How to Reduce Stress
According to a study done by Gallup, 79% of Americans feel the impact of stress directly or indirectly, whether occasionally or often throughout the day, because “stress is ubiquitous and follows us everywhere.” However, there are a variety of conflicting definitions of what stress is, of what causes it, and of the levels of stress that can or should accompany a variety of situations. What one person identifies as stress (or stressful), another may not. But one thing is certain: stress can have significant negative impacts on an individual’s life, causing side effects that commonly include the following:
Understanding your stressors — and how to alleviate them — is crucial for your mental and physical health, your peace of mind, and your overall well-being. For example, if you are experiencing anxiety from stress, you need to know what causes it and how to cope with anxiety in order to function. Luckily, there are a number of well-established strategies that you can use to alleviate and reduce stress.
Embrace Relaxation Techniques
Some people will benefit the most from relaxation techniques. These techniques are specific to the individual and can vary in a number of ways (e.g. the manner in which they are practiced, the amount of time they take, where they are practiced, etc.). Commonly used relaxation techniques include:
- Yoga: This is a practice of movement and postures that seeks to focus the body and mind. Its origins are in ancient Indian philosophy and date back thousands of years; in recent years, however yoga has become a popular form of physical exercise here in the U.S. Yoga offers many benefits, both physical and mental, and studies show that yoga can reduce the perceived importance of common stressors. Over time, yoga practice can lead to reduced anxiety and stress that results from common triggers.
- Deep breathing exercises: Focusing on one’s breath can have a surprisingly powerful positive impact on one’s state of mind, both in the short and long term. Breathing exercises, such as belly breathing, allow practitioners to disengage their minds from their surroundings, thoughts, and stressors. Regular practice has proved to be beneficial for heart rate, blood pressure, and regulating oxygen intake — all of which have an important effect on regulating stress.
- Mindfulness Meditation: This is a series of techniques that focus on calming and focusing the mind, becoming consciously aware of one’s thoughts, and centering oneself in the present. A number of studies have shown that mindfulness practices can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and perception of pain. Mindfulness meditation involves a series of practices that can be used virtually anywhere — but practitioners tend to prefer occasions that allow for several minutes of uninterrupted practice.
- Body scan meditation: This form of meditation asks you to target your focus on each part of your body in turn, thereby becoming aware of each physical sensation you experience and helping to reduce stress and decrease aches and pains. Studies have shown that practitioners can, simply by acknowledging pain and discomfort without trying to ignore or fight it, reduce the impact of such pain on their stress and state of mind.
- Guided imagery: Guided imagery uses the power of visualization, imagination, and environment to focus the mind on calming locations, concepts, and other stimuli. There are many ways to perform these techniques, some of which use aids such as photos, audio tracks, or meditation scripts. Other methods can be practiced on one’s own, and focus on breath and visualization.
Although most of these techniques are most effective when practiced for an extended period, they can also be used in short bursts in virtually any setting or situation. Using multiple relaxation techniques is a great way to determine which technique works best to help you maximize stress relief.
Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep is absolutely vital for your physical and mental health, and it affects virtually every part of your body’s operations. Lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation, can negatively affect brain function, emotional well being, and physical health. When you are not well-rested, your body can be less prepared to cope with stressors that arise throughout the day. The amount of sleep you need each night changes based on your age. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends the following:
- 4 to 12 months = 12 to 16 hours of sleep per day
- 1 to 2 years = 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day
- 3 to 5 years = 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day
- 6 to 12 years = 9 to 12 hours of sleep per day
- 13 to 18 years = 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day
- 18 and above = 7 to 8 hours of sleep per day
Use Natural Stress Relief Remedies
Many people find that use of one or more natural remedies help them to manage the stress in their daily lives. Whether used on their own or as a supplement to exercises like mindfulness meditation, many people find that these remedies promote calm and focus through their nutritional benefits, their aromatherapeutic properties, or a variety of other characteristics. Some commonly used natural stress relief remedies include the following:
- Kava root
- Lemon balm
Identify and Eliminate Stressors
In order to reduce and get rid of stress, you need to be aware of what is causing your stress. Stressors can be physical items (or lack thereof) as well as mental thoughts. Common examples of stressors include the following:
- Body image
- Time management
- Health problems
- Perceived loss
- Pursuit of “success”
Work to determine what stressors frequently distract or concern you, and do your best to become aware of your common triggers. From there, work to eliminate some of those stressors from your daily life. Many will be difficult or impossible to avoid altogether — but simply becoming conscious of their effects on your mood and stress levels can have a positive impact.
See a Professional
In some scenarios, adequate sleep, natural remedies, and other stress-relief techniques may not be enough to take care of the stress that is negatively impacting your day-to-day life. When this is the case, it is best to confide in a mental health professional. Mental help professionals will listen, help identify stressors, and offer personalized professional advice. There are certain steps to consider when finding a mental health professional:
- Think about the type of professional assistance you’re seeking
- Gather referrals from friends, family members, and reputable resources
- Reach out to the places that you think may work for you
- Ask plenty of questions
- Build a relationship with the medical professional