Stress has become a part of our daily lives, we’re all juggling too much: careers, family, social lives and trying to get enough sleep each night – it can be exhausting. Over half of the US population are stressed, with 48% blaming work and money as the cause.
Unfortunately, we can’t hop on a plane and leave our responsibilities behind, no matter how much we’d like to. We can, however, alleviate our stresses at home, with a few scientifically backed techniques.
What happens to the body when we get stressed?
Our physiological response is designed to aid us, fight or flight style. Our heart rate increases and blood rushes towards the muscles so we can run away. Our pupils constrict in order to focus on our attacker and the body coverts our liver energy into fuel for strength and stamina.
Our brain sends nerve signals to our adrenal glands and releases adrenaline which increases our heart rate and raises blood pressure. The brain also produces the stress hormone cortisol which, when present for prolonged periods, can damage your immune system and negatively affect your memory. Not great. So, how can we ensure that we keep our stress levels low and only save our nerves for when they’re really necessary?
1. Take a deep breath
It’s common advice that has been tried and tested for thousands of years. In India, yoga practitioners use a type of breath work called pranayama which means “control of the life force”. It’s been practiced for centuries and is an efficient way to control the mind and body.
Research has shown that breathing exercises can immediately change blood pressure and alter the pH balance of blood. It is also a highly effective method of training the body’s reaction to stress and can seriously reduce the production of harmful stress hormones, such as cortisol. So, if you’re feeling stressed, breathe in through your nose for four seconds and then out for four, otherwise known as “equal breathing”. Do this a few times or until you start to feel calmer.
2. Practice some light yoga
People who practice yoga always go on about how stress free they feel after a session and there is some truth in it. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine saw 19 individuals assigned to either an hour of yoga or reading. Those who completed the yoga sessions saw a 27% increase in the levels of the calming brain chemical GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid).
Yoga’s three elements, posture, breathing and meditation all help towards reducing stress levels as there is a high focus on mind-body practice which means you end up “in the moment” and removes all distractions from your mind.
3. Drink a cup of black tea
The Brits think everything can be solved by a good ol’ cuppa and maybe they’re right. A study, conducted by UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and published in the journal Psychopharmacology cited tea as way of reducing stress. Furthermore, the participants who drank black tea four times a day for six weeks had less cortisol in their blood than those who drank placebo tea for the same amount of time.
“Our study suggests that drinking black tea may speed up our recovery from the daily stressed in life,” said Professor Andrew Septoe.
“Although it does not appear to reduce the actual levels of stress we experience, tea does seem to have a greater effect in bringing stress hormone levels back to normal.”
So, if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, brew yourself up a cup of black tea to destress.
4. Go for a walk
Heading outside for a walk is really successful at getting rid of that chip on your shoulder. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that walking through green spaces such as fields and gardens saw participants feel less frustrated, more excited and more engaged.
No greenery around? No problem. Any form of cardiovascular exercise, including a brisk walk, boosts those feel-good hormones we call endorphins. They help to reduce stress hormones and ease mild depression.
– RELATED: 5 Reasons You Should Be Doing Yoga –
5. Write it out
Diaries are no longer left to teenage girls writing about their crushes. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a great way to reduce stress levels. Researchers from the University of Chicago got anxious test-takers to write down all their thoughts and feelings before an exam and found they earned better grades than those who didn’t.
Why? Some theorize that organizing your thoughts and feelings down can help problem solve which in turn reduces stress. Writing can also be used to ‘throw away’ negative thoughts, found a study published in the journal Psychological Science. Grab a pen and paper and feel the stress leaving your body.
6. Listen to music
Many people listen to music to match their mood. When we feel good, the positive lyrics find their way through our headphones and when we’re angry, the sad songs are on the playlist. This, however, might not be the most effective way of settling your stress.
Research has shown that listening to soothing music can help lower heart rate, anxiety and blood pressure, all side effects of feeling stressed. Not sure where to find that music among the Ed Sheeran and Drake in your music library? There are plenty of great Spotify playlists to choose from. Our favorite is Music For Concentration.
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