On any given day, we are faced with getting somewhere on time, relying on someone else to get something done for us, or losing our patience in line at the grocery store while our three-year-old is screaming in the background. This manufactured stress of our first-world reality is quite different from the stress of our ancestors trying not to be eaten by the dinner they are hunting. However, our primal response to stress remains relatively the same, and it affects our entire body nonetheless. Chronic perceived stress activates our fight-or-flight nervous system. When this occurs, we get a natural hit of our stress hormone, cortisol. When cortisol is being continually released into the body, it causes a disruption in our natural sleep/wake cycles. This leads to all sorts of trouble, including: decreased sleep quality and quantity, compromised REM sleep, impaired memory, difficulty managing emotions and mood, and ultimately, it leads to more stress. Having an awareness of our emotions and taking time out to relieve stress are important components in managing our health and alleviating some of the issues that result, such as sleeplessness. The following strategies can really help to calm the nerves the natural way without turning to drugs or alcohol.
Being anxious and stressed out actually tightens the muscles that help us breathe. Taking a moment to focus and consciously breathe slowly can automatically reduce your heart rate and reduce stress.
GET UP AND GET MOVING
Any type of movement is good for stress reduction. Whether you choose to stretch at your desk or go on a three-mile trail run, exercise has stress-reducing benefits. Exercise releases endorphins, or the “feel-good” hormone, and reduces cortisol. Additionally, moving has mind-clearing benefits by shifting your thoughts away from what is bothering you and promoting a more relaxed outlook. Exercise improves mood, boosts your immune system, and helps you to sleep better, which all aids in combating stress.
Getting fresh air and standing in the sunshine can really help change a mood. Studies show that being in nature reduces stress and uplifts mood. The smell of fresh air, trees, flowers, fresh cut grass induces relaxation, and can help you feel calmer and happier in no time.
TALK IT OUT
Stress can really take its toll and holding it in or ignoring the issue only makes it worse. Although working with a professional therapist is ideal, talking things through with a friend is also beneficial.
Writing helps to organize thoughts and aids in problem-solving. It also helps with dealing with stressors you may not be ready to share with others. Mapping out your emotions without censoring words or feelings, a time constraint, spelling or grammar concerns, rules, boundaries , or limitations can really help release stored anger and resentment. When you take the time to write out your emotions, you may feel good enough to communicate your issue from a place of clarity or let it go completely.
Take a moment and close your eyes. Visualize a place you love, a fond memory, a time when you felt calm. Breathe and relax in that space. Allow yourself to let go of everything for a few moments and recall a feeling of happiness, joy, and peace. Meditation is free, easy, and can be done anywhere. The emotional benefits include increasing patience, reducing stress, creating awareness of your immediate environment as well as what may be causing you distress, and creating a renewed perspective on how to manage stress triggers.
Having an animal friend is truly beneficial for our emotional well being. Studies show that having a pet, whether it be a dog, cat, fish or hamster, combats loneliness and reduces stress. Time with your pet can lower blood pressure, ease social anxiety, and increase self-esteem.
As they say, laughter is the best medicine. The act of laughing actually has both short and long term benefits. In the short term, laughter can release tension and relieve our stress response. In the long term, laughter boosts our immune system, improves overall mood, and increases happiness. Find a favorite funny movie, see a comedy show, or read some epic texting autocorrect fails. They are all sure to leave you feeling more relaxed and carefree. Just be sure not to do it too close to bedtime!