When we’re stressed, hormones like cortisol flood our systems, producing the “fight or flight response” in which our heart rate goes up, we breathe more heavily (requiring more oxygen) and our blood vessels constrict. This primitive reaction is part of our genetic makeup and we need it to help us survive and it helps us escape from dangerous situations and predators. However, in our modern-day world this reaction can get muddled up and switch on all the time and so we need to learn how to manage it. In our modern-day world as our brains can’t tell the difference between a real danger a predator and a perceived one so it kicks in the same reaction. Therefore, an email, text, getting caught in traffic or arguing with someone kicks it off. That means that our stress response is triggered when there’s no imminent danger and we don’t need to escape or fight something. Due to the fight or flight hormones that flood into the body, prolonged and perpetual stress can contribute to many conditions like digestive issues, hypertension, and headaches, as well as low moods and anxiety and it can make other things like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia, worse.
However, there is good news, just as we have a stress response, we also have a “relaxation response,” it’s called the rest and digest reaction. Again, it’s another primitive reaction designed to kick in when the danger is passed and the brain kicks in the good hormones that recharge us when our breathing slows down and our heart rate slows down. This decreases our blood pressure and you use less oxygen and our body systems begin to get a recharge. In our modern-day world, we have to cultivate ways to recharge ourselves, we have to find ways to signal the brain to come out of fight and flight and bring in rest and digest. That means we have to consciously and deliberately bring in ways to top up and recharge into our live to counteract our modern-day stress. We don’t really have a choice when it comes to getting stressed but we work to undo its effects.
With that in mind, here are some ways backed up by good scientific evidence, to keep our stress in check:
- Go For A 10 Minute Walk, any walk , anywhere will help to clear your head and boost endorphins (which, in turn reduces our stress hormones. However, you could consider walking in a park or other green space, which can actually put your body into a state of meditation, thanks to a phenomenon known as involuntary attention during which something holds our attention, but simultaneously allows for reflection.
- Breathe Deeply, take a breath, anyone who does yoga or tai chi knows that the breath is linked to our life force and plays an important role in nourishing the body. Medical researchers agree that breathing exercises can help you relax, because they make your body feel the way it does when you are already relaxed. Therefore, just focusing on taking a few deep breaths, can help reduce your tension and relieve stress and signals the body to give us an extra boost of oxygen. While shallow breathing, a marker of stress, stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. Deep breathing does the opposite and it stimulates the parasympathetic reaction, which helps us to calm down. Breathing exercises have been proven in clinical research to aid some of the systems that are harmed by stress and can reduce blood pressure.
- Visualize, a short visualization is an easy way to helps us ground ourselves and get calm. The National Institutes for Health recognizes the power of “guided imagery” to elicit a relaxation response and there are many, many apps or things available on the internet to help you to do this. Why not try some out?
- Buy Yourself a Plant, Houseplants aren’t just beautiful air purifiers, but research claim that they can actually help you calm down. They found that simply being around plants can induce your relaxation response. A Washington University study found that a group of stressed-out people who entered a room full of plants had a four-point drop in their blood pressure, while a comparison group who didn’t see plants dropped only two points.
- Limit your screen time and phone time. According to a study from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden constant uninterrupted computer screen use has been associated with stress, lost sleep and depression in women. In the same study, late night computer use was also associated with stress — in both men and women. Make sure to take frequent breaks during your day of computer use, and try to shut offline at least an hour before bedtime.
- Put on Some Music, Classical music has a soothing effect and slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and even decreases levels of stress hormones, any music that you love will flood your brain with feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine. Music can soothe everyday anxiety but also crank it up on the drive home as research shows that it’s particularly beneficial for those in the midst of stressful events and brings in the feel-good hormones. If you don’t have your headphones handy try humming or making your own music as studies have found that any recreational music relieved stress and prevented burnout.
- Have a good laugh watch something funny a good laugh is a fine relaxation technique. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. Laughter creates a kind of rollercoaster that leads to a feeling of relaxation. Also see your friends as research’s reports that friends can actually reduce your production of cortisol.
- Eat A Banana (Or A Potato!) Potassium helps to regulate blood pressure, which rises during times of stress. Some people find that by eating a banana when they’re feeling stressed it helps improve energy and recovery. And research shows that it can protect your body from the negative effects of stress.
- Craft, Repetitive motions, like the fine motor skills used to paint, knit, make jewellery, stitch, can soothe anxiety, the repetition of movement, and the focus of concentration helps us to set aside of intruding thoughts and brings us into a rest and digest state.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation Start with your toes and work your way up: tighten your foot muscles as much as you can, then relax them. Make your way up, tightening and relaxing each muscle until you’ve finished with your face. It may seem silly, but this practice can help reduce anxiety and stress and is often recommended to those who suffer from depression or anxiety. Or this Yoga Hand Trick, apply pressure to the space between your second and third knuckle (the joints at the base of your pointer and middle fingers) Apparently it can help to create a sense of instant calm, according to Sharon Melnick, author of Success Under Stress. She says that it activates a nerve that loosens the area around the heart, so helps with that fluttery feeling you feel when you’re nervous and it can take it away.