6 Tips for Lowering Your Stress Levels
Stress is a perfectly normal reaction to challenges. Our brains release certain hormones when it perceives a threat and these hormones help your body respond to threats more efficiently. This is what is referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. When the perceived threat is gone, your body is supposed to return to a more relaxed state. Unfortunately, we live in hectic times in which we’re faced with challenges on a very regular basis and the constant stress makes it difficult to go back to a normal state.
Chronic stress has been found to have a negative impact on our emotional and physical wellbeing, even being linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer, making stress management more important than ever.
Here are a few tips to help you start lowering your stress levels today.
A Healthy Diet
Believe it or not, what you eat can have an effect on your stress and vice versa. For some, stress triggers emotional eating, causing them to reach for so-called “comfort foods”, like sweets, chips and starchy foods. Unfortunately, these foods are anything but comforting and will cause you to feel lethargic and impair your body’s ability to handle stress effectively. If stress has the opposite effect on you and makes it hard for you to eat at all, you’re also making it harder for your body to deal with stress. Plus, not eating enough can cause you to feel irritable. Eat regularly and opt for foods that are nutritious, such as fruits and vegetables. If carbs are what you’re craving, stick to whole grains as they’re high in antioxidants. And, fish and seafood that are high in omega-3, such as salmon, oysters and anchovies, have been found to improve the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Exercise has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s recommended that you aim for 30 minutes a day, at least four or five days a week of physical activity. Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep—something that can be hard to come by when you’re feeling stressed out. Walking, swimming and gentle yoga are excellent choices for those who require low-impact activities.
Have a Laugh
It may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re feeling stressed, but laughter has all kinds of benefits for your health, including lowering stress levels. Laughter increases the endorphins released by your brain so that you feel happier and more relaxed. Laughing can also increase circulation, relieve muscle tension, improve your immune system and release neuropeptides that help you fight stress. Watch a funny movie, catch a comedy act, or enjoy a good belly laugh with a friend to help you lower your stress levels.
Get Enough Sleep
It’s no secret that not getting enough sleep can leave you feeling irritable and cranky. Getting the recommended 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night can help you keep your stress levels in check and make it easier for your body and brain to manage stressful situations. Make a point of getting to bed early enough each night. Going to bed at the same time is important to help you get into a regular sleep schedule. If you have trouble falling asleep, avoid excess stimulation before bed by turning off the television and your telephone. A warm glass of milk or caffeine-free tea, a little bit of reading or another activity that you find relaxing can also help.
Even if mediation isn’t your thing, learning some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, can help you unwind and stop the stress response by increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The American Institute of Stress recommends practicing deep abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Tai chi, yoga and massage are other types of relaxation techniques to consider.
Spend Time with Loved Ones
Avoid the urge to be alone when you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress. While some ‘me time’ is something that we all need, the support of others is also important. Talk things through with a friend or family member, or simply spend time enjoying the company of others to help take your mind off of things. This will give you a much-needed break from your stress.