Stress Management TechniquesVarious Methods Of Reducing Stress
We all experience stress. And in fact, some stress is necessary for us to have a healthy and productive life. But it is also important for us to manage this stress in the best ways possible. If you are experiencing an increase in stress levels, consider these reflections below. We have assembled some readings and academic research on seven techniques for stress relief:
Start with some Deep Breathing:
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise
If you’ve ever watched a baby or a pet sleeping, you’ll notice that their stomach rises and falls more than their chest when they breathe. Children naturally breathe from their abdomen until the constant stress of modern life retrains them to breathe from their chest. Diaphragmatic breathing — also called abdominal breathing or belly breathing — is the way we are meant to breathe, but few of us do.
When you’re under stress, your chest tightens and your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. This rapid, shallow breathing (called chest or thoracic breathing) is a hardwired response that helps you respond to danger. Chest breathing elicits the “flight or fight response” which starts a cascade of events. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood gets directed away from your brain and to your muscles, and a flood of stress hormones is released. Ideally, after a perceived danger has passed, your breathing returns to normal.
The problem for most of us is that chest breathing is our normal way of breathing. But you can change that. Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the simplest yet most important stress management techniques available.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise
- Sit comfortably or lie down. If lying down, raise your knees slightly, perhaps by putting a pillow underneath your knees.
- Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth.
- Then slowly inhale through your nose, concentrating on keeping your chest still while expanding your stomach.
- You should notice a fall and rise of your stomach, and not your chest, if done properly.
Learn this, and every breath you take can alleviate, rather than contribute to, stress.
Do this foundational breathing exercise 20-30 minutes per day to reduce stress and anxiety.
If you practice only one breathing exercise, this should be the one.
Developing a regular stretching program not only helps increase your flexibility, but it can also calm your mind. While you stretch, focus on mindfulness and meditation exercises, which give your mind a mental break. Check out these techniques for stretching the upper body, lower body, arms, and legs here.
If you experience benefit from stretching, then you may want to consider yoga. It’s estimated that 15-20 million Americans practice yoga regularly. One reason for the explosion of interest in this 5,000-year-old practice is that people are looking to use yoga as a way to de-stress. Yoga slows your breathing and heart rates, lowers blood pressure, and increases heart rate variability.
If you want to target feelings of stress or anxiety, you’ll find yoga poses specifically for stress here. If you’re concerned you aren’t flexible enough, give the ancient martial arts Tai Chi or Qi Gong a try instead. They offer similar relaxation benefits but flexibility is not required. Check out these 11 ways that Tai Chi can benefit your health here.
Meditation is undoubtedly one of the best stress management techniques known. Meditation makes you more resilient and less reactive to stress by decreasing the number of neurons in your amygdala, the area of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and stress.
Meditation helps you quiet your mind and master negative thought patterns which are often the root cause of stress. It keeps you focused in the present so you spend less time worrying about the future and ruminating about the past. Meditation increases levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which helps put the brakes on brain activity, letting you relax.
There are numerous methods and approaches to meditation, from many different traditions and schools of thought, from beginner to advanced levels. If you’ve never really tried meditation before, then perhaps try a guided meditation that you can play on your speakers or headphones, sit back or lie down, listen to the guide and meditate.
You can undertake to do a guided meditation at any point throughout the day. It is very common for people to start a guided meditation at the end of the day as a means of drifting off to sleep. Or you can begin the day with one. There are numerous guided meditations online. Music services (Spotify, Pandora, Sound Cloud, etc.) and YouTube in particular will all have a vast array.
We also have several great options for guided meditation with ten links listed here:
- Check out this guided meditation for relaxation here on YouTube.
- Another guided meditation for positive energy, cleansing, and balancing here.
- Dartmouth College has several guided meditations and breathing exercises here.
- Check out this guided meditation for manifesting affirmations here from Dr. Wayne Dyer. Or check out Dr. Dyer’s 10 steps for inner peace and success here.
- Check out this guided meditation from Tony Robbins about focus and positivity here. Or his meditation for motivation here.
- Maybe try this Taoist approach by meditating on this reading of the Tao Te Ching here.
- Or check out this Judeo-Christian meditation on Psalms 23 here, or this meditation on Psalm 121 here.
- Or this seminal Buddhist reflection by Chogyam Trungpa, The Sacred Path of the Warrior here.
While there are many kinds of meditation, one that truly stands out for its assistance in stress relief is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation It is a mental training practice that involves focusing your mind on the present moment and dispensing with distractions.
Mindfulness meditation actually builds a bigger and better brain. It increases the amount of gray matter, the volume of the hippocampus, and the thickness of the cortex while it decreases the size of the amygdala, the fear center of your brain. Mindfulness practice also improves connectivity between various regions of the brain.
How to Do Mindfulness Meditation
Sit quietly with your eyes closed.
Breathe normally and simply notice your breath.
Saying to yourself “breathing in, breathing out” can help keep other thoughts at bay.
When you notice a random thought, simply label it as “a thought” and gently bring your attention back to your breath. Be patient with yourself.
Many people think that if they’ve had thoughts while meditating that they’ve failed. But the goal of meditation is NOT to have no thoughts. Thinking thoughts is what your brain does incessantly. The goal is to simply notice them when they come up and gently push them aside. Pull your focus back to your breath in the same way that you’d keep a distracted puppy on path – with good humor, patience, and understanding.
Get Some Moderate Exercise
It is well established that exercise contributes to stress reduction. In addition to being good for the body, exercise is also good for the mind. It pumps up your endorphins, gets your blood going, and improves sleep and mood. Exercise can be meditation in motion, so you get those benefits as well. Just 20-30 minutes can refresh your perspective on a lot of things.
Of course, some days are easier than others to muster up the energy and enthusiasm for some exercise. And if you’re depressed, then it’s even more difficult. But if nothing else go for a walk and reflect on the fact that you have this capacity. If you are disabled and unable to walk, find some exercise routines suited for your situation.
As Tony Robin says, “Emotion is created by motion. To change your mood, you can do something as simple as adjusting your posture. You can make eye contact with the people around you. You can smile, just to trick your mind into thinking you’re feeling better than you actually are. Eventually, your emotions and mindset will follow suit.” So get out and go for a walk or get a little exercise.
Be Smart about what you Eat and Drink
If you are experiencing a lot of stress, please reflect on any of your consumption habits that may be contributing to these problems. Alcohol and drugs destabilize and take you away from center. At our most vulnerable moments, we may want to reach out for a familiar feeling in a well-known direction, but drugs and alcohol are always dangerous. Alcohol is a depressant which acts on your mindset with deleterious effect long after the hangover is over. Drugs can have even more severe hazards, withdrawals, and side effects.
Getting 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night should be considered essential. If you’re having problems sleeping, reflect on your caffeine and sugar consumption. Caffeine is metabolized at different rates for different people, and it can be impacting you several hours after you think its grip has loosened. If you have trouble sleeping, consider cutting back on your caffeine consumption. Similarly, sugar can destabilize mood, metabolism and contribute to energy and concentration problems in at least three key ways: hormonal disruption, inflammation/oxidation, and insulin resistance.
Giving your body the nutrition, it needs is a positive step you can take every day toward combating stress. Certain foods increase the physical stress on your body by making digestion more difficult, or by denying the brain essential nutrients. Stress itself can cause bad digestion.
Your microbiome changes relatively quickly based on the foods you eat, so it’s important to aim for a diet high in whole and plant-based foods with an emphasis on prebiotic fiber. Prebiotics are to probiotics what fertilizer is to a garden — they are specific fibers found in many foods that nourish our healthy bacteria and help them thrive. You can find a list of prebiotic foods here.
Although stress is a mental state, it can physically affect our gastrointestinal system and the bacterial residents within it. A recent study found that high levels of stress can affect gut bacteria to a similar degree as a high-fat diet; while another study has shown that reducing the number of bacteria in the gut can produce stress-induced activity in mice. The road runs both ways: stress can alter gut bacteria and gut bacteria can influence stress levels.
Altogether you should pursue a health-conscious, plant-based diet rich in prebiotic foods and free from drugs, alcohol and excessive caffeine and sugar.
Listen To Some Classical Music
Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. This type of music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing levels of stress hormones. Altogether, classical music can act as a powerful stress management tool in our lives.
As music can absorb our attention, it acts as a distraction at the same time it helps to explore emotions. This means it can be a great aid to meditation, helping to prevent the mind wandering. And one of the great things about classical music is that there is no specific ego-driven message – there are no words – so you won’t get wrapped up in some lyrical crooning and misapply somebody else’ ego-driven concepts onto your own life (unless, perchance, you’re listening to an Opera and you understand Italian).
Musical preference varies widely between individuals, so only you can decide what you like and what is suitable for each mood. But even if you don’t usually listen to classical music, it may be worth giving it a try when you’re looking for music to relax, reflect, or inspire. It can be refreshing and invigorating to listen to a whole symphony, with its many layers of instruments and arrangements. Alternatively, classical piano alone by itself can be sublime in the way that it delicately fills the room. A lot of people turn to classical music for stress relief because it can bring beauty and coherency to otherwise difficult moments. Give it a shot.