Todays lifestyle is full of lots of things that can stress us out, from the buzzing of a mobile phone to the pressures from an unrelenting job. To keep us mentally healthy we need ways to de-stress, here are our top ten tips to de-stress.
1. Avoid Stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
Try and reduce your caffeine, alcohol and nicotine intake. Caffeine and nicotine are all stimulants which increase your level of stress and cause spikes in blood pressure, and while alcohol in large quantities is a depressant it acts as a stimulant in smaller quantities.
Using any of these to relieve stress is ultimately not very helpful.
Tip: Instead try drinking herbal teas such as green teas as they have less than half the caffeine of coffee and contains other antioxidants like theanine that can have a calming effect on the nervous system.
2. Engage in Physical Activity
The benefits of exercise are well documented and while it won’t make your stress go away it can certainly relieve some of the feelings associated. Aerobic exercise such as running, walking and cycling can release endorphins in the brain which are natural substances that improve mood and maintain a positive attitude.
Tip: Try walking for 30 minutes every day, Melina B. Jampolis, MD, author of the new book The Doctor on Demand Diet says, ‘Research shows that regular walking actually modifies your nervous system so much that you'll experience a decrease in anger and hostility.’
3. Read More
Reading has been shown to be more effective at reducing stress than sipping tea or taking a walk. With research showing it reducing stress by 68% directly after reading, with this being especially true when reading fiction.
By engaging your brain in the story your heart rate naturally slows down and your muscles relax. This is because you are focusing your brain activity on what you are reading, it’s a great way to focus your mind and improve concentration. These effects can last long after the reading has stopped as you hold onto that story and narrative.
Tip: Try picking up a good fiction book for 30 minutes before bed. The story and narrative will draw you away from the stresses of the day, relaxing you before a good night’s sleep.
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4. Get More Sleep
Not getting enough sleep can be a big factor in increased stress levels, unfortunately, higher stress levels also cause us to lose sleep. You should aim to de-stress before going to bed, avoid taking part in any mentally straining activity such as carrying on with work late into the night to give your brain time to calm down. Avoiding caffeine in the evening is also a good idea as its effect can last up to 6 hours as well as the reasons state earlier, making sleep even harder.
Tip: Have set times when you go to bed and get up, this allows the body to get into a routine. After a while, it will automatically start telling you when you should be going to bed and start shutting down in preparation.
5. Meditation and other Relaxation Techniques
Explore relaxation techniques to find one that fits you, everyone is different and what works for one may not work for the another. Meditation is one of the most common methods with well-documented benefits.
For example, research using MRI scans showed that after 8 weeks of meditation the brains ‘fight or flight’ center (the amygdala) appeared to shrink. This part of the brain is associated with fear and emotion and is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress.
Tip: Download the Calm App to start meditating. It was awarded Apples App of the year in 2017 and we know plenty who use this with positive effects.
6. Keep a Journal/Stress diary
While most commonly associated with something a teenager would do, the benefits of journaling on stress is huge. It helps you to clarify your thoughts and feelings, thereby gaining valuable self-knowledge. In today's fast-paced, technology-filled world we often don’t get the time to have a bit of self-reflection.
Research has shown it can improve cognitive functioning whilst countering some of the negative effects of stress. More physiological benefits include decreasing the symptoms of asthma and arthritis as well as improving the immune system.
Tip: Journaling isn’t just about writing about your problems and bad experiences (emotional journaling), it can be just as effective to journal what you are grateful for by listing 3 things each day that you are thankful for.
7. Listen to Music
Music is a retreat for many people and this is backed up by research. Playing calm music can lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) having a calming effect on the body.
Like reading, listening to music can focus the mind, it activates parts of your brain that are involved in planning, movement, attention, and memory. In this way, it can draw you away from the days stresses.
Tip: Try listening to classical music, while it may not be your taste at first, recent research has shown this to be more effective at lowering stress than nature sounds.
8. Take Care of What You Eat
When stressed we often reach for ‘comfort food’ such as pizza, ice cream and anything that tastes good, however, this can make us feel tired and lethargic contributing to our stress. With these foods being high in fat they can wreak havoc on our arteries when combined with the increase in blood pressure and raised serum cholesterol levels of stress.
Instead, you should look to have low-fat, high fiber, carbohydrate-rich meals and naturally plenty of fruit and vegetables. Stress can easily reduce our immune system and so more fruit and vegetables can help to fight this off.
Tip: Baked sweet potatoes or rice are a great source of carbohydrates with low-fat content, combined with chicken, fish or other lean meats can make for a great meal that won’t feel you lethargic.
9. Breathe Easy
We have all been told to take a ‘deep breath’ and while this may seem like a cliché it holds truth. Deep breathing oxygenates the blood making you more alert and focused. Shallow breathing, on the other hand, stops the lowest part of your lugs from getting its share of the oxygen which can make you feel short of breath and increase anxiety.
Deep breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, swapping out the carbon dioxide for incoming oxygen. Not surprisingly this can help to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate, making it easier to deal with incoming stressors.
Tip: Utilise smartwatches, fit bits and other devices to control your breathing. These can be automated to remind you to breathe at certain intervals during the day and even guide you through a short time of deep breathing.
Probably the most fun on the list, sex is a sure-fire way to help relieve stress for a few reasons. Sex lowers blood pressure, leading to a lower stress response during a challenging situation. The physical contact during intercourse also limits the release of cortisol (the stress hormone).
One study found from a sample of 46 men and women who recorded their sexual activity, people who had sex recorded the smallest rise in blood pressure during stress tests, showing an ability to cope with the stress better.
Tip: Sex isn’t the only thing; general intimacy can have just a positive impact. Holding hands and hugs have been shown to lower blood pressure.
Trying just one of these you can start to reduce your everyday stress, making it easier to deal with what life throws at you.
If you try any of these please get in touch and let us know how it impact you, we would love to hear from you.