Ever feel overwhelmed? Like everyone’s problems are weighing on your shoulders? Although some stress is an inevitable part of life, stress due to endless demands on your time and a constant completing of “productive” tasks is a sure-fire way to get burnt out.
Overwork and overstress are common ailments in working people and are among the most serious health issues of the 21st century. Stress is associated with a variety of serious ailments, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and a lowered immune response. Stress produces cortisol, a stress hormone that can lead to weight gain, artery damage, and infertility in both men and women.
One of the most immediate results of overstress is burnout. Burnout is when you’ve been so overworked and overstressed that you start exhibiting physical symptoms, such as exhaustion, fatigue, and gastrointestinal disorders. It’s estimated that between 7% to 45% of the U.S. population experiences burnout at any given time.
But when you incorporate stress management activities into your life, you protect yourself from overstress and all its negative consequences. In this post, we’ll be going through the five most effective stress management activities which will help keep your stress at a healthy, happy level.
1. Identify Stress
It’s important to deal with the root causes of stress. Take some time to address and remove the sources of stress in your life. Take out a piece of paper and sit down in a comfortable spot where you can have a few moments for yourself. Reflect on your current circumstances and try to understand the main sources of emotional discomfort. Is it your job? Family? Health?
Write down the big sources of stress, and then go back to them and try to get more specific. What about your job is stressful? Is it the commute to work? Your relationship with your boss? A coworker you can’t seem to get along with? Struggles with time management?
Now, try to find solutions to these issues. Perhaps you and your boss have a communication gap that can be resolved through more careful and deliberate communication. If things are really bad, perhaps you can ask to be move to another department. The trouble may well be worth improvements in your mental health.
Sometimes, you can reduce stress levels and improve well-being by making even larger changes in your life. Maybe it’s time to switch careers into a line of work that you find less stressful.
Only a period of honest reflection can tell you what line of action to take. And this exercise in and of itself will help you relax. Just taking a moment to identify the stress culprits in your life can be hugely calming.
2. Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises are a great way to instantly pull yourself out of stress and into a more relaxed and centered place. Controlled, deep breathing helps slow down the stress response, produces calming effects, and increases focus. Breathing exercises are key parts in a variety of stress relief exercises, including yoga and meditation. There are many breathing exercises to choose from, all of which only take a few minutes of your day to complete. Here are a few of our favorites:
In diaphragmatic breathing, you focus on breathing from your belly instead of your chest.
Place a hand on your chest and a hand on your belly. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. As you breathe, make sure that your belly expands before your chest.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps bring more oxygen into your body and helps you re-focus on how you are breathing, rather than it being an unconscious act. Check out our blog post on diaphragmatic breathing here.
This is a powerful breathing exercise that can lead to some serious relaxation very quickly. Practitioners claim that it works so well that it can cause you to fall asleep in under five minutes.
To do a 4-7-8 breath, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose while counting to four. Hold that breath for seven counts before releasing. Then, exhale through your mouth (holding your tongue in the same position) while counting to eight. To learn more, check out our blog post on the 4-7-8 breathing technique here.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
When we are in a stressful situation, we tend to start breathing through our mouth. Learning to control breathing by consciously switching to our nostrils can lead to stress relief.
To do alternate nostril breathing, first, place your right ring finger over your left nostril and take a deep breath from the right nostril. Then, place your right thumb over your right nostril. Release your left nostril and exhale that breath. Inhale deeply through your left nostril. Alternate between the two nostrils, feeling the force of the air as you expel it out of your nose.
For more breathing exercises, check out our post about the best breathing exercises for stress relief.
Exercise is an effective stress management tactic and a key element of a healthy lifestyle. It is a good-for-everything medicine: It helps you maintain a healthy weight, keeps your heart healthy, protects your nervous system from decay, and reduces stress.
Exercise helps reduce stress primarily through regulating and combating stress hormones. During exercise, your body reduces the production of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Instead, your body starts producing higher levels of endorphins, which function as the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins can lead to “runner’s high,” which are feelings of relaxation and optimism that wash over you after a hard workout.
You don’t have to be a triathlete to get the benefits of exercise. The standard recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, which is best done in 30-minute workouts five days a week.
You don’t need to be sprinting or pushing yourself to the edge, either. You just need to do something that elevates your heart rate to 65 percent its maximum, which you can calculate by subtracting your age from 220. You should see breath becoming a bit faster and breaking a sweat, but not panting and drenched.
From weight loss to stress reduction, exercise is a key ingredient in the pursuit of any healthy goal. Check out our article on how to use exercise to reduce anxiety for more details.
Stress starts in the mind. Much of what makes us anxious has to do with our perceptions of situations, not the situation in and of itself.
For example, a disagreement with a friend can cause you to stress out. But when you reflect on it, it’s rare that a single disagreement will destroy a relationship. Many worries end up not materializing and remain forever in the realm of the imagination. Meditation can help you place your worries in the correct perspective and disassociate from stressful thoughts.
Just as with breathing exercises, there are many meditation techniques available. Here are a few of our favorites:
We love guided meditation because it’s a no-hassle way for beginners to start experiencing the health benefits of meditation without struggling to learn it. Guided meditation is a recording that takes listeners through a meditation session, usually through giving directives on breathing exercises and visualization.
There are paid guided meditation apps, such as Headspace, which are great teaching and accountability tools for new meditators. But there are many high-quality, free guided meditation tracks available. Check out our post on free guided meditation tracks from famous meditation coach Deepak Chopra.
Body Scan Meditation
This is a meditation that helps calm your mind by bringing its awareness to individual parts of your body. You carefully consider every part of your body, observing its sensations. Keeping your eyes closed, you start observing your feet and you’ll progress up through the rest of your body, ending at your head and face. To learn more about this meditation and how to do it, check out our post on body scan meditation.
Transcendental meditation is about using the mind’s natural silencing process to reduce stress and rejuvenate the mind. While meditating, you will employ one of a variety of Sanskrit mantras, which is a short word or phrase that is repeated in the mind. Check out our post comparing transcendental meditation and mindfulness to learn more.
Incorporating meditation into your daily life is an effective way to reduce stress. Some people meditate for hours on end, but all you really need is as little as 10 minutes to experience the stress relief benefits of meditation.
We would be amiss if we didn’t mention the Spire tool. Spire tracks your breathing rate and sends you signals when it detects that your body is falling into a state of stress. As a result, you know when it’s time to take a break and do some breathing exercises or a quick guided meditation. It’s a great way to prevent burnout and the negative health effects of stress by keeping high stress levels at bay. Learn more about what Spire has done for the lives of users and how it can help you.
Alter Your Stress Levels Before They Alter You
Stress constantly creeps into our lives. Instead of reacting to stress and dealing with it only when it becomes a huge problem, commit a few moments a day to one or all of the stress management activities above.
The small effort you put into consistent, daily stress relief is far easier than the huge efforts you’ll have to put into treating high blood pressure or burnout as a result of stress running wild. Pick one of these stress management activities and get started today.