12 quick ways to decrease stress
12 QUICK WAYS TO DECREASE STRESS
You all know that feeling when your stress starts to rise and you are close to tipping point. It may be a large once off incident of a multitude of micro stressors that have been building. Your body goes into Fight or Flight response and you might find yourself getting angry and having a fight with someone or running away to avoid everything. To manage stress we can do a multitude of ongoing things that can make us more resilient and respond more positively to stressors such as sleeping well, eating well and exercising daily. However we can also do some little techniques in the moment to help decrease our stress levels once stress strikes.
1. Practice breathing exercises
Focus on your breath, allowing other thoughts to just pass, and bringing your attention back to your breath. Be conscious of the breath coming in and going out, and focus on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling. There are many different breathing techniques you can use and find the right one for you, but the most important part is trying to fill your belly with the breath and bringing the air down as deep as possible. This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and have an immediate calming effect.
Or, try the square breathing technique:
- Inhale your breath as you count to 4.
- Hold your breath for 4 counts.
- Exhale your breath slowly as you count to 4.
- Hold your breath for 4 counts.
- Repeat for a few minutes until you feel calm.
Meditation helps quiet your mind. Some people may find mediation overwhelming at first because they are trying to stop their thoughts. However during meditation we don’t need to stop our thoughts, we just want to practise not reacting to them. Allow them to come and pass just noticing them. To bring yourself back to the mediation it can be helpful to focus on your breathing or a mantra such as “I am calm”. For people new to mediation I recommend using guided meditations online or on an app such as ‘Balance’ or “Headway’. Even meditating for a minute can make a difference.
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness helps you check in with yourself—practicing awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and senses in the moment without judging them. To start, do one thing mindfully each day. Pick a mundane activity like eating breakfast or brushing your teeth, and practice being present in those moments for two minutes. There is also growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodelling the physical structure of your brain.
4. Practice gratitude
Our brain has a Reticular Activating System (RAS) that is a filter that will help bring our awareness to anything we choose to focus on. It is the reason when you learn a new word or decide to buy a new car you suddenly start to hear and see it everywhere. When we start to practice gratitude our RAS system will make sure we start to notice even more things to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude daily will help to rewire our brain to continually scan our environment for more positive things. Each morning or evening write down 3 things you are grateful for, no matter how big or small.
5. Call a support person
We are hardwired for connection—especially in times of stress. Talking face to face with another person releases hormones that reduce stress. Lean on those good listeners in your life.
6. Do relaxation exercises
Sometimes known as progressive muscle relaxation, practice tensing and then releasing each of your muscle groups. Starting from your toes and working all the way up to your face. If your body is physiologically relaxed, then you can't be stressed.
Exercise can be a great stress reliever that releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals in the brain) and helps you blow off steam. In particular, walking or running provide rhythmic movement that can help you readjust your focus and relieve stress. When you head out for a run it creates bilateral stimulation, meaning both sides of the brain are stimulated which actually can help process stress. However any form of exercise solo, or in groups is great to move the blood and create a release of happy hormones.
8. Immerse yourself in a creative outlet
Creativity is the key to the soul, we often neglect this part of ourselves or save it for last but run out of time. Do you enjoy gardening, reading, drawing, listening to music or some other creative pursuit? Engage in activities that bring you pleasure and joy; research shows that reduces stress by almost half and lowers your heart rate, too.
9. Express your feelings
Have you ever drawn or written about your stressors before? Writing about your stress in a journal is a great way to get it out of your head. However you don’t just have to write about your stressors, you also can journal about a positive experience that happened that day. This daily practice can help increase positive thinking and help to rewire your brain to think more positively.
10. Bond with your pet
Clinical studies show that spending even a short time with a companion animal can cut anxiety levels almost in half. Take some time to sit with your pet and have some cuddles and pats. If you don’t have a pet, there may be a family member or friend who has a dog that is desperate to be taken for an extra walk.
11. Book a vacation or something to look forward to
Getting away from it all can reset your stress tolerance by increasing your mental and emotional outlook, which makes you a happier, more productive person upon return. It doesn have to be far away or an expensive getaway, you might go hiking somewhere close to home for the day, be out with nature and leave your phone at home, or at least on silent!
12. Talk to an expert
The first step to getting ongoing support is talking to your GP. Book a double appointment and ask your GP for a Mental Health Care plan and a referral to a local psychologist. Talk therapy is a fantastic way to work through your issues with a supportive and helpful sounding board. A trained psychologist will help you understand your underlying beliefs and help to reframe and change your thinking, feelings and behaviours to create more positive outcomes.
Every one will experience stress at some point in their life. So it’s important to know what works for you. If one method doesn't work for you, try another. Learning to de-stress takes practice. Be patient with yourself, and you will reap the benefits. Incorporating a few of the points above on an ongoing basis will help to keep your base levels low and ready to tackle any stressors that come your way.