Stress is your body’s natural reaction to any kind of demand or threat. It can be related to problems in your professional or personal life, financial issues, a fight with a friend, relationship issues or many other things.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than half of Americans suffer from too much stress.
When you are stressed, hormones like cortisol increase in the body, producing the ‘fight or flight response’, which in turn increases your heart rate and contributes to heavy breathing.
It can contribute to chronic conditions like hypertension, headaches, depression and anxiety disorders. It can also worsen existing health conditions, such as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia.
In addition, it can affect your productivity, the quality of your relationships and your happiness.
Regardless of your current life circumstances, there are several proven ways to reduce stress that are backed by scientific studies.
Here are 10 scientifically proven ways to reduce your stress.
1. Take a Walk
You can always take a short stroll to walk off your stress. Just a 10- to 15–minute walk can help calm your mind and body. Walking boosts endorphins, which are brain chemicals that promote feelings of euphoria.
Walking in a park or other natural areas with scenic beauty can have added benefits. A 2015 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine highlights that a green environment has potential benefits for emotional recovery from stress.
Along with fighting stress, a short daily walk can improve your memory, attention and energy level. It will even help you burn calories, fight obesity and reduce the risk of heart disease.
You can even make your daily walk a group activity by asking your friends to join you. This way you can also spend some quality time with friends and develop strong social bonds.
2. Listen to Soothing Music
Music works as a natural regulator of stress and helps clear your mind and soothe everyday anxiety.
A 2004 study published in the International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship found that a 6-session Recreational Music-making protocol helped reduce burnout, mood dimensions and Total Mood Disturbance (TMD) in associate degree nursing students.
During stressful times, listen to soft and soothing music to reduce your stress hormone levels, slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.
Sounds of rain, flowing water and other nature sounds may also be relaxing, particularly when mixed with light jazz or classical music. On the other hand, faster music can make you feel more alert and help you concentrate better.
If you are skilled at playing a musical instrument, simply play that instrument to combat stress in your life.
3. Practice Deep Breathing
Practicing deep breathing can reduce your cortisol level and help your body relax when you are under stress. It can even cause a temporary drop in blood pressure and reduce anxiety.
According to a 2010 study done in Spain, controlled breathing therapy helps reduce the level of cortisol in the body.
- Sit comfortably, put your hands on your abdomen and try to relax your muscles.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your abdomen and then filling your lungs with air. Count slowly to 5.
- Hold your breath and count to 3.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth and empty your lungs completely. Count slowly to 5 and try to release your muscle tension.
- Repeat these steps for 5 to 10 minutes.
As deep breathing is a part of many yoga poses, you can also practice yoga to calm your mind and body.
4. Laugh More and More
Laughter is the best medicine as well as technique to reduce stress, physical exhaustion and fatigue. It lowers your cortisol level, enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air and stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, which all promote general well-being.
A 2008 study by the American Physiological Society states that anticipating a laugh helps reduce stress hormones.
Also, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing highlights the positive effect of laughter therapy on postpartum fatigue and stress responses of postpartum women.
Watching a funny movie or a video is a fine relaxation technique. If you are often under stress, join a comedy club in your area to reap the benefits of laughing more.
5. Get a Massage
A gentle yet firm massage helps reduce pain as well as contributes to stress release. So, the next time you are anxious or stressed, get a good massage.
You can opt for a whole body massage, or simply a good head massage to reduce headaches, a common symptom of stress.
A 2010 study published in the Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic & Clinical journal showed that 5 minutes of touch massage is significant in reducing the body’s stress response.
In addition, a 2008 study published in The Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry pointed out that massage therapy had immediate effect on anxiety-related measures and may help reduce stress and anxiety in acutely hospitalized psychiatric patients.
If you can’t get a professional massage done, simply use some warm oil of your choice to massage your feet, hands, back and head to relax tense muscles and reduce stress.
6. Spend Time with Your Pet
Spending time with your pet can be immensely beneficial to your well-being. A pet will help you enjoy life a little more, improve your level of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and reduce production of cortisol.
Pets have a calming effect on the humans. Also, the physical touch involved while petting them helps reduce stress. Plus, you are likely to laugh at your furry friend’s funny activities frequently, which in turn reduces stress.
Many people also talk to their pets about their problems, because pets offer a non judgmental ear.
7. Drink a Cup of Green Tea
When you are feeling stressed, take a break to enjoy a cup of green tea. Green tea contains powerful antioxidants that have a calming effect on the mind and body. It also contains an amino acid that promotes relaxation and improves focus and attention.
According to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, drinking a few cups of green tea daily is associated with lower psychological distress in general.
Black tea can also reduce stress. A 2007 study published in the Psychopharmacology journal found that six weeks of black tea consumption lead to lower post-stress cortisol, greater relaxation and reduced platelet activation.
8. Eat Some Dark Chocolate
To relieve stress, you can always rely on dark chocolate. It helps release “happy chemicals” known as beta-endorphins in the brain.
This helps reduce the level of stress hormones in your body. In addition, the magnesium in it works as a stress fighter.
A 2009 study by the American Chemical Society found that dark chocolate helps ease emotional stress. Eating about 1½ ounces of dark chocolate a day for two weeks helped reduce levels of stress hormones in people feeling highly stressed.
To fight stress, make sure you are eating chocolate that contains more than 85 percent cocoa.
9. Chew Gum
It’s surprisingly simple, but you can chew your favorite gum to help reduce the amount of cortisol in the body and release stress. It can even reduce anxiety and improve alertness and performance scores.
A 2009 study published in the Physiology & Behavior journal found that chewing gum alleviated a negative mood and reduced cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress.
The exact mechanisms underlying these effects are not known, however researchers believe that improved cerebral blood flow and better performance while chewing gum may help ease stress.
When choosing chewing gum, opt for sugar-free varieties to to avoid damage to your teeth due to sugar.
10. Put Down Your Smartphone
Habitual use of smart phones is a major contributing factor in increased stress. You can experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety during digital social exchanges. It can also cause elevated levels of aggression, depression and inability to concentrate.
In fact, the most stressed-out people experience ‘phantom’ vibrations from their phones, when in fact there have been no alerts.
Don’t stay glued to your smartphone. Go out and spend time with people or do any activity that you enjoy.