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Stress happens—whether we like it or not. While some strain is essential to our survival (it promotes the release of hormones needed to fight or run from our stressors), too much can cause a slew of nasty illnesses. Being under chronic stress boosts our risk of physical and psychological conditions, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, and cancer. So stress relief is an important part of life. We hope the 11 strategies below will help you take the edge off.
1. Eat well.
Twenty-seven percent of American adults turn to food to cope with stress, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America< report. Unfortunately, the foods we crave when we’re tense are bad for us (we’re talking about you, jelly beans and ice cream). When we’re stressed, our bodies tend to store extra fat, so this isn’t the time to be pigging out on high-fat, high-sugar, or high-calorie treats. Next time you’re feeling peckish, reach for a healthy snack. Vegetables like avocadoes are high in disease-fighters like magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, E, and K. Nuts boast protein, which provides an energy boost, and fruit is chock-full of antioxidant-rich vitamins that can reduce inflammation caused by long-term stress.
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2. Move your body.
Exercise is the key to a long, healthy, stress-free life, says pretty much everyone! For years, studies have proven that regular exercise keeps our hearts, lungs, and other organs healthy. Getting fit also boosts our production of mood-enhancing endorphins. Researchers from Duke University found that 30 minutes of brisk exercise (e.g., walking) three times a week is as effective as medication at reducing symptoms of depression.
WHAT CAN I DRNK TO RELIEVE STRESS?
Drinking tea can help promote stress relief. Green tea, which is high in polyphenols, a natural disease-fighting chemical, also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can reduce strain. And black tea can speed our recovery from stressful events and stimulate a feeling of relaxation after completing a challenging task, found researchers from the University College London.
3. Become an optimist.
The way you see the world can affect how well you deal with stress. Plus, thinking positively can improve mood, protect your heart, ward off illnesses, and increase your lifespan, say experts from the Mayo Clinic.
While a life-long pessimist won’t become an optimist overnight, there is a silver lining—if you’re willing to put in the work. When things go wrong, try looking at them in a more favorable light. Dinner burned in the oven? That doesn’t mean you’re a terrible cook; it gives you an excuse to order in from a favorite restaurant. Stop thinking the worst, being down on yourself, and expecting disaster to strike.
4. Breathe right.
Taking deep breaths can help calm even the most tense people, say researchers. Learning to control your breath by slowing it down and taking deep, concentrated inhales can tell your brain to shut off its alarm signals. A small 2017 study of 38 adults found that deep breathing lowered the subjects’ heart rate and cortisol levels, improving mood and stress. Need breathing tips? Read our post Simple Breathing Exercises Bring Instant Calm.
5. Be mindful.
The first step to stress relief is recognizing the cause of your strain. Once you find the root of your angst, replace the worry or anxiety with acknowledgement and understanding of your emotions. Instead of becoming a victim of your stress, get to know its symptoms (e.g., increased heart and breathing rates or tense shoulders) and calm them before they get out of control. Researchers from California found those who were able to articulate and identify their stressers were more relaxed and less stressed than those who weren’t mindful.
While it may be tempting to skip a meal when we’re under pressure, doing so can wreak havoc on our health. A primary research study on animals discovered that dieting (in this case, cutting sugar from the diets of animals who were used to overeating it) caused depression and anxiety.
Meditating regularly can reverse some of the negative effects caused by chronic pressure, thus encouraging stress relief. Practicing for 27 minutes daily can lessen strain and undo some of the damage caused to neurons in our brain, found a study published in the journal Psychiatry Research. Here’s how:
- Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit.
- Close your eyes. Then, take deep, slow breaths (fill your lungs and let your belly expand).
- Pay attention to your breath as you breathe in and out gently and slowly.
- If you get distracted (by a noise, feeling, or thought), acknowledge it (without judgement), then bring your attention back to your breath to begin again.
7. Go outside!
Fresh air is good for the soul. It can also bust stress. A Japanese study found that those who experienced Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere of the forest) had lower cortisol levels than those who walked in a city. The result: They felt calmer and more relaxed. Walk the dog, smell the roses, and breathe fresh air for added stress relief.
8. Turn up the tunes.
Listening to music for as little as 30 minutes can relieve stress and anxiety before a surgery, found a 2013 study. Relaxing tunes can reduce cortisol levels, helping you to feel more at ease. Any soothing track will do, but a British band called Macaroni Union worked with sound therapists to create “Weightless,” which they’ve dubbed “the most relaxing song ever.”
9. Spend time with friends.
Having a strong support system makes everything better, especially when you’re dealing with excess pressure. Good friends and close family members will talk through your worries, help devise solutions, and best of all, make you happier. A study by researchers at San Diego State University found that being affectionate with a romantic partner before encountering a stressful activity reduced heart rate and blood pressure. Time for a date night!
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10. Go to sleep.
Forty-five percent of Americans lay awake at night because of stress, found the 2017 Stress in America report. When we’re under pressure, our bodies find it difficult to relax, which can make it tough to fall and stay asleep. When we’re sleep-deprived, we become more stressed, which increases our risk of multiple health problems. Ensure a good night’s slumber by reading our post “Finally! A Sleep Routine That Works: 11 Steps to Better Shut-Eye.”
11. Turn off the news.
The media is everywhere: at the gym, in the diner, on our phones. Sometimes, this is a good thing—we can find our local weather report with the touch of a button, for instance. Other times, though, this constant stream of sensationalized information can feed into our anxiety, creating more fear and stress. How do we find stress relief and reduce the media’s negative effects on our mental health? By turning it off! Watch (or read) the news once a day only.