Bogged down with to-do lists and work and chores and bills to pay, it can be easy to let the extra stress wear you down. You might even feel an uptick just from reading that sentence! Tension can build easily, but it's not as easy to get rid of. And if you don't have a few tricks up your sleeve to help you relax, the stress can really take its toll.
Science has revealed some frightening effects of chronic stress - and reading those probably only serves to make you more stressed out. But the good news is that science supports methods that relieve stress as well.
While simply telling yourself to chill out or willing the tension to go away might not do anything to help you when you're feeling anxious, these methods can actually work. Even on your wildest, fastest-paced days, these tricks can help calm you down.
Most of them are really simple to incorporate into your routine - some only take a couple of minutes to complete! So even if you're way too busy to meditate, there are little ways to get more mindfulness into your life.
It might take more than one tactic to effectively reduce your stress. Different techniques work for different people. But try a couple of these science-backed methods next time you're feeling the effects of stress on your everyday life.
Just because you're not a kid anymore doesn't mean you can't justify coloring with crayons. You don't have to be an artistic genius, either. While attempting to create a masterpiece with colored pencils might stress you out, coloring in a page of a coloring book is actually proven to help you relax. A study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association in 2005 showed that people who engaged in structured coloring - meaning that they colored in a mandala or plaid shape - experienced a greater reduction in anxiety than those who colored on a blank sheet of paper. Take it from those who have tried it for themselves - it really works.
It's not just your grandma's hobby anymore. Knitting has gotten trendier these past couple of years, and that's actually really great news for people's health. According to a survey of over 3,500 knitters, the age-old hobby could actually help to make people calmer and happier. The more they knitted, the calmer and happier they felt.
Use Progressive Relaxation
There are many different types of meditations - some are more physically-focused while others are more mental. Progressive relaxation uses various muscle techniques to progressively relax your entire body from head to toe. The specifics of these meditations can vary. But all of them involve systematically moving through all of your muscle groups, tensing and then relaxing each and every one. Studies support that these meditations are effective at reducing stress. The theory is that once the body is relaxed, the mind can follow.
Do Light Yoga
All types of exercise can help to reduce anxiety. But if you're looking for something calming in the moment, a light yoga flow can do the trick. Science shows that yoga really does help make you calmer. Don't let the intimidation of trying yoga scare you away. You don't have to be a super-fit, Lululemon-clad yogi or pay a lofty studio membership to enjoy this genre of exercise. Yoga can be completely free. Thanks to YouTube and other online resources, you can use an online beginner's guide to try a simple yoga flow at home.
Reading is so good for your brain, in more ways than one. Not only does it work to improve your cognition and stave off Alzheimer's, but it can also help relieve stress and anxiety. According to a 2009 study reported by The Telegraph, reading for even six short minutes can help to slash stress levels by more than half. No matter if it's a thriller or a fluffy romantic novel, you'll reap the benefits. Try challenging yourself to reading just 20 minutes every day for a couple of weeks - those who've tried it swear it works wonders.
Do a Breathing Exercise
Mindfulness-focused activities such as meditation and yoga have a heavy emphasis on breathing, and with good reason. Your breath has an alarmingly powerful effect on your overall demeanor, impacting your physical and mental health at once. Especially for those struggling with anxiety, breathing exercises can be effective in preventing anxious thoughts from spiraling out of control and keeping physical stress symptoms in check. A large body of research shows that deep breathing can help to lower cortisol levels (cortisol is one of the main stress hormones) and temporarily lower blood pressure. Breathing exercises are simple and short - try this 2-minute meditation to practice your deep breathing.
Use Lavender Aromatherapy
Have you ever heard of essential oils? If not, it's time you tried these extracts derived from natural materials. The powerful scent of each essential oil is said to have specific health benefits, improving everything from your immune health to your ability to sleep well. Lavender is a particularly powerful scent, scientifically proven to reduce stress levels in those who use it. You can practice aromatherapy by investing in a diffuser or by dabbing a couple of drops of the oil directly on your skin.
Listen to a Calming Song
When your favorite upbeat song comes on the radio, it probably makes you want to dance. Certain songs give you an influx of energy, but the opposite can occur, as well. A relaxing, calm song can help to make you feel relaxed and calm. Certain types of music can actually impact physical functions of the body, including your heart rate and stress levels, according to a review of studies. Relaxing songs, according to one study, can help calm an elevated blood pressure, ease a fluttering heart rate, and reduce other physical symptoms of anxiety.
Get a Massage
The health benefits of getting a massage range far beyond easing sore muscles. There's an impressive psychological benefit, as well. Studies show that getting a massage helps to balance the activity levels of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, aiding with stress.
Go for a Walk
Walking might not be the most intense exercise you can try, but the health perks are truly incredible. From reducing joint pain to strengthening your coordination, there are countless benefits of taking a walk. One of these is a significant reduction in stress levels. Get your blood flowing and your legs moving for even just 20 minutes and it could make a difference. Research shows that walking outdoors is even better for you than a stroll taken indoors. So head outside and smell the fresh air. You might even get some vitamin D while you're at it!
Take a Warm Bath
Bubbles or not, a warm bath is probably a better idea than a shower if you're feeling excessively stressed. Warm baths, according to some anecdotal accounts, are incredibly relaxing, and some scientific research has posited potential answers as to why. One study linked warm baths to a reduction in blood pressure. Other research suggests warm baths might be beneficial for people with metabolic disorders. And these baths get even healthier when you add Epsom salt to the mix. These salts have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce joint pain and calm other uncomfortable kinds of inflammation in the body.
Use a Sauna
The steam of a sauna can feel fantastic, and according to Medical News Today, it's because these rooms actually have a very real physical effect on your body. As the humid room heats up, your heart rate steadily increases and your blood vessels widen. This may sound alarming, but it's actually a really good thing - it increases circulation, potentially contributing to decreased stress levels and heart-healthy benefits. Saunas have been recommended as part of treatment for those with a risk of heart problems, skin issues like psoriasis, and even brain degeneration from dementia.
Hang Out With Your Dog
Yet another reason life is better when you're a dog person: Dogs help reduce stress. According to one study investigating the effects of therapy dogs, as little as five minutes spent in the company of a cute canine could reduce cortisol levels significantly. Another study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed that in an office setting, the presence of dogs lowered stress levels of the entire office and improved employee satisfaction. Bottom line? Stressful environments would probably be way less anxiety-provoking if there were dogs there.
Tense and Relax Your Toes
If you don't have time for a full-body meditation such as the progressive muscle relaxation mentioned above, start by simply tensing and relaxing your toes. You can do this silently and secretly from anywhere, and it provides many of the same benefits. Researchers believe that tensing and relaxing muscle groups may help to increase awareness of the physical symptoms of stress and promote mindful and intentional relaxation.
Daydream for 15 Uninterrupted Minutes
Zoning out might feel like a total waste of time, but there are actually some very logical reasons why you should try it at least once a day. Not only will you maybe come up with some of your best ideas, you might also help yourself relax. Some psychologists say it could have an effect similar to meditation - improving your overall focus and lowering your stress levels.
Write in a Journal
You might think you're too old to keep a diary, but there's no age limit to the mental health benefits of writing your thoughts down. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress, and even cope with symptoms of depression. There's no rule as to how you journal. Just take out a pen, grab a notebook, and write whatever comes to mind.
Drinking a hot cup of tea can easily be turned into a meditation by adding a little conscious awareness to the practice. Instead of just haphazardly preparing your beverage, pay attention to the color change of the water. Feel the warmth of the mug between your palms. Smell the aromas of the herbs before you take a sip. Studies show that drinking tea can actually lower levels of cortisol and reduce feelings of stress. Some types of tea can have other physical benefits, as well. These teas, for example, can help relieve nausea and settle your stomach.