Stress is a killer. Jobs, money-worries, marriage complications, illness, children and lack of sleep are all things that cause us stress in our daily lives. After a long, demanding week we often find ourselves just struggling to unwind. We all know that stress can cause depression and anxiety and elevate blood pressure. Now, science has discovered a direct link between stress and brain damage, as well as increases in inflammation and heart attacks. According to the study (sourced below), people who have had prolonged incidents of stress throughout their lives have more cardiovascular issues.
According to Ash Nadkarni, MD, an associate psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, stress triggers the fight or flight response in our bodies. “Long-term overexposure to stress hormones can cause increased risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems,” she says. These triggers cause regular adrenaline spikes, a faster heartbeat and a rise in blood pressure. Over time that takes a real toll on your body. We all have different amounts of stress in our lives; no one is immune. It’s only natural for you to get overwhelmed at times.
The key is to try and find ways to prevent stress from building and accumulating. In this article, we’ll take a look at 10 proven ways to cut stress from your life. It’s important not only for your short-term health, but long-term as well. Many of these are small changes you can make in your daily life that will make a big difference throughout the rest of your day.
STRESS BUSTER #1: WAKE UP EARLIER
Okay, so this one might not sound all that appealing. And how is losing sleep going to benefit you anyway? Well, consider this: how often are you running behind in the morning, only to have it throw off your whole day? According to psychologist Leslie Carr, PsyD., we all need to take it slow in the morning. “Take time in the morning to center yourself. A lot of people shoot out into their days like a rocket ship and it never gets better from there.” If you drink coffee in the morning, it takes about 20 minutes for the caffeine to reach to full effect. Take that time to slow down the morning rush. If you take your mornings at a more leisurely pace, you may find that your days are smoother and less hectic.
STRESS BUSTER #2: COLOR THERAPY
It may be difficult to understand, but colors play a huge role in helping to regulate our emotions. Could you really be overstressed due to the wrong colors painted on the walls of your home or office? According to Molly Roberts, MD, president of the American Holistic Medical Association, the connection is very real. “The theory behind the use of color therapy is that colors enter the eyes, which then send messages along the nerve pathways to the area of the brain that regulates emotion,” Roberts says. “There are a lot of ways to surround yourself with colors that can ease stress throughout the day.”
Bright, warm colors have a tendency to excite a person and cool colors are known for relaxation. At home, consider painting a wall or the trim a cool color. At the office, you may not have that option, but you can find ways to surround yourself with relaxing tones, such as wearing cool colors, draping a colored scarf over a chair or even changing the screensaver on your computer. These options should help to significantly cut down stress in your life.
STRESS BUSTER #3: WATCH CUTE AND FUNNY ONLINE VIDEOS
Here’s another overtly simple idea that works wonders to bring you peace and calm. After a long day of work, unwind by watching those cute videos people post all over Facebook and YouTube. You know the ones. The hilarious blooper reels, thieving cats, kittens running around doing kitten things, babies dancing…they all have a mental impact on your well-being. Rose Hanna, Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at California State University Long Beach agrees. “After a stressful day, looking at these funny things actually activates the part of the brain that delivers tranquility and a calm physiological response. This decreases anxiety and helps tremendously with reducing stress.”
STRESS BUSTER #4: SING!
Okay, so maybe this isn’t something you can do at work, unless you’re a professional singer. But singing is a great way to really relax your mind. Whether it’s a chorus from your favorite song or sitting in your favorite spot while humming, the sound helps to reduce the amount of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that builds up over time. Rita Eichenstein, PhD, a neuropsychologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Towers in Los Angeles, states that it’s the sound reverberating throughout your body that calms the mind. “Singing tunes you love brings up positive memories and takes your mind off the stressors,” says Eichenstein. Doctors have even used singing as a means to reduce a person’s blood pressure before surgery.
STRESS BUSTER #5: TAKE UP A HOBBY
What better way to take your mind off of a bad day or stressful situation than to indulge in a favorite hobby? When the mind gets flooded with thought after thought and worries you’re constantly facing, there’s no better way to direct the mind than by focusing on something else instead. Our brains aren’t that good at multitasking and like to bounce around. But if you can focus on one activity, like gardening, scrapbooking or knitting, it has a way of channeling those thoughts and energy to the task at hand. “There’s something about the tactile element of scrapbooking—cutting, pasting, positioning—that is probably more relaxing than posting online,” says Nina Savelle-Rocklin, PsyD, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist.
With gardening, you hold the soil in your hands and spend more time outside in the sun. Many people find the tactile, repetitive nature of knitting to be meditative. Whatever you do, pick one thing and put all your focus and energy into it.
STRESS BUSTER #6: SCENT THERAPY
Scents, like colors, are often overlooked when it comes to impacting your daily life. Truth is, there are scents out there that can actually help you relax, relieve tension in your body and even refocus your thoughts. They are an especially helpful tool at the end of a long day. Adding coconut oil to your favorite scent during a hot bath is a perfect way to unwind. “It is believed that once inhaled, the scents alter the mood by stimulating various parts of the brain associated with emotion,” says Brooklyn-based therapist and social worker La Shawn M. Paul. “Smells like salt water or fresh rain are especially calming because they help you to think of life outside of your current stressor.”
STRESS BUSTER #7: GOOD FOOD
The food you eat can either make or break you when it comes to stress. When we’re under stress, most people have a tendency to start munching on some not-so-good foods. A rise in cortisol is linked to wild cravings for sugar and heavy carbs, according to researchers at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. It becomes a nasty endless cycle of weight gain and even higher cortisol levels, leading to more binge eating. Many people reach for heavily processed foods when they indulge these cravings and those types of foods are also high in chemicals additives, preservatives and sodium. The high-sodium content alone will make you feel bloated, increase your blood pressure and leave you feeling blah mentally.
The trouble with processed foods and carbs is you become addicted to them, so you keep running to them every time you feel down. Instead, swap out bad foods for good, nutritious, whole foods. When you think you want sugar, your body is desperately craving the vitamins and minerals it needs to function. Some foods even serve as stress-relievers. Take avocados as an example. They are incredibly rich in glutathione, lutein, beta-carotene and B-vitamins which can help block fat absorption and stress-proof your body.
STRESS BUSTER #8: SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE
Sometimes it seems like everything we do is about seeking out bigger and better material goods. We work extra hours to pay for things we don’t need. While it’s nice to have things, all this extra stuff can really complicate your life. Is it worth the stress and health issues it leads to? Only you can decide that. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but take a moment away from the grind and look around. Are the goals in your life meaningful? We are seeing more and more books and magazines with this same message.
It’s not necessarily about living frugally, but just slowing down to smell the roses, so to speak. De-clutter your house. Consider downsizing goals and ambitions that just seem to bring you down. According to a study conducted by the University of California Irvine and published in Psychosomatic Medicine the blood pressures of men who had stressful jobs were ten points higher than those less stressful. This is an obvious point: people who are constantly in stress-mode are in worse health. Making more money may not be worth the added stress that comes with the job.
STRESS BUSTER #9: EXERCISE
Not only does exercise give you something to focus on, it also helps to burn all the stress hormones that build up in your muscles. Plus, when you exercise your brain releases endorphins, which elevate your mood. Over time, exercise also helps you to develop your general ability to focus on a single task, which can make managing your life a little easier. Regular exercise has also been found to improve self-confidence which is good for helping you to cope with stressors. Finally, getting exercise on a regular basis can improve your sleep, which can help you keep a more even keel.
Finally, getting exercise on a regular basis can improve your sleep, which can help you keep a more even keel. Exercise is the number one stress-busting strategy recommended by health professionals. It doesn’t have to be an intimidating, high-impact workout. If physical activity isn’t already a part of your routine, start slow by going for a walk at lunch-time or playing a game of tag with your kids.
STRESS BUSTER #10: MEDITATION
A few of the stress busters mentioned above involve distracting yourself. Sometimes, though, distraction isn’t enough. You need to fully remove yourself from the stressor. There are a lot of great ways to do this. Meditation is one of them. There are lots of guided meditation recordings out there that can get you started. Related to the point about singing, the right kind of music has a way of relaxing us, so you can try adding some tunes to your meditation practice. Online, there are plenty of audio recordings designed to take your mind away for however long you need.
Do you enjoy hearing waves crashing on the beach? The sound of a distant thunderstorm or rain? How about a soft piano ballad? Put on your headphones, sit back, close your eyes and just relax. We all need to find ways to get away from the grind. If you allow stress to constantly eat at you, it will only make you sick and miserable. By changing the way you look at your priorities, taking some time away to relax, eating the right foods and doing the things you love, you can really fight back and win the war against stress.