We can’t avoid stress. It is the body’s inbuilt device to help us to cope with what life throws at us. From the moment we crawl out of bed until the time we return to the covers, it is a constant that we have to contend with. So, removing stress from our lives is an unrealistic goal.
What we can do is to learn to better manage the stress that we encounter. For most people, stress is brought about when the events in their life are uncontrollable or unpredictable. Many people, in fact, define stress as being the time when they feel as if they have no control over their lives. Research has shown that when people learn to relinquish control over every aspect of their life, they feel less stressed.
In this article, we present ten scientifically proven ways to more meaningful manage your stress.
Stress Buster #1: Learn to Breathe
Learning to breathe properly is the most fundamental thing you can do to reduce your stress levels and improve your overall well-being. Your basic life processes, such as your heartbeat and respiration, are controlled by your autonomic nervous system. For a long time, it was believed that we had no conscious control over its operation.
We now know that many aspects of the autonomic nervous system can be controlled by the individual. The way we control them is by breathing from the belly. The simplest and most direct form of stress management is to move from a shallow, stressed form of breathing into deep, belly breathing.
In learning to breathe again, you will be consciously thinking about your breathing - perhaps for the first time in your life. After a while, though, you’ll no longer have to think about it. Deep breathing will become habitual. Until then, however, you will need to consciously make the effort to breathe the correct way. You won’t be breathing properly with every breath straight away and you shouldn’t expect to.
Start by taking in deep breaths for 20 seconds every hour. Slowly increase until you are doing it for a minute at a time. After a week, you’ll be up to 5 or 6 minutes every hour. At the end of 3 months, the old ineffective way of getting oxygen into your system will be a thing of the past. Your body will no longer be sputtering down the road on half a cylinder - you’ll be cruising along on all 4 cylinders, with the hood down and the wind blowing through your hair!
How to Do It
Stand or sit comfortably. Now, take in a long, deep breath through your nose until the lungs are completely full and your chest is inflated. Hold this breath for 5 full seconds. Now, allow the breath to slowly leave your body. Be thinking about expanding and compressing the diaphragm as if it were an accordion on every inward and outward breath.
The Power of Nasal Breathing
Learning to breathe through your nose will make you a far more effective in-taker of oxygen. When you inhale through the nose, you will be taking the air more deeply into your diaphragm. Try it right now and you will be able to feel your diaphragm expanding. This expansion puts downward pressure on your abdomen. This has the flow-on effect of pushing air into the lungs and enhancing the circulation of blood and nutrients. This form of breathing is also more relaxing than mouth breathing.
Test Yourself: Breathe 100
Take in 100 nasal breaths in a row. Exhale through your mouth each time. Next, focus on breathing in with just your right nostril. Breath out through your left. After 100 breaths, swap sides. As a final nasal challenge breath in 100 times, holding for 10 seconds after each breath.
Sub-10: Your Breathing Goal
When you are breathing optimally, you will be taking in no more than 10 breaths a minute, ideally just seven or eight. Your goal is to achieve as many sub-10 breath minutes as possible in your day.
The breathing method just outlined will allow you to dramatically improve the amount of oxygen that comes into your body. That’s great moving forward. However, you still have to contend with a whole lifetime of ineffective breathing. The following breathing exercise will allow you to strengthen and maintain power in your lungs.
Do this first thing in the morning upon waking and again in the midafternoon (it will provide a caffeine-free way of overcoming the 3 o’clock slump!).
Step One: Get comfortable, either standing or sitting.
Step Two: Breathe in through the nose for 5 seconds. Feel your stomach pushing out as the energy-giving oxygen fills your lungs.
Step Three: Hold for 20 seconds. Feel the oxygen circulating around your body as it gives life to your trillions of cells.
Step Four: Repeat this process four more times.
When performing lung exercises, it is important to focus on inflating the lungs upward and outward rather than downward. Imagine that the intake of oxygen is about to lift you up and carry you skyward.
The Pay Off
Learning to breathe properly will be frustrating and annoying to start with. But remember back to when you started to learn to ride a bike? That was frustrating. It was annoying. And it was probably painful. But you've persevered. If you had have given up, you probably wouldn’t be whizzing around in a car today. Same thing with learning to breathe. In fact, there are at least 18 direct benefits that come with deep breathing:
- Enhanced toxin release
- Enhanced tension release
- Better clarity and relaxation
- Relieves emotional pressure
- Eases physical pain
- Increases muscle mass
- Strengthens immune system
- Enhances digestion of food
- Enhances nervous system functioning
- Strengthens the lungs
- Helps burn fat
- Boosts energy levels
- Enhances cellular regeneration
- Makes you happier
Stress Buster #2: Learn to Appreciate
Too often we take life for granted. Yet, learning to appreciate what we have by seeing the good and the value in what we have right now is a key stress reducer.
It is very easy to fix our attention on all the things that are going wrong in our lives. It takes real effort for us to see the good, even though it’s right in front of our faces. In fact, the very process of slowing down in order to ‘smell the roses’ is difficult for most people. The ironic thing is that it is this inability to slow down and appreciate the everyday little things that are the key stress contributor.
When you train your mind to think about the good things that you have, despite the negative curveballs that come your way, you can actually reverse the stress response.
Here is how you can purposefully implement the appreciation strategy:
When you wake up in the morning, mentally review the things you need to do during the day and include on that list two things that you are grateful for.
When you feel stress coming on, take two deep belly breaths. When you inhale for the third breath, let your mind focus on someone you love, a place you enjoy being at or an act of kindness someone has done for you.
Throughout your day, regularly focus on someone you love a place you enjoy being at or an act of kindness some has done for you for up to 30 seconds at a time.
Stress Buster #3: Slow Down
Life is hectic. Everybody is in such a hurry to get from Point A to Point B and to move from one thing to the next. We have appallingly short attention spans and we have lost the ability to be patient and wait. All of those things are bound to bring on stress.
The simple act of slowing down is a fundamental skill that will make your life more relaxed. It is only when we learn to slow down that we truly get to appreciate the beauty of the lives that we live. Slowing down is not difficult, but making it a practice in your life can be. To succeed you need to work at it.
Start by taking notice of what you eat. Take the time to taste and savor your food. This eating with attentive care will help you to make smarter food choices and avoid weight gain.
You don’t have to slow down all day long, but you should have an OFF switch which allows you to slow down when you want to. Slowing down will put less strain on your body and give you more energy as you go about your daily activities.
To instigate the slowing down process, simply tell yourself that you have all the time in the world. As you slow down become totally absorbed in and focused on what you are doing. Doing so will not only reduce stress – it will make you a much better person to be around!
Stress Buster #4: Relax Your Muscles
When we get stressed our muscles become tense. In fact, our bodies can become so used to this bunched up feeling of tension that we are no longer able to relax, even when we aren’t stressed. It is possible, however, to train the body to react in a relaxed manner to a stressful situation.
Stress brings about a natural tightness of muscle and restricted flow of blood to the hands and the feet. Teen muscles feel heavy, whereas relaxed muscles feel light. The interesting thing that our muscles are the most relaxed immediately after they have been tensed.
Consciously tensing and relaxing is a skill that you can develop in order to alleviate stress. You can even do this while driving the car. Grip the steering wheel tightly and then relax your grip. You’ll immediately feel how relaxed the muscles in your arms feel.
Here’s how to apply this life skill . . .
Before you go to bed, exercise, when you’re sitting at your desk or are stuck in traffic, take two slow, deep belly breaths. On the third inhalation, tighten your right arm from the shoulder to the hand.
How this position for three seconds.
As you exhale, relax the arm completely and let it drop.
Repeat with the other arm.
Stress Buster #5: Visualize Success
Visualizing success involves removing from your mind the negative images of failure that you have and replacing them with positive images of success. When you visualize success, your body will immediately relax and the body calms itself. In contrast, the practice that most people have of constantly feeding themselves negativity leads to stress.
To make success visualization work for you, think about an area of your life in which you are not successful. Now take three slow, deep belly breaths. Now build up an image of yourself succeeding at that activity. Next, describe to yourself what the image showed you about how to be successful at the activity. Ask yourself how success was different than the things you usually do. Now plan ways to implement that knowledge into your future performance.
Practice this process at least three times for every area of your life that you want to find more success in.
Stress Buster #6: Appreciate Yourself
The majority of people out there see a glass as being half empty, especially when that glass is themselves. They fixate on their failings without giving any credit to themselves for their good points. Learning to appreciate yourself will lead to an immediate reduction in stress along with greater self-contentment.
Learning to appreciate yourself essentially comes back to self-talk. The vast majority of our self-talk is negative. We tell ourselves that we are a failure, that was not as good, not as attractive or not as smart. Life coaching guru Zig Ziglar referred to this as ‘stinkin’ thinkin’.
It is your job to banish ‘stinkin’ thinkin’ from your life. When a negative thought enters your mind, quash it and replace it with a positive one. Every day think of at least one thing that you did that was helpful or something that you were good at.
Be confident in the person that you are. Know your identity and values and be proud of them. If they are out of step with the mainstream, don’t feel the need to apologize for them. Appreciate yourself, be proud and confident and you will project an aura of confidence that will be attractive to others.
Stress Buster #7: Change Behaviors
You’ve probably heard of the quote which is most often attributed to Albert Einstein that says that ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.’ Often the behaviors that cause stress are things that we repeat over and over again. Changing those behaviors is a key to stress relief.
To make this stress buster a success, you need to identify the things that aren’t working in your life and stop doing them. Then, implement a new strategy that may bring a better result.
Often, the thing that is causing us frustration is not knowing how to solve our problems. As a result, we just flip to make the old, familiar, unsuccessful ways. Having the patience to seek out and implement a better way will go a long way to relieving your stress.
Stress Buster #8: Learn to Say No
Often our stress is due to the fact that we cannot say no. As a result, we accept too much responsibility. Remember that the world won’t end if you don’t accept every request that comes your way.
Many people find it difficult to be assertive in certain situations and with certain people. But when you are able to, you can completely avoid many potentially stressful situations. When we don’t clearly state our opinion, we can end up in an anxious position. Psychiatrists refer to this as ‘suppression’ and it can result in low self- esteem and severe depression.
To effectively use this skill, you need to be able to:
- Know when saying no is appropriate (whenever you have a choice)
- Understand the difference between being assertive, being non-assertive and being aggressive
- Practice saying no in simple, non-threatening situations initially before moving on to more challenging situations.
Stress Buster #9: Accept the Unchangeable
When we learn to make a distinction between the changeable and the unchangeable, we can come to peace with the fact that we cannot always be in control. The things we cannot change we should accept. It is encapsulated in what has come to be known as the Serenity Prayer:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The key message here is to make things better when you can and to also understand the times when you don’t have the power to change a situation. And if you can’t change it, it is illogical to stress out about it. Accept it and move on.
If you are stuck in traffic and are late for an appointment, accepting the unchangeable will allow you to be at peace with the situation. Rather than stressing out, you will simply accept the fact that you will be late, turn on the radio and enjoy the music.
Stress Buster #10: Exercise
You know that exercise is a great way to relieve stress. You’ve probably even heard of the feel-good hormones known as endorphins which lift your mood and generally make you feel good about life.
Regular exercise buys into many of the stress busters that we have already considered. It allows you to carve out of your daytime that is just for you; time when you are able to work on maintaining and improving yourself. This allows you to slow down, build your self-esteem and develop your appreciation for yourself. Studies show that regular cardiovascular exercise greatly improves mental alertness and concentration, reduces stress and improves overall physical and mental wellbeing
The key to exercise success is a regularity. Find an activity that you genuinely enjoy and perform it an average of thirty minutes per day. Doing so will enable you to improve your fitness level and lose weight as you get a handle on your stress level.