After reading my previous post, hopefully you aren’t a ball of nerves worrying about the effects of stress on the body and saying, “Great, so now what?”. If you haven’t seen that post yet, please go back and read it here. Now that you understand what stress can do, I want to discuss some basic techniques for stress relief. These are techniques that I use every day and can really help to calm down your system. Many of them can be done in an office setting or even in traffic, as well, so no excuses!
Techniques for stress relief
- Breathing– This is truly the most important thing to remember. Many of us hold our breath when working on something and don’t even realize it. If you aren’t breathing correctly, you can’t fully oxygenate your brain and decrease your stress. Try this: sit or stand with a straight back and put your hand on your belly. Breathe in deeply and push out your hand so your belly fully expands for a count of two. Then slowly breathe out and completely empty your lungs for a count of four. Creating a longer exhale than inhale activates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest mode), as discussed in this article, which turns down the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight).
- Walking– Preferably outside if possible. However, even a 5-10 minute walk inside your office building can still be beneficial. I used to walk just five minutes to work, but in that time I was able to give thanks for the day and calm my mind before starting my stressful job. This article discusses some of the benefits of walking.
- Meditation– You don’t have to go to an ashram in India working towards the path of spiritual enlightenment a la “Eat, Pray, Love” in order to do meditation. Meditation can be done anywhere, anytime by anyone. The benefits are numerous as discussed here. A quick meditation session-even just 2-5 minutes-can truly reset the mind and help with stress relief. If you have no idea where to start with meditation, try one of the numerous apps available, many for free. Here is a group of apps that I love- one is free, the others have a modest fee. Here are some more free meditation apps. I used to take forever to fall asleep, sometimes up to an hour or more. Now however, I currently use Calm every night before bed and it really helps to calm my mind and get me to sleep faster. Plus, it can help improve your sleep quality.
- Being in nature– I don’t know about you, but as soon as I enter an area with trees and flowers I feel instant stress relief. I know not everyone has access to a vast forest every day, but it can be helpful to hang out in nature, even in your own backyard. I have a very small backyard, but just sitting out there or doing my yoga on my deck, listening to the birds, looking up at the trees brings calm to my mind.
- Exercise– You might be saying that you don’t have time for this, but I bet you have more time than you realize. Exercise doesn’t have to be an hour of intense weightlifting or cardio in the gym. It can be short bursts throughout the day, as shown here and can do wonders for your stress. I used to do this in between patients. I would do a minute of squats or pushups and feel my mood instantly lighten. If you only have five minutes between meetings, take a minute or two to do a couple of bursts exercises. If anyone looks at you funny, ask them to join you!
- Talk to a friend– Sometimes we get so busy in our lives, that we lose connection with those we are close to. Don’t underestimate the power of a good friend, someone who builds you up and always makes you feel better. Of course, make sure this person is a positive person and not critical of you or others. That negative energy from an unhappy person will just worsen your stress- kind of like watching the news.
- Laughing– Laughter truly is the best medicine, as discussed here. Especially when it comes to stress relief. I don’t think most of us laugh nearly enough nowadays, because we’re too stressed out. Laughter can make any situation better. You simply can’t be angry or frustrated after a satisfying laugh. So grab your children for a ticklefest or an episode of “Modern Family” (or insert your favorite comedy) and get your belly laugh on!
- Hugging– Such a simple thing, right? But have you ever thought about how much physical contact you actually have every day? It might not be as much as you think. I know when I would work 10-11 hour days, there was no hugging at all in that time. Of course, I could snuggle briefly with my furry patients (hey, it counts!), but a lot of you don’t have that option. Hugging is absolutely essential for stress relief because it increases the hormone oxytocin (the love hormone) and decreases blood pressure and heart rate, as discussed here and here. Hugging works even better if the hugs last 10-20 seconds. So next time you say goodbye with a hug, make it count literally!
Hopefully you now have some practical ideas for stress relief that can be implemented today. I also wanted to let you know about a simple online quick course that is completely free and has great suggestions for stress relief and other ways to improve your health- The Urban Monk 7 Day Reboot. It gave me some great tips and exercises to try, so I want to share it with you (I don’t get any financial cut for this. I just really like it). So go take a walk outside with a good friend, then hug your children when you get home and see how you feel!
Joyful thought for the day, “Handle every stressful situation like a dog. If you can’t eat it or play with it, just pee on it and walk away”- author unknown (Made you laugh!)