Everyone knows that stress and anxiety can be treated with therapy or medication. But many are put off therapy by the time and expense required.
As for medication, the possible side-effects and long-term health risks deter even more. Yet stress and anxiety needn’t require such drastic measures. Often, a few simple tips are all you need. So next time you feel that familiar pounding heart and sweating skin, try the following :
1) Pay attention to the here and now. When stressed, most people find themselves lost in thought, the mind spiraling away into the future, inventing dreadful scenarios in which you are being tormented. Take a moment to be where you are. Feel the ground beneath your feet, notice the flowers or waving branches, smell the coffee and doughnuts, and listen to the laughter and voices of those nearby.
2) Cuddle a pet. Research has shown repeatedly that stroking and fussing a cat or dog calms the nervous system and slows the heart rate. As someone once said, no greater Zen master exists than your cat. A well-loved pet is a model of relaxed indifference to the cares and worries of modern life.
3) Breathe properly. When stressed, most people breathe in a quick, shallow manner, often through the mouth. Instead, put your shoulders up, back, and down. Now breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose and out, as far as you can, through the mouth. Do this at least six times, preferably out of doors. If you find this works well, doing yoga a few times a week will really help your breathing and reduce stress.
4) Phone a friend. The people you interact with will make a huge difference to your mood. Anxious, stressed people should avoid one another, especially if they are both in a heightened state of fear. Phone a friend you know to be mellow, happy, and content, the sort of person whose mood rarely changes and who takes nothing seriously.
5) Do something creative, but simple. Find a creative outlet that does not demand great intensity and has no purpose or goal beyond itself. It may sound childish, but try a coloring book. Knitting is also worth trying. You should find yourself switching to autopilot as you perform such activities.
6) Play games. Again, this may seem childish, but play is a serious matter. As people age, they play less. And yet silly, meaningless games will calm the mind and link you back to your young, carefree self. Even bouncing a ball could help.
7) Write down everything that is worrying you. Don’t worry about spelling and punctuation — just let rip. Write down everything that is bothering you, no matter how trivial, in a five-minute burst. Once you have written it down, read it through and then either burn it or fold it up, and place it beneath your bed. Think of this as a symbolic act. The point is to get the problems out of your head.
8) Distinguish what can be helped from what cannot. It may also be worth compiling a list of the things that most worry you. Then take a second sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle. In the left hand column, write down all the things you can alter, and in the right, the things you cannot. Make a pledge to change what you can and to let go what you cannot.
9) Be careful what you eat. When gripped by stress and anxiety, do not reach for a sugary snack. Fizzy drinks, chocolate, and candy will give you a sugar rush, followed by a so-called sugar crash. This is bad for your mood, often making people tetchy and irritable. Instead, try foods rich in tryptophan, like turkey and cottage cheese. The ideal snack when suffering a bout of anxiety is in fact the humble banana.
10) Go into a mindful state. Thoughts fuel anxiety. But thoughts are not facts. Mindfulness teaches you to observe your thoughts instead of allowing them to sweep you away. Your consciousness is like the sky, clear and empty, while your thoughts are like the clouds that pass across that sky, sometimes light and fluffy, sometimes heavy and dense.
No simple answer exists to the modern stress epidemic, and of course, no solution is final. But try the above and you may be surprised by the results.
10 Relaxation Techniques That Zap Stress Fast
A few minutes of practice per day can help ease anxiety. “Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress,” says psychologist Robbie Maller Hartman, PhD, a Chicago health and wellness coach.
It’s simple. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Focus your attention on reciting — out loud or silently — a positive mantra such as “I feel at peace” or “I love myself.” Place one hand on your belly to sync the mantra with your breaths. Let any distracting thoughts float by like clouds.
2. Breathe Deeply
Take a 5-minute break and focus on your breathing. Sit up straight,eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and work its way to the top of your head. Reverse the process as you exhale through your mouth.
“Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure,” psychologist Judith Tutin, PhD, says. She’s a certified life coach in Rome, GA.
3. Be Present
“Take 5 minutes and focus on only one behavior with awareness,” Tutin says. Notice how the air feels on your face when you’re walking and how your feet feel hitting the ground. Enjoy the texture and taste of each bite of food.
When you spend time in the moment and focus on your senses, you should feel less tense.
4. Reach Out
Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress. Talk to others — preferably face to face, or at least on the phone. Share what’s going on. You can get a fresh perspective while keeping your connection strong.
5. Tune In to Your Body
Mentally scan your body to get a sense of how stress affects it each day. Lie on your back, or sit with your feet on the floor. Start at your toes and work your way up to your scalp, noticing how your body feels.
“Simply be aware of places you feel tight or loose without trying to change anything,” Tutin says. For 1 to 2 minutes, imagine each deep breath flowing to that body part. Repeat this process as you move your focus up your body, paying close attention to sensations you feel in each body part.
Place a warm heat wrap around your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and relax your face, neck, upper chest, and back muscles. Remove the wrap, and use a tennis ball or foam roller to massage away tension.
“Place the ball between your back and the wall. Lean into the ball, and hold gentle pressure for up to 15 seconds. Then move the ball to another spot, and apply pressure,” says Cathy Benninger, a nurse practitioner and assistant professor at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
7. Laugh Out Loud
A good belly laugh doesn’t just lighten the load mentally. It lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, and boosts brain chemicals called endorphins, which help your mood. Lighten up by tuning in to your favorite sitcom or video, reading the comics, or chatting with someone who makes you smile.
8. Crank Up the Tunes
Research shows that listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. “Create a playlist of songs or nature sounds (the ocean, a bubbling brook, birds chirping), and allow your mind to focus on the different melodies, instruments, or singers in the piece,” Benninger says. You also can blow off steam by rocking out to more upbeat tunes — or singing at the top of your lungs!
9. Get Moving
You don’t have to run in order to get a runner’s high. All forms of exercise, including yoga and walking, can ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals and by giving your body a chance to practice dealing with stress. You can go for a quick walk around the block, take the stairs up and down a few flights, or do some stretching exercises like head rolls and shoulder shrugs.
10. Be Grateful
Keep a gratitude journal or several (one by your bed, one in your purse, and one at work) to help you remember all the things that are good in your life.
“Being grateful for your blessings cancels out negative thoughts and worries,” says Joni Emmerling, a wellness coach in Greenville, NC.
Use these journals to savor good experiences like a child’s smile, a sunshine-filled day, and good health. Don’t forget to celebrate accomplishments like mastering a new task at work or a new hobby. When you start feeling stressed, spend a few minutes looking through your notes to remind yourself what really matters.
8 Immediate Stress Busters
- Watch for the next instance in which you find yourself becoming annoyed or angry at something trivial or unimportant. Then practice letting go, making a conscious choice not to become angry or upset. Do not allow yourself to waste thought and energy where it isn’t deserved. Effective anger management is a tried-and-true stress reducer.
- Breathe slowly and deeply. Before reacting to the next stressful occurrence, take three deep breaths and release them slowly. If you have a few minutes, try out a relaxation technique such as meditation or guided imagery.
- Whenever you feel overwhelmed by stress, practice speaking more slowly than usual. You’ll find that you think more clearly and react more reasonably to stressful situations. Stressed people tend to speak fast and breathlessly; by slowing down your speech you’ll also appear less anxious and more in control of any situation.
- Jump-start an effective time management strategy. Choose one simple thing you have been putting off (e.g., returning a phone call, making a doctor’s appointment), and do it immediately. Just taking care of one nagging responsibility can be energizing and can improve your attitude.
- Get outdoors for a brief break. Our grandparents were right about the healing power of fresh air. Don’t be deterred by foul weather or a full schedule. Even five minutes on a balcony or terrace can be rejuvenating.
- Drink plenty of water and eat small, nutritious snacks. Hunger and dehydration, even before you’re aware of them, can provoke aggressiveness and exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Do a quick posture check. Hold your head and shoulders upright and avoid stooping or slumping. Bad posture can lead to muscle tension, pain, and increased stress. If you’re stuck at a desk most of the day, avoid repetitive strain injuries and sore muscles by making sure your workstation reflects good ergonomic design principles. There is information about ergonomics and healthy workstations to assure your station ismore ergonomically safe.
- Plan something rewarding for the end of your stressful day, even if only a relaxing bath or half an hour with a good book. Put aside work, housekeeping or family concerns for a brief period before bedtime and allow yourself to fully relax. Don’t spend this time planning tomorrow’s schedule or doing chores you didn’t get around to during the day. Remember that you need time to recharge and energize yourself. You’ll be much better prepared to face another stressful day.
13 Things That Happen To You When You Practice Deep Breathing
1. Less Stress
We’re often told to take a deep breath when stressed or anxious for a reason – it really works to calm the mind!
Stress or fear triggers our sympathetic nervous system to kick into action, causing us to secrete the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline – this is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response.
By breathing deeply, taking in plenty of oxygen, we can call on the parasympathetic nervous system to switch off these hormones, thus reducing stress and increasing calm.
Focusing on our breathing also helps to keep us in the present moment, allowing us to switch off from the thoughts and fears which are causing our stress.
One of the greatest benefits of deep breathing is its ability to aid detoxification of the body. When we take shallow breaths we’re not ridding the body of as much carbon dioxide – the waste product of gas exchange – as we can.
If we don’t efficiently remove carbon dioxide through breathing, other organs must take over the task, causing additional stress and increasing our risk of illness.
The lymphatic system is also responsible for removing toxins and waste products, this time from our cells. As the lymphatic system doesn’t have its own built-in pump like the heart does, it relies on both breathing and movement to do its job.
3. An Alkaline State
The pH level of the body plays a huge role in keeping disease and illness at bay. Because of poor diets, toxic environments, and sedentary lifestyles, the acid-base balance (which determines pH) isn’t optimal in many people.
Aside from eating an alkaline-forming diet, regular practice of deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to alkalize your body. Not only is the waste product carbon dioxide (which is excreted during exhalation) acidic; but stress is known to disrupt the natural alkaline state of the body.
4. Lung Benefits
Just like lifting weights can benefit the muscles, regularly working out the lungs can bring great relief to many respiratory problems like asthma, and bronchitis.
In fact, the American Lung Association lists breathing exercises as being extremely useful when it comes to combating conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive condition that makes it hard to breathe.
In those with reduced lung function, stale air builds up in the lungs, leaving less room for the diaphragm to contract and take in new oxygen. When the diaphragm cannot work to full capacity, muscles in the neck, back and chest must pick up the slack. Breathing exercises can help remove old stale air from the lungs and improve diaphragmatic function.
5. Improved Posture
Poor posture can be linked to shallow or incorrect breathing, particularly as neck, back and chest muscles play a role in facilitating breathing in those with an under-functioning diaphragm.
As you practice breathing deeply, you may find you sit and stand taller and straighter. Better breathing leads to better movement as muscular tension is reduced, and the weight on joints is more evenly distributed.
6. Natural Pain Relief
There’s a reason expectant mothers are told to practice modified paced breathing in the weeks leading up to their due date – it’s the body’s natural pain management system!
Deep breathing releases endorphin’s which boost our mood and naturally kill pain. Taking in more oxygen also promotes better blood flow and energy release, which gives us the boost we need to manage pain and physical exertion.
In a 2010 study comparing the effects of breathing on pain management in both healthy women and those with fibromyalgia (a condition that causes chronic pain), it was found that both groups of women rated the pain of hot probes as less intense when they breathed deeply than when they breathed normally.
7. Increased Cognitive Function
When controlled breathing is used in meditation, it can actually increase brain size!
Research has shown that the brain experiences growth in the areas associated with attention and the processing of sensory input. This type of breathing may have greater impact on the brains of older adults, which can offset some of the natural decline in gray matter that this age group experience.
However, as with many of the benefits of deep breathing listed here, consistency over time is key.
8. Happiness & Mental Clarity
Deep breathing is a form of meditation, which is known to promote mental clarity and greater happiness.
By focusing on the rhythms of the breath, and the rise and fall of the chest, your mind can truly switch off from the outside world and focus inward.
This type of breathing also switches on the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the excitatory and stress-inducing neurotransmitters, leading to relaxation and a quiet mind.
9. Boost Energy & Balance Blood Sugar
Sometimes, all it takes to invigorate and motivate is a few deep breaths, which is why this type of breathing exercise can be so useful for those suffering from fatigue and exhaustion.
Controlled breathing improves the oxygen flow in the blood, giving you more energy and keeping you alert.
It may also help stabilize energy levels by controlling blood sugar. In a recent study, those who practiced diaphragmatic breathing for 40 minutes after eating a high-calorie meal prevented the feeling of fatigue that usually follows such eating behavior.
10. Better Digestion
When stressed and in ‘fight or flight mode’, the body focuses its energy on what it considers vital actions, while shutting down all other ‘unnecessary’ systems – including the digestive system. This is why stress can trigger symptoms of indigestion, bloating, constipation, and other signs of gastrointestinal distress.
By breathing deeply before eating, those who are stressed or who experience any signs of digestive discomfort can activate the parasympathetic system, putting the body into a relaxed state where it can digest food efficiently.
11. A Healthier Heart & Circulatory System
Taking in more oxygen means the heart and other vital organs can function more efficiently. In fact, deep breathing can bring many of the same benefits of aerobic exercise because they both work to deliver an increased oxygen supply.
With an increase in oxygen comes improved circulation and the benefits that can bring.
Research suggests that consistent controlled breathing helps to lower blood pressure and heart rate, which leads to less wear and tear on blood vessels.
12. Weight Loss
According to an Australian study published in the BMJ in 2014, when weight is lost, the majority of it is breathed out as carbon dioxide! This may explain why exercise is so efficient at aiding weight loss, although deep breathing may have a similar effect.
Dr. Robert Girandola, professor of Exercise Science at the University of Southern California, also believes that deep breathing can help people lose excess weight. In a recent study, Girandola found women burned 140% more calories with this technique than if they were on an exercise bike!
Although we still require regular workouts for a healthy body, deep breathing may be a useful adjunct to exercise and a healthy diet for weight loss.
Of course, stress, poor digestion, sluggish detoxification systems, and fluctuating blood sugar levels are all known to hinder weight loss, so deep breathing may work on several levels to help shed those extra pounds.
13. Better Sleep
Those who have trouble falling asleep may want to focus on their breathing at bedtime. By being in the here-and-now, letting go of the worries of yesterday or tomorrow, you can experience a sense of relaxation and calm which may help you drift off.
13 All-Natural Ways To Fall Asleep Faster
1. Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or CBT-I is considered the gold standard for insomnia treatment, the method with the most scientific evidence to support it, says Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., M.P.H, a sleep researcher and neurology instructor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Typically, CBT-I involves meeting regularly with a therapist for various sleep assessments, according to the National Sleep Foundation, and you may be asked to keep a sleep journal and change a number of your sleep habits.
2. Get Out Of Bed
One of the biggest problems people say they have falling asleep at night is that they just can’t stop their minds from racing, says Grandner. Without proper time to wind down before hopping into bed, our brains are likely to say, “Well, here’s what’s on my plate!” as soon as you’re under the covers, essentially training us to associate bedtime with fretting, he says. “It’s a little counter-intuitive,” he adds, “but get out of bed if you’re not asleep after 20, 30, 40 minutes.” Technically a CBT-I theory, this practice of “stimulus control” can be used by anyone, anywhere, and helps you re-associate the bed with sleep, he says. Do something else for 30 or 60 minutes out of bed until you’re really feeling tired, he says. Just make sure it’s not something too stimulating or involving bright light.
3. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
First developed in 1915, this technique will never get old. “Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation exercise in which you systematically tense and then relax all the muscle groups of your body,” clinical director of UPenn Medicine’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program Phil Gehrman, Ph.D., told Everyday Health. “It helps promote overall physical relaxation, which has a number of benefits on its own.” It was shown to reduce fatigue and improve sleep quality in a study of women undergoing breast cancer treatment. Give it a try with this simple progressive muscle relaxation practice.
4. Take A Warm Bath
You can skip the candles and rose petals, but a soothing soak really can help you get to sleep. That’s because relaxing in the tub will raise your body temperature slightly, and when you get out, the rapid cooldown will mimic the natural temperature drop the brain triggers as it prepares for sleep. A small 1985 study found that people who take a warm bath before bed not only fall asleep more quickly, but also report better quality of sleep.
If you’d rather quiet your mind but leave your muscles out of it, a simple mindfulness meditation may also do the trick. A 2009 study found that meditation can help fight insomnia. The researchers found that meditators slept longer and better thanks to the deep relaxation powers of the practice. Try this 10-step meditation for better sleep tonight. If that’s not quite your style, even just some deep breathing can help clear your mind and better prepare you for sleep.
6. Break A Sweat
Regular exercisers may not realize it, but they’re onto something. The physically active report getting better sleep than people who don’t work out, according to the 2013 National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep In America poll. It seems that the particular timing or form of exercise isn’t as important as whether or not you simply move, says Grandner: “The evidence is out there that people who are even gettingmild exercise are sleeping better than those who aren’t.” If that doesn’t convince you to exercise even just a little, we don’t know what will.
7. Do Yoga
As a form of mind-quieting physical activity, yoga may just be the best of two worlds. And while there aren’t exactly scientific studies showing a regular yoga practice can help you get more or better sleep, we do know that yoga does wonders for relaxation. “If your sleep problem is that you’re unable to relax, [yoga] could be a way to intervene,” says Grandner.
8. Sniff Aromatherapy
Whether it’s an essential oil, a bath scrub, a sachet in an eye mask or even a pillow or mattress, lavender is the scent you’re searching for if you want more and better sleep. In a small 2005 study, a whiff of lavender before bed resulted in more deep sleep. And a 2008 study found that smelling lavender helped a small group of women with insomnia fall asleep more easily, the Wall Street Journal reported.
9. Set Your Bedroom Up For Success
For people with insomnia, “the bedroom just becomes unpleasant, a war zone,” says Baron. That’s why she recommends making a few simple changes to make it as comfortable a setting as possible. Maybe it’s as simple as buying a new set of comfy sheets, she says. Other bedrooms may be too light. Even the faintest bit — whether it’s from behind the drapes or beaming from the alarm clock — can keep you up. The bedroom should also be quiet; consider investing in a white noise machine or app if it’s not. Set the thermostat for a just-right temp somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees. And please, please, please leave the cell phones in another room — or at least put them on Do Not Disturb.
10. Consider A Supplement
The good news is that most sleep supplements probably won’t do harm. The bad news is that they’re not very well researched, says Baron, and they’re not regulated by the FDA.
“We hear the most about melatonin,” she says, “but it’s most useful for disorders that affect the body’s clock.” A small dose can help shift your circadian rhythm if you’re recovering from jet lag, for instance, she says.
It’s also frequently used wrong, says Grandner. Melatonin doesn’t induce sleepiness the way most of us imagine, he says. Instead of right before bed, it’s most helpful if it’s taken a few hours before bedtime, as the body is just beginning to “ramp up its natural production” of the sleep hormone, he says.
Another supplement option is valerian, made from the root of the herb. Only small studies have been conducted with inconclusive results, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health. Baron says some people may find it to have a relaxation effect, meaning it could help with more mild sleep problems but probably won’t cut it for insomnia, says Grandner.
L-theanine is an amino acid found naturally in green tea that seems to promote deep sleep. Since drinking enough tea to really reap the benefits would have you running to the bathroom all night long, some people opt for a pure L-theanine supplement.
11. Switch To Herbal Tea
Caffeine’s a no-no, but caffeine-free herbal tea may actually help you sleep. Many “Sleepy Time” teas are made from the same compounds used in supplements that promote sleep, like valerian or chamomile. Plus, there’s something inherentlycalming about a warm sip before bed, even if it’s just the ritual of taking the time to do so.
12. Cut Caffeine Earlier
Caffeine has a half-life of five hours, says Baron, meaning five hours after your last cup of coffee, half of its caffeine content is still in your system. Depending on how much you drink — and how strong it is — you could find yourself counting sheep when you’d rather be sawing logs. To avoid problems at bedtime, Baron recommends cutting yourself off after lunch.
13. Quit Smoking
Like caffeine, nicotine is also a stimulant, and may lead to sleep disturbances during the night. In 2008, Johns Hopkins researchers found that smokers were four times as likely to say they woke up feeling tired in the mornings than nonsmokers.