Reduce Your Stress Level Seven Tips For Reducing Stress

Learning ways to reduce your stress level can improve your health and well-being. Although some stress is essential to personal development, too much stress can negatively affect your health. According to the Mayo Clinic (2011), high stress levels have been linked to anxiety, depression, cancer, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal problems and a weak immune system.

Whether you are experiencing workplace stress or stress in your personal life, you can take charge and effectively manage your stress. Tips for reducing stress abound, but the following seven tips offer some of the simplest and most practical ways to reduce your stress level and enjoy a higher quality of life.

1. Breathe Deeply

Stress tends to speed up your breathing, which creates an unhealthy breathing pattern of rapid, shallow breaths. Deep breathing is one easy way to manage stress and reduce anxiety the moment you begin to feel anxious.

In their book “Stress Free for Good” (2005), Dr. Luskin and Dr. Pelletier recommend reducing stress with deep belly breathing:

  1. Place your hands on your belly.
  2. Inhale, imagine your belly is a big balloon and watch your hands rise.
  3. Exhale, letting the air out of the balloon. Watch your hands fall, as your belly remains relaxed.
  4. Repeat a few times.

Just focusing on deep breathing for a few minutes several times a day can go a surprisingly long way towards reducing stress.

2. Change Your Reactions and Thought Patterns

Stress is the result of your reaction to things that happen, not the events themselves. Something that stresses one person out may not cause another person even a moment’s concern.

Mindset and attitude are at the root of your stress. Many techniques have been developed to help people change their negative thought patterns. While not every technique will work for every individual, here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Appreciate what you have. Some people make gratitude lists to remind themselves of the good things in life, despite the negative circumstances they may be facing.
  • Be flexible. You’ll reduce your stress level just by accepting the fact that things don’t always go as planned. Try to take things in stride, rather than seeing things as problematic interruptions to your busy schedule.
  • Learn to say no. Respectfully decline any requests that don’t fit your priorities, your schedule and your personal tastes. You don’t have to try to please everyone. If saying no is difficult for you, consider assertiveness training.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations. This goes for expectations you have for both yourself and for others.
  • Slow down. Incorporating more time for rest and relaxation into your schedule will enable you to deal with tough circumstances that arise more easily.

3. Exercise Regularly

One of the many health benefits of exercise is that it helps reduce your stress level. To reduce stress, only do exercise that you enjoy. Any type of exercise is great, from gardening to running to team sports. If you want your exercise to be meditative at the same time, try an activity such as tai chi, qi gong or yoga.

For most people, walking is an easy, natural way to exercise. Walking also allows you to enjoy the very real mood-lifting benefits of fresh air and sunshine. You can easily tack on more walking time by adding steps to your daily routine. Walk to the store rather than driving. Park your car further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. A quick walk around the block on your lunch hour can go a long way to reducing workplace stress.

4. Meditate

Meditation is focusing your attention on one thing at a time, in order to calm your mind and help clear away the cluttered thoughts causing you anxiety. Any length of meditation time is fine–even one or two minutes–and you can practice as often as you like. Different types of meditation are available, and the best one for you will depend on your personal preference.

A simple breath-counting meditation goes something like this:

  1. Sit comfortably with your back straight and relaxed. (Sitting in a chair is fine.)
  2. Close your eyes or focus on a spot on the floor a few feet in front of you.
  3. Take a few deep belly breaths.
  4. Continue breathing deeply and gently. As you exhale, mentally count one. On the next exhale, count two. Continue counting exhales until you lose count or your mind wanders to other thoughts. Then, start counting again at one.

5. Practice Progressive Relaxation

Stress results in muscle tension, which, in turn, can affect your health and comfort. By tensing a muscle momentarily, then relaxing it, you can release some of the muscle tension you’ve built up.

Here’s one way to do this exercise:

  1. Sit or lie down comfortably.
  2. Tense the muscles in one foot and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Relax. Repeat with the other foot.
  3. Tense the lower leg muscles in one leg and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Relax. Repeat with the other leg.
  4. Continue to move up your body, tensing each muscle group for 10 to 15 seconds, and then relaxing. Be sure to include every part of your body.

You can even relieve muscle tension resulting from workplace stress while you’re at work! Practice this technique while sitting at your desk.

6. Smile and Laugh

Studies have shown again and again that a genuine smile increases the brain’s production of endorphins–the body’s natural painkillers. To bring a smile to your face naturally, remember a happy moment or think of someone or something you love.

Research also suggests that laughter is effective for reducing stress and can:

  • Boost your immune system
  • Improve your lung capacity and oxygen levels
  • Increase endorphins
  • Reduce your blood pressure.

In your down time, read a funny book, watch a comedy or spend time with people who make you laugh. You can also try laughter yoga to reduce your stress, which combines yoga breathing techniques and intentional laughter.

7. Visualize the Positive

Your body reacts to negative images in the same way it reacts to actual negative events. Both images and events have the same detrimental effects.

Athletes use positive visualization to improve their performance, and you can use similar visualization techniques to reduce your stress. Start with one stressful situation, and visualize exactly how you want things to be. At this point, don’t be concerned with how it’s going to happen, just think (or write) about exactly what you want to happen. Replay the visualization often.

Most people are very good at imagining the worst possible outcome, so positive visualization will take some practice. In time, you’ll find that positive visualization relaxes and calms your body and puts your mind to work looking for ways to create what you are visualizing. You may just wake up one day with a new idea that would never have occurred to you amidst the negative images in your mind.

Resources

Davis, M., et.al. (2008). The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, Sixth Edition. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Laughter Yoga Institute. (n.d.). Laugh and learn with the laughter yoga institute. Retrieved April 6, 2011, from http://lyinstitute.org/

Luskin, F. and Pelletier, K.R. (2005). Stress Free for Good. San Francisco, CA: Harperone.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2011, March). Stress management. Retrieved April 6, 2011, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-management/MY00435

Scott, C.J. (2010). Optimal Stress: Living in Your Best Stress Zone. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2009). Stress – Complications. Retrieved April 6, 2011, from http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_health_consequences_of_stress_000031_3.htm