In my last blog post, Stress and how it uniquely impacts our health, I outlined the importance of stress reduction. If you’ve gone the extra mile for every other healthy lifestyle habit, but haven’t targeted your stress levels, you’re bound to be missing out on holistic wellness.
Take the short leap to improve your stress levels, and not only will you enjoy life more, but there’ll be a cascade of benefits to follow it…
Here are 5 quick tools to unwind:
1. Connecting With Your Body
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction has been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. In one study, a task focusing on the breath showed a decreased negative emotion experience, reduced amygdala activity and increased activity in areas of the brain associated with focused attention.
The amygdala’s role lies within the processing of memory, decision making and emotional responses including fear, anxiety and aggression. If a fearful situation arises, the amygdala is activated. Ohman (2015) found that the initial fear response to a “fear- relevant” picture, disappears through conscious processing. Therefore, we are able to tame and control our fear response through mindfulness.
A body scan meditation helps you develop the ability to be more aware of your body’s present state of being. You accept all sensations, and bring a non-judgemental awareness to them. Another option is to do some mindful movement, like Nia, which invites you to move with attention to your body sensations.
The time you need: usually between 6 minutes or an hour
Where to find one: Insight Timer app for a body scan meditation or, join a Nia class
2. 4-7-8 Breathing
This is one of my favourite stress reduction techniques that not only makes you feel relaxed but also gives you a sharp sense of mental clarity. Deep breathing practices have been shown to improve sustained attention and reduce cortisol levels as demonstrated in this article.
An overworked nurse who was also dealing with stress at home came to see me about stress reduction. She was open to practicing this technique daily at home, and returned to our next session feeling much more calm and in control of her actions.
The time you need: 5 minutes
How to do it: watch this clip of Dr. Weil demonstrating the technique. You breath in for 4 counts, hold the breath for 7 and breathe out for 8 counts through pursed lips. Repeat 5 to 8 times.
Where to do it: in your car before a job interview or in bed while you’re trying to fall asleep.
I’ve written all about gratitude journaling in my article 5 Scientific Proven Benefits of Gratitude and How It Will Change Your Life. One of the most fruitful journaling processes occurs when you answer broad, open ended questions. The free questions I focus on is
- How am I feeling?
- What’s on my mind?
- What would I like to see happen?
The time you need: 5 to 15 minutes
Where to do it: Spoil yourself a buy a leather journal or use an app like One Day
4. Spend Time Laughing
When we’re stressed, we’re often caught up in our thoughts and actions. We look forward and back, planning or ruminating. Laughter, and joy, helps to bring us back to the present moment. It is commonly accepted that laughter produces psychological benefits, such as improving depression, anxiety, and stress.
Laughter is a complete mind body experience that is tangible – we hear the joy, and our faces exude happiness. It’s also a social experience with friends, family or community.
The time you need: 1 – 2 hours a week, at least
Where to do it: watch a live comedy show, go see a funny movie, hang out with fun friends or try some laughter yoga!
5. Do Something YOU Love
Otherwise known as a play activity, these activities bring you calm, focus and joy. Think back to when you were young and recall the activities you loved doing. These things got you excited and happy and you feel safe and secure doing them. Pick one and get lost in it. It might be swimming in the sea, hula hooping, or having a bath.
Play has many indirect benefits including increasing productivity at work, improving creativity and boosts self-esteem. It also reduces stress. Magnuson and Barnett (2013), studied the effects of playfulness on adults. They found that playful individuals reported lower levels of perceived stress than their less playful counterparts. They were also able to use more coping strategies and less likely to use negative, avoidant and escape-orientated strategies.
Bear in mind, video games and cellphone games do not necessarily fit into this activity. There are benefits to these games such as increased coordination and problem solving, but there are legitimate concerns about the addictive nature of these games.
The time you need: 20 minutes
How: pick your favourite play activity that used to bring you joy when you were a kid.
Pick one of these 5 tools outlined above and do one a day. Even if you think you’re not so stressed, take the leap and take a few moments for yourself each day. Let me know how it goes in the comments below.