There’s no denying that, no matter who you are, the last few years have been…a lot. To say that dealing with the life challenges, curveballs, and transitions we’re all facing right now can be a little bit stressful is probably the understatement of the century! And, while a certain amount of day-to-day stress is simply a part of the modern human experience, at times like these when circumstances can feel well beyond your control, the stress you feel can go beyond what’s ‘normal’ or typical.
This kind of persistent, chronic stress can be overwhelming, debilitating, and even downright dangerous to your physical and mental health. What’s more chronic stress has the tendency to immobilize people, perpetuating itself, and creating emotional responses like depression, anger, and fear over time. And there’s no denying that stress can also produce some very real physical symptoms. For example: headaches, body pains, digestion issues, sleep disruption, and high blood pressure. These conditions can in turn cause more stress.
With these unhappy consequences in mind, it’s important to curb the onset of acute or chronic stress as early as possible. While we may not be able to solve all the world’s woes or the personal troubles that come our way in life, much stress prevention and relief can be found by offsetting the stress that is felt through relaxation practices and techniques. Read on to find out more about these relaxation techniques, and how they can help you live a happier, healthier life – starting today!
Meditation Helps Reduce Stress
One of the most powerful relaxation tools at our disposal is meditation. This practice can be found in many different cultures and religions. While techniques differ, the general definition of meditation is the practice of focusing one’s mind with the purpose of becoming calm and relaxed. Best of all, meditation is something everyone can do; you simply need the right tools.
Psychiatrist and anxiety expert, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, says that daily practice of meditation not only helps to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, it also trains you to manage stress in a more positive way. Spending a few minutes in meditation restores your calm, balance, and sense of inner peace. Research indicates that these benefits don’t stop when your meditation ends, either. They stay with you throughout the day, which is another great reason to add meditation to your morning ritual.
In one study, psychologists from the University of Exeter showed that mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises could have better success in helping depression than medication or. This may be because, when you meditate, it helps to increase your emotional wellbeing, refocus your attention, and break away from negative thoughts. This helps you to prevent the downward thought spiral that may send someone into a depressed state. One such practice you can try is this walking meditation from practitioner Jack Kornfield, PhD.
Another benefit of meditation is that it increases your concentration, helping to control your mind from wandering and improving your short-term attention span. In fact, sustaining your attention is generally one of the key elements of meditation. By focusing on your breathing, you give your mind space to relax and cultivate clarity. (Try this meditation from Gaiam to test it out.)
Because meditation increases relaxation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ll also sleep better. So ending your day with meditation is a tranquil and meaningful way to take a moment to slow down and let go, and get your mind and body ready for a tranquil sleep state. During your meditation, you could add some gentle self-reflection, acknowledging and giving gratitude for your day, which is a great way to ‘clear the slate’ and hinder the kind of anxious thoughts that can keep us up at night. (Here are some tips from Mind Body Green.)
Gratitude: The Ultimate Disrupter
Speaking of gratitude, did you know that giving thanks is another great way to reduce stress? It’s all about mindset! While some challenges and setbacks are unavoidable (and can actually be great life lessons), how we choose to respond to them is the one place we actually do have control and responsibility. We can choose to escalate the situation with negative thoughts, or we can turn it around with a positive, constructive attitude. Either response produces very different outcomes: one reaction supports us, while the other actually hurts us and helps to compound our stress levels. That’s why the ultimate disrupter of negative thinking is cultivating an ‘attitude of gratitude’. Practicing gratitude has the power to immediately chase away negative thoughts and feelings, and prevent stress from escalating.
To exercise your gratitude muscle, try this practice. Every night before bedtime, make a ritual of writing down three things from your day for which you’re grateful in a kind of gratitude journal. They don’t have to be big things. In fact, it can be small joys like receiving a call from a friend, going for a walk outside, or enjoying a delicious cup of tea. It doesn’t matter the size or importance of each thing, only that it brought a smile to your face and made you feel good. Take the time to acknowledge the positivity you received from moments like this and you’ll find yourself noticing these small pleasures and victories more each day. And, by following this practice before bed, you’ll go to sleep feeling more peaceful, and wake up with more enthusiastic anticipation for the day ahead. Keeping a gratitude journal is a wonderful way to see the good that’s all around you – sometimes we just forget to notice!
Reconnect with Nature
Another excellent way to prevent stress and bring more peace into your life is by spending time in nature. This includes unplugging from technology and taking a break from the demands of modern life, so you can reconnect with the organic beauty and space that only nature can provide.
To reconnect with nature’s soothing powers, try this. Trees have amazing healing powers, and they’ve been shown to be a potent way to boost your mood and immune system. Zen Buddhists in Japan consider forests to be mystical, and they have practiced ‘forest bathing’ or shinrin yoku for thousands of years. Shinrin yoku literally means ‘taking in the forest.’ It’s a simple practice that requires you to devote time to being fully immersed in nature (turn off your phone!) and dedicating yourself to the natural awe and wonder around you. Find a peaceful spot to sit amongst the trees, and with mindful presence, breathe the forest air into your lungs and welcome the benevolent forest atmosphere into your soul. Spending time in nature in this way can really help to calm and relax you.
Listen to Music
A relaxation practice can be as simple as listening to a favorite song. Several studies have demonstrated that listening to music can measurably reduce stress levels in the body. This is because it can increase your body’s production of antibodies that boost the immune system and reduce levels of ‘stress hormone’, cortisol. Of course, some music is better than others at producing a calming effect. Classical music is particularly effective, along with light jazz and easy listening genres. On the other hand, you may want to stay away from the heavy metal right before bed time!
In one article, Harvard researchers recommended repetitive prayer to be an effective relaxation technique. Silently repeat a short prayer or phrase from a prayer while breathing calmly. You could also just try praying through the Psalms – David was a master of finding peace and solace in the midst of strife.
Drink Some Water
Doctors agree that many of us are under-hydrated. Pouring yourself a glass of water can provide a quick, needed break from your busy schedule. Getting the recommended 8 glasses of water each day will also improve your productivity and reduce your chances of developing headaches.
Remember, when it comes to relaxation, it doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Keep it simple, and create a daily practice that seamlessly fits into your life. You’ll feel more nourished and refreshed, and you’ll be able to navigate difficult times with more ease, resilience, and confidence. Be well!