National Stress Awareness Month: 7 Quick Ways To Reduce Stress
Since 1992, April has been reserved as National Stress Awareness Month, which serves as the perfect time to slow down, take a look at how stress impacts our lives and learn how we can better guard against its adverse effects.
Everyone feels stressed at times and sometimes stress can even be helpful. It can keep us motivated at important moments, such as during a job interview or a high-profile performance. But prolonged periods of stress without reprieve can have devastating consequences, causing physical problems such as high blood pressure or heart disease or mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
While we can't avoid stress completely, here are seven ways to help keep stress under control this month and all year long.
One of the best ways to combat stress in the moment is to take a couple minutes to focus on breathing. Spend five minutes focusing on the breath, deeply breathing in slowly through the nose and out through the mouth, which will slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure.
Mindfulness is more than just a trendy buzz word. It helps bring focus back to the present moment, which reduces all the tension of the what-ifs. Identify each of the five senses, finding something you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch to bring a few moments of relief. There's also plenty of apps that can serve as a guide.
There are various types of meditation and finding one that works for you can be life-changing. Just ask Katy Perry, who incorporates Transcendental Meditation — a technique promoting a state of relaxed awareness— into her daily regimen.
"I start the day with Transcendental Meditation. It puts me in the best mood. I wake up and just prop myself up in bed for 20 minutes," Perry said in 2017. "It's changed my life, it's changed how I think about things. I meditate before I write a song, before I perform. I feel my brain open up and I feel my most sharp."
It's not a laughing matter — studies have shown that laughter can not only reduce the stress-causing hormone cortisol, but it can boost our immune system, increase blood flow and improve memory. Give it a try with these funny animal photos.
From walking to running, kickboxing or jumping rope, physical activity has long been a solid way to combat stress. It burns excess energy and releases endorphins, chemicals that help us feel better. Even if there isn't time for a full workout, just a quick five-minute powerwalk will do wonders.
Ellie Goulding is one of the many advocates for the power of exercise — more specifically, running. "The thrill of running is purely physical. I could tell you it's a spiritual high, but that would be a lie. I'm an endorphin addict," Goulding told Shape.com.
In addition to the physical benefits, Goulding told TheCut.com that "fitness is [good] for your mental health. You do feel better after a workout. …"
It may sound cliché, but in times of stress, bust out the journal and write out all your thoughts, anxieties and frustrations. Free write without censoring. This gives stressors an outlet so they no longer take up as much space in our head. And just so you know, visionaries such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison believed in the power of the journal.
Similar to mindfulness, using guided imagery, say picturing that perfect beach scene or mountain escape, will promote a calmer feeler in the body. This technique helps take advantage of the connection between the visual brain and the involuntary nervous system. By focusing attention even more by imaging something like a lemon or orange peel using all five senses, you'll promote stress reduction and relaxation.
According to noted physician/author Dr. Andrew Weil, "guided imagery can effectively help decrease pain and the need for pain medication, reduce side effects and complications of surgery, lessen stress and anxiety before and after procedures, reduce recovery time, improve sleep, strengthen the immune system, and boost self-confidence and self-control."
Turn To Music
Musicians and fans alike know that music has the power to transport the soul, and that includes the ability to reduce stress. Whether it's releasing some frustration by head banging along with your favorite metal track, taking in the tranquil sounds of a classical concerto or grooving to an ambient soundscape, music can help a state of relaxation. And there is plenty of research to prove it.
"Music … reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol," said Daniel J. Levitin, PhD and author of the book This Is Your Brain On Music.
Even better yet, pick up an instrument and make some music.
"Music-making is linked to a number of health benefits for older adults," Suzanne Hanser, chair of the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music, told LiveScience.com. "Research shows that making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression."