5 Everyday Techniques To Beat the Stress
- 12 December 2019
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Headache, muscle tension or pain, fatigue, upset stomach, sleep problems – these are only some of the strains that stress puts on your body, not to mention the influence it has on our mood contributing to ongoing anxieties, depression or addiction.
Most of us are unaware of the many other emotional, cognitive and physical consequences of unmanaged stress.
- Over 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
- Somewhere between 75 to 90 percent of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
- Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
- In the US, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has declared stress a hazard of the workplace¹
What happens to us when we stress
A stressful situation triggers a cascade of stress hormones that produce physiological changes. A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear.
This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. Those changes help someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety.
Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.
Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Fortunately, people can learn techniques to counter the stress response.²
How to beat stress
There are various techniques that you can try and practice on a daily basis. Each of them aims to reduce the damaging effects of stress by instructing your body to activate its natural relaxation response, a state of deep rest that slows your breathing and heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and brings your body and mind back into balance.
It’s important to remember, that there is no single relaxation technique that works for everyone. We’re all different and what works for one might not be the best suit for the other. The right technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind to elicit the relaxation response. That means it may require some trial and error to find the technique (or techniques) that work best for you.
Breathing exercises are easy to learn and can be practised anytime and anywhere.
Here are some of the benefits of practising breathing techniques:
- Activates the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces blood pressure
- Enhances respiratory functions: increases respiratory strength and endurance
- Improves attention and fine-motor coordination/performance³
- Lowers heart rate⁴
Deep abdominal breathing
Deep breathing is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique.
Research shows that belly breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the head down the neck, through the chest, and to the colon. This activates your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure and lowering stress levels.⁵
How to do it
- Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
- Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
- Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.⁶
Alternate nostril breathing
This conscious breathing exercises (pranayama) is a big part of yoga and its benefits are useful particularly for those experiencing stress or anxiety.
How to do it
- Sit in a comfortable position
- Place your left hand on your left knee
- Lift your right hand up toward your nose
- Exhale completely and then use your right thumb to close your right nostril
- Inhale through your left nostril and then close the left nostril with your fingers
- Open the right nostril and exhale through this side
- Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril
- Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side
- This is one cycle
- Continue for up to 5 minutes
- Always complete the practice by finishing with exhale on the left side⁴
This technique may not be appropriate for those with health problems that make breathing difficult, such as respiratory ailments or heart failure.
It is also not recommended to practise alternate nostril breathing if you’re sick or congested.
Exercising, how does it help?
Exercise, such as taking a brisk walk shortly after feeling stressed deepens our breathing, gets more oxygen into the body and lowers the stress hormones. Through movement, we increase our circulation of fluids around our body which helps relieve muscle tension.
Movement therapies such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong combine flowing movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm.²
Exercise also boosts endorphins, brain chemicals that improve your mood. Even light exercise can relax you, though harder workouts offer greater health rewards.
Rhythmic exercise that gets you into a flow of repetitive movement can produce the relaxation response. Examples include: running, walking, swimming, dancing, rowing, climbing.⁶
Getting a Massage
Professional massage at a spa or health club can induce a relaxation response, which lowers the heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, decreases levels of cortisol and actually increases the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which acts automatically to calm the body and brain.
Massage is not just an indulgence. It can be a powerful tool to help you take charge of your health and well-being, whether you have a specific health condition or are just looking for stress relief.
Being around nature
Constantly being ‘plugged in’ puts stress on brains that evolved in more tranquil environments.
Nature presents scenes that gently capture your attention instead of suddenly snatching it, calming your nerves instead of frazzling them.
Spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of wellbeing. Whatever you want to call it – forest bathing, ecotherapy, a treatment, mindfulness in nature, green time or the wilderness cure — humans evolved in the great outdoors, and your brain benefits from a journey back to nature.⁷
Even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings⁸. The WHO suggests that increased exposure to urban greenness (urban vegetation) is associated with reduced general mortality, improved mental health, increased physical activity, and better birth outcomes. Virtual reality is even being used when getting into nature is not possible or not recommended for various reasons (eg, individual frailty, excess temperatures)⁹. This is like as a ‘brain hack’.
Having a hobby
Hobbies you say? As if I need more to do in my week!? But that’s exactly why you need them.
Hobbies are often thought of as activities for people who lead quiet, relaxed lives, but people with full, busy, even stressful lives may need hobbies more than the average person.¹⁰
Hobbies provide a slice of work-free and responsibility-free time in your schedule.
Many hobbies lend themselves to group activities: golfing rotations, pottery circles, and creative writing groups are good examples. By connecting you with others they bring the added benefit of social support, which can bring stress relief and meaning to life in a fun way.
For those who feel overwhelmed by responsibility, it may be difficult to find the time or give themselves permission to take a break from a busy schedule and just sit and relax. Engaging in hobbies can provide a break with a purpose, which can help people feel that they’re not just sitting around but are using their downtime for something productive.
No matter what the cause, stress floods your body with hormones. Your heart pounds, your breathing speeds up, and your muscles tense.
Techniques we presented are only a few methods that help to stop our body’s natural defence mechanism. It’s always a good idea to explore more ways to beat stress and since everyone is different, to do some experimenting to discover which technique works best for us.