Stress is a big part of day-to-day life for many of us and it can be pretty much impossible to avoid it completely. You may not be able to change some of the contributing factors, but you can change the way that you respond to stress. Here are 5 stress busting practices that you can start incorporating right now to improve your stress resilience.
Breath in the right way
Breathing is essential for life but that doesn’t always mean that we breathe in the right way. Lots of us breathe in a shallow way from the chest, rather than taking deeper breaths from the diaphragm. Doing the latter can manually override our stress levels, and help us feel calmer and less anxious.
Check in with your breathing at regular intervals during the day. Chances are you’ll find that it’s on the shallow side and this is a great opportunity to take five minutes to encourage some deeper breathing. Sit down with a hand on your belly and slowly breathe in through your nose. Ideally, you’ll feel the breath moving from your abdomen and up through your body. For the “out” breath, breathe out slowly. An effective pattern can be to breathe in for a count of five slowly, hold the breath for a count of two, and exhale for a count of five. Don’t worry if you struggle with this in the early days, especially if you’re used to shallow breathing. Over time try to increase the length of the “in” breath – counting to 6 instead of 5, and so on, until you reach the most comfortable pattern for you. Repeat this practice 5 to 10 times. This should only take 3 or so minutes. Doing this practice at least 3 times a day can be very beneficial for lowering our stress levels, and regulating the cortisol response.
Have a good laugh
How often do you have a good laugh? Laughter releases “happiness” hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin, which dials down your stress response and lowers stress hormones. In other words, it’s a great stress buster! It can have positive effects on your physical health too. According to studies, it can boost your immunity, increase your circulation, relieve tense muscles and reduce pain. Need an instant pick-me-up? Watch a funny video or dive into an episode of one of your favorite comedy shows. So, yes, I am giving you permission to watch crazy cat videos! Bonus points if you can surround yourself with positive people who make you laugh or start finding ways to see the lighter side of situations that would otherwise cause you stress and worry.
Schedule some "me" time
When life gets busy, spending time on yourself can be one of the first things to slide down the priority list. Making time for relaxation and rejuvenation is an important self-care tool that can lower stress levels, and stop it from getting on top of you. It’s also a great way to build more resilience.
Even if you can’t manage to fit in “me” time every single day, try setting aside 20 minutes at least a couple of times each week.
A few ideas for how to spend “me” time:
- Spend 5 minutes each morning practicing breathing exercises. This is an effective way of starting the day on a calm and less anxious note.
- Do a gentle workout – even walking is a smart choice for getting more active and clearing your mind. Yoga and Pilates can be great activities for strengthening your mind-body connection and reducing stress.
- Sit down and savor a cup of tea. Herbal teas such as chamomile, lemon balm, and passionflower can be calming but even black tea or green tea work well. These last two contains phytonutrients that reduce your body’s levels of the stress hormone, cortisol
- Get lost in a good book or immerse yourself in an issue of one of your favorite magazines.
Exercise isn’t always at the top of the wish list when stress strikes but it can be a brilliant stress buster. You’ve probably heard of a “runner’s high”. This is because exercise encourages your body to release endorphins that boost your mood. You don’t need to run to get this benefit though – any kind of exercise has a similar effect!
Exercise also gives you the perfect opportunity to focus solely on how your body feels as you move. Think of it as an active form of meditation! In studies, exercise has shown some potential for helping people to cope better with stress and may even be a very useful tool for reducing your risk of anxiety and depression.
Use the power of essential oils
Relaxing scents include lavender, bergamot, ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, clary sage and sandalwood. These can be effective for short term stress. If you need oils that will help you to deal with long term stress or anxiety, try vanilla or vetiver. These scents are known for their anxiety relieving benefits, and are very grounding.
There are plenty of ways to use essential oils. You can use a room diffuser or inhale the scent direct from the bottle, or even place a drop or two on a cotton wool ball and sit it down next to you. Some other options? Add them to the bath for aromatherapy benefits. Or some oil blends come in an easy to apply roller ball application, so you can use them topically on your skin.
In the longer term, consider diet and lifestyle practices to build resilience
In addition to these quick and easy stress busters listed above, it is important to consider the role diet and lifestyle practices play in helping us cope with stress. Eating nutrient dense foods, that provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients can help our bodies produce the various neurotransmitters they need to help us cope with the challenges we experience in our busy world. For more information on diet you might enjoy my post titled “What the heck am I meant to eat?” or another post titled “You are what you digest and assimilate“.
For more information on how to incorporate healthy lifestyle practices, such as getting better sleep, and staying hydrated, see these posts: