An amazing machine, the human body is designed to protect itself. Whether you are aware of it or not, stress is a natural bodily response that aims to achieve this purpose.
When you feel threatened or anxious, your brain releases stress hormones to help your body cope with challenges and act appropriately. For example, a singer feeling anxious before a performance may be able to perform well because she feels the effects of stress hormones.
While a little stress over a short period can be beneficial, experiencing stress for long periods can negatively impact your overall health. Apart from making you more susceptible to various medical and mental health issues, chronic stress can also contribute to conditions such as alcohol abuse. It is no wonder that professionals at alcohol rehab facilities teach recovering alcoholics healthy ways to cope with stress.
If you are experiencing chronic stress, there are many ways to handle it that do not include drinking, smoking, or engaging in other unhealthy practices. There are practical, science-based ways you can alleviate stress:
Thinking too much is one reason people experience consistently elevated stress levels. The mind may be filled with worries about the future and regrets about the past. Instead of focusing on the now, the mind appears to be on autopilot, thinking about ways to solve the problems at hand or thinking about ways to escape it. This pattern of thinking is not helpful. In fact, it may make you feel overwhelmed and panicked.
To counter this problematic pattern of thinking and help you deal with your challenges more effectively, consider practicing mindfulness or an exercise known as being aware of the now. One study claimed that practicing mindfulness for a few minutes each day can significantly decrease stress levels and improve satisfaction in life.
Just like the participants of the study, you can incorporate the STOP exercise in your daily life. How do you do it? Perform actions that correspond to the word STOP:
- S: Stop whatever you are doing and close your eyes.
- T: Take a few breaths and focus on your breathing as you inhale and exhale.
- O: Observe how your body feels and your thoughts and emotions at the given moment.
- P: Perceive your surroundings as you end the exercise.
You do not need a scientific study to know that you feel better when someone hugs you, especially if the person who hugged you is someone you love. When you feel overwhelmed and highly stressed, ask for a hug or embrace someone yourself to fight your stress.
The stress-relieving qualities of hugs can be attributed to the chemical oxytocin, a substance that may fight stress. Studies showed that when you hug or experience positive social interactions, your body may release oxytocin. The release of oxytocin decreases cortisol (stress hormone) levels and reduces blood pressure.
Drink a Cup of Chamomile Tea
Do you try to cope with stress by gulping mugs of coffee every day? Consider drinking chamomile tea instead. While you may think that caffeine may help you manage stress, caffeine may create havoc in your system and make you more stressed, since it increases cortisol levels.
On the other hand, chamomile may help you calm down and even help you find a good night’s sleep. The relaxing effects of chamomile mean that it is also used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). So, the next time you are having a stressful day, reach for a cup of chamomile tea instead of a cup of coffee.
Chew Gum Regularly
Did you notice that many athletes chew gum while competing or before a big game? They may not be doing this to freshen their breath but to reduce their stress levels. You do not need to be a sportsperson to try this stress-alleviating strategy. It may benefit all stressed-out individuals.
One study on the benefits of gum chewing claimed that the habit can improve mood, relieve mental fatigue, and reduce anxiety. Researchers observed these positive results after the study’s participants chewed gum twice a day for two weeks. Numerous animal experiments have also discussed the antistress benefits of mastication (chewing).
Try Digital Detox
If you are one of the millions of people who cannot seem to stop checking their phones and updating their social media accounts regularly, you may need to take a break from technology. If you think that you are unwinding when you check your social media feeds, you may be mistaken. Instead of reducing your stress levels, you may be aggravating the problem. Constant use of devices may contribute to high stress levels.
When you are constantly connected, there are fewer opportunities to take breaks and really savor moments as your brain is bombarded with too much information. While you do not have to avoid using technology completely, unplugging occasionally and making real connections may help alleviate stress.
Take a Stroll
When things start to become overwhelming and you are too stressed to think clearly, go outside and take a short stroll. Numerous research studies support the stress-reducing benefits of taking regular walks, which may help you feel calmer, more relaxed, and less tense.
To maximize the benefits of walking, consider taking a stroll in the park or areas where you can commune with nature. Walking in green spaces may help individuals enter meditative states, which essentially combat stress. In addition, walking may reduce stress hormones and facilitates the release of brain chemicals known as endorphins that help improve mood and self-esteem.
Holistic or natural treatment methods are becoming increasingly popular. More and more people are trying aromatherapy for various purposes, one of which is to reduce stress. One study published in the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing stated that inhaling essential oils significantly lowered the stress levels of subjects compared to those who encountered placebos.
People who practice aromatherapy smell/inhale essential oils through diffusers and inhalers, massages, or direct application on the skin. Some essential oils you can use to fight stress include lavender oil, rosemary oil, chamomile oil, geranium oil, and ylang ylang oil.
Start a Journal
Journaling, or writing about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, may be a powerful way to reduce stress. This practice may help clear your mind, organize your thoughts, and help you see problems in the right perspective, which are all important in managing stress.
Evidence suggests that writing down your negative thoughts on paper and throwing the paper away is effective in reducing stress because it symbolizes throwing your stress away. Researchers also found that people with chronic medical conditions experience fewer symptoms when they write down their thoughts about stressful situations and experiences, compared to people who did not journal.
Overwhelming stress can undoubtedly affect your life in a negative way, but the good news is, you do not have to live with it. Consider using the stress-relieving strategies mentioned above to prevent the detrimental effects of chronic stress and help you enjoy your life to the fullest.