thousands of coloring books to help people chill out).
Since it seems impossible to live a stress-free life, we have put together this list of 30 Ways to Reduce Your Stress:
- Disengage from the stressor(s). This is first and foremost and seems like a “well, duh?!” kind of comment. Walk away from the screaming baby or boss. Ask the customer if you can check into the complaint and call them back. Choose not to respond to the text or e-mail right now.
- Breathe deeply. Weil recommends the 4-7-8 breathing exercise for its calming properties. The gist is to breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 counts, and to repeat this three times. Dr. Weil says, “This breathing exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
- Scents (like lavender or grapefruit or anything you find pleasing). Burn a candle, keep a diffuser in your office (if it is not a scent-free environment) or use essential oils on your pulse points.
- Meditate. It doesn’t have to be a formal meditation or any particular kind. Close your eyes and repeat “Om” or “I’m okay” or whatever word brings you peace. Envision yourself elsewhere, like in your happy, calm place. The Mayo Clinic says that the purpose of meditation is “to focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress.”
- Light yoga. While your office may not be the appropriate place to crawl onto all fours and do cat-cow, Yoga Journal does provide instruction on how to release tension from your neck and shoulders while you’re in the office.
- Progressive relaxation. The Mayo Clinic explains, “You start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. You can also start with your head and neck and work down to your toes. Tense your muscles for about five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.”
- A study by researchers in the U.S., Germany and Switzerland found that listening to relaxing music helps the nervous, endocrine and psychological stress response systems recover quicker after a high stress incident.
- The old adage says, “Laughter is the best medicine.”
- Drink tea. A study at the University College London found that black tea (not just green or herbal) can soothe away stress.
- Endorphins kick stress’ butt (according to Harvard and others) so go workout.
- Guided visualization. WedMD says that imagining ourselves somewhere peaceful helps our bodies feel like we are there.
- Join a spiritual community. The Mayo Clinic says feeling connected to something bigger than yourself releases cortisol.
- Chewing gum stimulates the vagus nerve in the brain which lowers the heart rate and makes us feel more relaxed.
- Let a professional knead the tension from your body.
- Take a bath or a longer hot shower.
- Have sex. Endorphin release.
- Hug it out. Hugs cause the blood pressure to lower due to oxycotin release (aka the trust hormone).
- Hang with or pet a furry friend.
- Journal, vent, scribble. Get it down, get it out and maybe even destroy it afterwards. It may be the release you need.
- Talk a walk. A change of scenery helps, plus walking gets blood pumping and releases endorphins again. And if you can breathe fresh air, even better.
- Kiss someone you love. WedMD says, “A serious, tongue-tangling kiss triggers a whole spectrum of physiological processes that can boost your immunity.”
- Spend time outside. The Japanese have been practicing “forest bathing” because it lowers the heart rate and blood pressure and makes one feel good.
- Find a place to which to escape on a printed or electronic page.
- Plan for a long weekend or a vacation. Having something to look forward to elevates our mood.
- Find something escapist (art exhibit, movie, concert, comedy show, sporting event, role playing game) that you love and do it.
- Pursue your favorite hobby.
- Garden (even in planters and pots if you live in an urban environment).
- Rip things up. The act of destruction can be a great stress reliever and make you feel more in control.
- Spend time with family or friends, especially those that make you laugh or feel supported.
- Use an app like Calm or Sinasprite by LiteSprite. In Sinasprite, users help an adorable fox become a Zen master. Sinasprite CEO Swatee Surve says, “LiteSprite’s game is a fun way to learn proven techniques and mindfulness strategies to manage stress, anxiety and depression.” (Military hospitals have proven its effectiveness.)
The next time you feel stressed out, remember the words of the writer Nathalie Goldberg, “Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency.” Do one of the above activities to practice personal responsibility and to remind yourself that things can wait.