Ever feel like there just aren't enough hours in the day to cross off everything on your to-do list? Whether it's work, school, or family keeping you busy, stress seems pretty much inevitable these days.
In fact, according to the American Psychological Association's report on stress statistics, 77 percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, such as fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, muscle tension, changes in appetite, teeth grinding, and changes in sex drive, while 73 percent claim to experience psychological symptoms like irritability, anger, nervousness, and lack of energy.
If you're looking to reduce your stress levels but can't make it to the gym for a yoga class or cardio session, don't worry!
Here are several quick and easy expert tips to help you relax and reduce stress.
Leah Lagos, PsyD, BCB, a clinical and sports psychologist in New York City, outlines three easy breathing techniques to help calm a busy mind during stressful moments. They don't require a whole lot of time, either. Taking just a few minutes at your desk, during your lunch hour, or even in the elevator or copy room to practice these techniques will do the trick!
• Power 10. Take 10 breaths. While inhaling for 4 seconds, focus on feelings of anxiety and stress. While exhaling for 6 seconds, focus on the feeling of releasing and letting it go.
• Heart boost. If you find yourself feeling tense, recall two of the best moments of your life and focus on the joy and love you felt during these specific moments as you inhale. Release any negative feelings as you exhale. By pairing a positive emotion with an inhalation, your heart will shift rhythms to improve your mental state.
• Heart shifting. This practice requires you to take three sets of five breaths with a 4-second inhale and a 6-second exhale. For the first five breaths, focus on your negative emotions and let them all go with each exhale. For the second set of five breaths, allow your mind to clear any other thoughts and simply focus on the feeling of inhaling and exhaling. For the last set of five breaths, focus on embracing the love in your heart during the inhale, whether that be for a family member or friend. Let go of the negative emotion while exhaling.
According to athletic trainer and physical therapist Scott Adam Weiss, DPT, ATC, CSCS, music has the power to change the chemistry of our cells. Turn on the radio while you're getting ready in the morning or plug in your headphones during your morning commute and listen to classical music or other slower tunes to relax and help reduce stress.
You may be surprised to learn that, according to Weiss, taking just a few minutes to look at bright, vibrant colors can positively affect your body chemistry and help reduce stress.
Going outside to get some fresh air has been shown to facilitate relaxation and stress reduction, says Dr. Weiss. Eat your lunch outside on nice days, walk your dog for a bit in the evening, or go for a jog. You'll be surprised how much better you feel after connecting with nature, even if it's just for a few minutes.
A 2008 study published by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that a five-minute hand massage significantly lowers stress levels. Although this study focused on stress release for cancer patients, everyone can benefit from stress reduction through the power of touch. In fact, the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine found that massage therapy affects the body's biochemistry, relieving depression and anxiety.
Spending time around animals is a relaxing and therapeutic way to reduce blood sugar and de-stress after a long day.
Eric Yarnell, ND, professor of botanical medicine at Bastyr University, recommends herbal tea as a great stress reducer. Try catnip, lemon balm, skullcap, passionflower, hops, or valerian. If you're not a fan of herbal tea, try some honey-infused black tea or green tea.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discovered that people who held hands for 10 minutes followed by a quick hug before going on stage to deliver a speech had lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who didn't. Next time you feel stressed, take a few minutes and hug it out.
Nancy M. Watson, PhD, RN, author of a study from the University of Rochester, says that people of all ages can benefit from gently swaying. Even if you don't have a rocking chair, you can still mimic the back-and-forth motion and enjoy similar benefits.
A study from Appalachian State University found that participants who had better posture due to Pilates practice reported increased confidence and relaxation. You don't have to attend a Pilates class every day to reap the same benefits. Taking a few minutes to notice and improve your posture throughout the day can improve your feelings.