Stress is often seen as a negative effect on the body, but it is very essential to life. It is the “fight or flight” system that is naturally part of our survival system. Stress is bad when it overwhelmingly impacts our health equilibrium. Everyone deals with stress, in one way or another. It is associated with higher levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Accumulated unmanaged stress can lead to major physical and psychological illness, including depression, overeating, excessive sleep, and irritability. While it is impossible to avoid stress completely, it is possible to manage your stress. Here are a few ways:
1. Get a Massage. Massage has been shown to be effective in reducing mental and physical stress. In one study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, massage helped lessen stress and pain in patients who have chronic pain. Another study in the Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing suggested that 15 minute massages helped reduce the psychological stress of their test subjects. Massage lowers the level of cortisol and increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine.
2. Go for a walk. Going for a walk can clear your mind and keep your body healthy. Walking helps increase your endorphins which can give you a euphoric feeling and it reduces the levels of cortisol. It will give you a boost of energy while reducing your fatigue. On top of that, simply being outside also helps reduce stress and helps increase memory and attention span.
3. Stress relief with a pet. Studies have shown that pet therapy helps reduce anxiety and stress for many people. One study showed that it helped students during exam times. Another study showed that patients experienced a 37% deduction in anxiety if they spend time with animals before their medical operations. Having an animal around distracts them from their worries. Stress relief pets lowers blood pressure and cortisol. While dogs and cats are usually the choice of pet for stress relief, other animals can also help. Watching fishes in an aquarium has also been shown to reduce your blood pressure.
4. Drink tea. Green tea lowers your blood pressure and is full of antioxidants that is beneficial for your health. In one study, black tea helped lower cortisol and reduced stress after six weeks of drinking tea more so than subjects who were drinking placebo drinks.
5. Get proper sleep. A study in children showed that disruptive sleep shows a higher level of cortisol. By having a restful and high quality sleep and undisruptive naps, one’s cortisol levels will decrease. Another study tested on healthy young men has shown that taking proper naps throughout the day will lower one’s cortisol levels.
6. Work out. Hit the gym or go for a run. This allows your body and mind to focus on something that is healthy for your well-being. While it distracts you from the cause of your stress, it also increases your endorphins and decreases your levels of cortisol. Endorphins is the natural “feel good” hormone that is released when you exercise. The more aerobic your workout is, the more endorphins your body release.
7. Breathing exercises. By taking deep, slow breaths, your blood pressure and heart rate also slows down, which counteracts the effects of stress. This also allows you to relax and clear your mind and is largely used in meditation. It has been shown to reduce anxiety and help folks with depression.
8. Use guided visualizations. This is a technique that many people use to relax, control their stress, and help them achieve their goals. One study shows that subjects reported less perceived and dyadic stress after using this stress managing tool. Guided visualization allows people to imagine and consciously think about certain issues and helps people get in touch with their intuition. This usually leads to feeling refreshed and has helped many attain a higher self-esteem.
9. Aromatherapy. Certain plant oils have been found to relieve nervous tension or anxiety. The scents of certain plants, such as lavender, can ease our stress and relax us. These scents can create a mood for us and some may even bring us memories or thoughts associated with the smell. Aromatherapy is often used with massages, meditations, and hot baths. It is a wonderful calming experience for those who have tried it.
10. Turn your phone off. Your smartphone allows you to access the rest of the world. This will allow stress to come to you if you see certain things happening in your close circle online or in the world. According to one study, work-related emails through smartphone causes higher stress in people. By turning off your phone, you shut the external stress out and it allows you to focus on yourself and your immediate surroundings. Escaping technology can be a very relaxing experience that everyone should try, whether its during the weekend or during vacation.
11. Meditate. Meditation has been used for thousands of years to help find your inner self and has sometimes been used as part of religious purposes. It is an inexpensive technique used to release your stress and allows you to clear your mind. Pairing it up with breathing exercises can further lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Meditation can help you find tranquility and clarity in your thoughts.
12. Enjoy a hot bath. A hot bath can help relieve the tension on your muscles, lessen the pain on your body, and it provides a comfortable environment that surrounds your body. It also promotes blood circulation and calms the nervous system. Water can be infused with minerals and other products such as Dead Sea salt or oil for an aroma and soothing feeling.
13. Yoga. Yoga is an excellent weight and stress management tool. It helps your balance, flexibility, and strengthens your core. Studies have shown that yoga is promising in reducing anxiety and stress in people who practice yoga. While yoga should not completely replace pharmacological medication to help with anxiety and stress, it is highly recommended to supplement pharmacological medicine with yoga. Yoga originated in India and has been around for more than 5,000 years. It also helps with bronchitis, chronic pain, and some symptoms of menopause.
14. Listen to music. Certain music gets people in certain moods or thoughts. A study has shown that patients in post surgery who listened to music had lower stress levels than those who did not listen to music. Another study also shows that people from different cultural backgrounds prefered different types of music for pain and stress relief. While everyone’s preference is different, find music that is soothing for you.
15. Laugh. Going to a comedy show or watching a funny movie will help manage your stress. One study showed that there are lower levels of the salivary endocrine stress marker chromogranin A (CgA) in those who watched a humorous movie. Along with less stress, these subjects also reported a feeling of being uplifted and fulfilled.
16. Try a craft. Finding a hobby and keep your hands busy will distract your mind from stressors. Studies have shown that doing a craft enhances relaxation, especially for children and seniors. It is used quite often as a therapeutic healing method. Craft is helpful because it allows you to express yourself in an artistic way.
17. Write down your thoughts. Keeping a journal or diary of your thoughts and activities allows you to express yourself and your feelings. It is thought to help you understand your feeling, organize your thoughts, and reflect on your choices. Your journal is also a place for you to let your emotions out that you wouldn’t let out otherwise. One of the best part of journaling is that you can write down your negative emotions so that you move on with the positive emotions.
18. Avoid Caffeine. Try to avoid coffee, energy drinks, and other drinks that are heavy in caffeine. Caffeine increases catecholamines and cortisol, which are both stress hormones, while increasing dopamine for a quick “feel good” response that will wear off quickly and make you feel low. Drink green tea instead.
Takeaway Point: Stress is needed for survival, but it is important to control your stress. If left unmanaged, it can build up and cause psychological and physical harm. Stress works differently for everyone; therefore, how one manages their stress may not necessarily work as well for another. It is good to explore different paths to handle your stress.
- Header Image: Alessandro Valli (Flickr)
- Co-author: Shoua Kue
- Pet Therapy: Dogs De-Stress Students – Journal of Christian Nursing
- Stress Analysis – 5 Steps to Counteract Stress: Is Stress Affecting Your Life? by Anjali Arora
- Green Tea Catechins against Oxidative Stress of Renal Disease – Protective Effects of Tea on Human Health by Narender Kumar Jain
- A Pilot Study Evaluating Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Massage for the Management of Chronic Pain – Journal of General Internal Medicine
- The effectiveness of a 15 minute weekly massage in reducing physical and psychological stress in nurses – The Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing
- Cortisol Decreases and Serotonin and Dopamine Increase Following Massage Therapy – International Journal of Neuroscience
- 5 Ways Walking Helps To Relieve Stress – Huffington Post, Healthy Living
- Health Benefits of Aquarium Fish – About.com
- The effects of tea on psychophysiological stress responsivity and post-stress recovery: a randomised double-blind trial – Journal of Psychopharmacology
- Guided visualization interventions on perceived stress, dyadic satisfaction and psychological symptoms in highly stressed couples – Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice
- Benefits of napping and an extended duration of recovery sleep on alertness and immune cells after acute sleep restriction – Brain, Behavior, and Immunity
- Work-Related Smartphone Use Tied To High Stress Levels, Study Finds – Huffington Post
- The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress – Alternative Medicine Review
- The effect of music intervention in stress response to cardiac surgery in a randomized clinical trial – Heart & Lung, The Journal of Acute and Critical Care
- Cultural Differences in Music Chosen for Pain Relief – Journal of Holistic Nursing
- Effect of laughter on salivary endocrinological stress marker chromogranin A – Biomedical Research
- Natural Ways To Relax: How Crafting Can Reduce Stress And Put Your Mind At Ease – Huffington Post