Stress often presents itself in both emotional and physical ways. Your body sees the saturation level on the horizon, and begins waving warning flags at you, pleading for your attention to resolve and recover from the tension. Do something to ease the stress with these simple tasks.
1. Exercise. When you exercise, your body circulates mood-boosting endorphins, and, according to Steven Petruzzello, director of the Exercise Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, it also warms and stimulates the brain, triggering serotonin and dopamine activity that improves concentration. Since exercise raises your body temperature, your muscles become more flexible and release tension.
2. Practice Yoga. Holding even a minute-long yoga posture lowers the stress hormone cortisol and raises prolactin and oxytocin, the feel-good hormones, and studies show three weekly 20-minute sessions can enhance blood flow in your arteries. It can relax chronic muscle tension and, through diaphragmatic breathing, improve oxygen absorption. Yoga works to balance the two parts of the nervous system – the stress-response sympathetic unit and the parasympathetic part.
3. Drink Tea. Rather than boosting concentration, a Penn State study showed that caffeine decreased performance in coffee drinkers. A study at Duke University showed that morning caffeine can last until bedtime. Try replacing it with antioxidant-packed chai, or green tea, which is loaded with theanine, a calming amino acid. Look for teas brewed with lemongrass, an antispasmodic and anti-irritant, and enjoy them hot or cold. Tea can also restore stress-related immunity damage and is known to fight cancer and heart disease.
4. Listen to Music. According to a Roper Starch Worldwide study, the number one de-stressor around the world is music. This is caused by neuro-chemical changes in the brain, according to Dr. Mark Jude Tramo, M.D., Ph.D. Music affects body’s endogenous opioid, dopamine and cannabinoid systems – the same ones that are stimulated by drugs like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. It can even cause cells to release endorphins and disease-fighting immunoglobulins. Dr. Raymond Bahr, M.D., found the calming effects equal those created by a 10 mg dose of Valium. Music is everywhere – on television, on the radio, and on handheld mp3 players, so turn it up!
5. Laugh. A good laugh can not only be a good workout, but it also lowers the stress hormone cortisol and increases oxygen absorption. A Loma Linda University study showed the mere anticipation of laughter can decrease stress by increasing beta-endorphins and growth hormones in the blood that remain escalated before, during and after a hearty ha-ha. Dr. Lee Berk found that comedy lowered the blood pressure and decreased the resting heart rates of his patients. Also try Laughing Yoga. Or, if you lack funny friends, join a laughter group – more than 5,000 exist worldwide.
6. Elicit Relaxation. Cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson, M.D. was one of the first doctors to link psychology to medicine, proving that every illness has a mind and body component. Instead of activating the stress-triggering sympathetic nervous system, relaxation stimulates the parasympathetic system, producing the opposite effect. To elicit the Relaxation Response, repeat an affirmation or prayer silently or aloud as you breath naturally. Build a passive attitude to block distracting thoughts and noise. Do it while exercising, or as part of your meditation or prayer. In a 2006 study of 309 cardiac patients at the University of Michigan Medical Center, doctors found those who participated in faith-based fellowship and daily prayer were experienced and increased sense of well-being after the stressful experience of surgery.
7. Use Aromatherapy. Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts, distilled from grasses, leaves, wood, roots flowers, and the peels and seeds of fruit. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, the best way to use them is simple inhalation. The healing molecules quickly enter the brain and blood stream via cranial nerves, nasal membranes and alveoli in the lungs, where they set off stress-stopping chemical reactions. Use a rosemary and peppermint blend for concentration. Ylang ylang, peppermint, lavender or chamomile to calm. Eucalyptus to sooth muscle tension. Skin absorption through massage, baths or lotions can also have positive, but less-potent effects. Nearly 25% of people who receive massage therapy and reflexology go for relaxation, not just pain relief, according to an American Massage Therapy Association survey.
8. Picture It. When you think about your favorite food, your mouth waters. Apply that same technique to your day. Your thoughts affect how you feel and cause your body to react. So don’t destine yourself to discomfort, picture feeling better! Think of a scene that makes you happy. Focus on how you’d like things to be and start going about your day in that mood. Refocus when needed. Harness your imagination and remember to daydream.
9. Lighten the Load. Americans are working longer and harder than ever before. The average workweek is 47 hours, and 20% of the workforce works at least 49 hours. An 60% of people who are stressed say they don’t get enough sleep, making them more irritable, vulnerable to viruses, and impairing memory. You might not be able to change your schedule, but you can make the daily grind more manageable by taking mental breaks and keeping a bedtime routine. Just ten minutes of personal time mid-day can return your mind and body to a balanced state that will help you better manage stress. Most importantly, separate work from home, and when it’s bedtime, don’t take your Blackberry with you.
10. Pet a Pet. Hypertension patients with a pet nearby experience half the increase in blood pressure in stressful situations as those who did not, according to Karen M. Allen, Ph.D. at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Researchers have seen patients in elderly care centers response positively to animals and recorded heart attack victims with pets living longer. Even watching a goldfish swim in a fishbowl can relieve stress.