To say that dealing with the life challenges, curveballs, and transitions we’re all facing right now can be a little stressful is probably the understatement of the century. On the one hand, a certain amount of day-to-day stress is to be expected; that’s just part of the human experience. But at times when circumstances feel beyond your control, the stress you feel can certainly go beyond what’s “normal” or typical.
When stress becomes persistent and chronic, it can be debilitating, and even downright dangerous to your health. It has the tendency to immobilize people, and over time it can create emotional responses like depression, anger, and fear. Stress can also produce some very real physical symptoms, including headaches, body pains, digestion problems, sleep disruption, and high blood pressure.
It’s important to curb the onset of acute or chronic stress as early as possible. Much stress prevention and relief can be found by offsetting the stress you feel through relaxation practices and techniques. One such powerful relaxation tool is meditation.
Meditation Helps Reduce Stress
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.
Psychologists from the University of Exeter published a study showing that mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can have better success in helping depression than medication or counseling. When you meditate, it helps to increase your emotional well-being, refocus your attention, and reduce negative thoughts. (A practice you can try is this walking meditation from practitioner Jack Kornfield, PhD.)
Meditation also increases your concentration, helping to control your mind from wandering and improving short attention spans. 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.)
Because meditation increases relaxation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ll also sleep better. Ending your day with meditation is a tranquil and meaningful way to take a moment to slow down and let go. During your meditation, you could add some gentle self-reflection, acknowledging and giving gratitude for your day. (Here are some tips from Mind Body Green.)
Gratitude: The Ultimate Disrupter
Speaking of gratitude, giving thanks is another great way to reduce stress. 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 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.
The ultimate disrupter of negative thinking is gratitude. Practicing gratitude has the power to immediately chase away negative thoughts & 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. It can be a small thing like receiving a call from a friend, going for a walk, 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 things like this. By following this practice, you’ll go to bed feeling more peaceful, and you’ll wake up feeling more rested and having more anticipation about 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 practice. 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 considered forests to be mystical, where they 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 with 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.
A Few More Quick Relaxation Tips
- Harvard researchers found repetitive prayer to be an effective relaxation technique. You could also just try praying through the Psalms – David was a master of finding peace and solace in the midst of strife.
- Listen to a favorite song. NIH research demonstrates that listening to music can measurably reduce stress levels.
- 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 of meditation, gratitude, and reconnecting with nature 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!
What other relaxation tips work well for you? Feel free to share in the comments below!