Feeling stressed? Discover these quick, easy, and effective ways to quiet your mind and relax.
- Posted on Mar 29, 2016
It's never been easy to be human, but in today's fast-paced, news-saturated world, there's more to get us riled up—without even leaving home! The thing is, the resulting stress not only messes with a balanced, happy mood, but it also wreaks havoc on almost all of our body's systems by causing inflammation and releasing fight-or-flight hormones.
Chronic stress can play a part in every illness you can imagine—from diabetes to cancer to heart disease. So learning to relax is not a luxury, but essential for your health and overall wellbeing. We've gathered some ways to calm down, return to your center, and chill out, no prescription required.
Go for a Walk
Moving your body is one of the fastest and surefire ways to deescalate stress. Studies show that even a simple, 20- to 30-minute walk can increase circulation, release endorphins, and have a powerfully calming effect. Outside is the best place to stroll because you get the added benefits that nature brings—the sounds of birds chirping actually lower your heart rate. But a few circles around a mall will also do.
Call a Friend
Of all the studies, what is most clear is that feeling supported and connected to others is essential for well-being and to ease stress. No need to be alone in your worries! Think of a person who accepts and understands you—and knows how to listen—and pick up the phone. Call and ask if you can kvetch, talk about it, and then move on to other things.
Chances are huge you'll feel better by the time you hang up. You may find it helpful to keep a list of such people in your wallet—stress has a way of literally making us forget what and who is best for us in times of overwhelm or crisis.
You've heard about it, maybe you've read about it, but now it's time to try it! Meditation can improve cognition, lower your heart rate, increase focus, and overall give you a centered, stable perspective from which to see the world. Start off with simply sitting comfortably straight or propped with pillows. Set a timer for 10 minutes, close your eyes (or keep them softly open) and become aware of your breath.
When your mind wanders (and it will, that's how this works), gently remind it to rest back on your breath. Just that very process can do wonders for your sense of well-being if you practice it regularly and long-term.
Write a What's Bothering Me List
Sometimes when we're stressed it's not even clear what's bothering us—worries get all tangled up with each other and snowball. A bother like "My pants are tight" can grow to be "I'm fat," which merges with "What am I doing with my life?" But if we separate them out by writing them down and naming them, we can begin to sort the big from the little and go from there.
So grab a pen and start writing—make a list of every little thing that's nagging at you, like: Need to call back Jane; Need to get oil change; My mom's comment last week; My boring job; That thing the stranger said on the bus, etc.
You might be surprised that quite a few of those things are actually actionable and will make you feel better to just take care of. Others may not be, but it's still helpful—you might not have even realized the bus incident was so upsetting, etc. Try this once a week to clear your inner worry pantry.
Try Yogic Breathing
You don't have to do downward-facing anything to benefit from this soothing yoga breath. It's called Alternate Nostril Breathing, and it goes like this:
The breath is said to activate the parasympathetic nervous system—the one that calms you down, and may also enhance your respiratory system, lower heart rate, and overall shift you into a more serene mood.
Take a Media Break
Though of course you're reading this on a phone or computer, once you’re done, plan a media break. For starters, the blue light from the technology we use is stimulating to your brain. Plus, study after study has found that social media brings down our mood (turns out other folk's vacation photos inspire more envy than bliss).
And then you've got headlines that provoke an adrenaline response when you see your politician of choice is losing, or that the one you loathe is winning, or all the ways in which people can be terrible to each other across the globe. It's a recipe for major stress. See if you can unplug totally for at least a few hours, and then extend it to adding a device-free time every day or week. And do your best to consume just the essentials in your media diet. You may be slightly less interesting at cocktail parties—but also the happiest person in the room.
Take a Shower
Hydrotherapy is as old as the oceans. Everything from a warm bath to a cold shower can rinse away stress. Some experts recommend taking a cold shower for two to three minutes to boost your mood. Start slow, with warm water that you gradually make cooler until you are comfortably showering in a cold spray. Stop if the shivers kick in. If cold water really isn't your thing, studies also show that warm baths decrease stress.
Count Your Blessings
There is an absolute boatload of good research being done on the power of gratitude. Ride the wave and let it improve your overall outlook, decrease stress, lower inflammation, and give you an enhanced sense of well-being. Start with a daily gratitude list: Write down three specific things for which you're grateful. Being specific is important in triggering those heart-happy feelings—instead of "I'm grateful for my great friends," try "I'm grateful that Jane called yesterday just to say hello."