9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

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Lauren Walker

Stress is an all-too-common companion to the average person in this day and age, with a faster-paced world being the culprit behind our rising cortisol levels. While humans need some cortisol – or stress – to ensure that they are productive and keep ‘moving forward’, excessive stress can be damaging to our health, in all areas from headaches, digestive problems, muscle pain and your heart health. 

While we need to understand what triggers our own personal stress and find long-term strategies for managing it, it is beneficial to know how to stop unexpected stress in its tracks. Here, we can use short-term relief to prevent a ‘snowball’ effect of stress – i.e. the problem compounding as more stress is added.

Here are 9 strategies for the immediate reduction of stress.

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

1. Recognize that you are stressed

It may be surprising that many people do not realise that they are stressed. Despite the body communicating its stress – such as muscle tension, cramping and aching – many people either ignore or don’t notice these symptoms, or pass them off as something else. Identify stress by pausing for a moment and observing the body; do you have muscle aches or a headache? Is your breathing shallow – a sign that you are not calm and relaxed – and do you feel irritable, tense or overwhelmed?

The first step is to identify stress, and possibly what has triggered it so that we can open-mindedly apply the following reduction techniques.

For more information about the symptoms of stress, see the webpage here by the organisation Mind.

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

2. Slow your breathing

Slowing your breathing can help reduce stress by activating the body’s relaxation response and promoting a sense of calm. Here’s how it works:

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

When you slow your breathing, it helps to balance your nervous system and decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, which are often elevated during times of stress. It also leads to increased oxygenation, which also has a soothing effect on the body.

Try this technique – Counting 4-6 seconds, take a deep breath in and imagine that you are filling up a balloon slowly. Once you’ve sucked up all the air, gently release it, (again counting between 4-6 seconds) unless all the air is emptied out into the bottom of your lungs. Repeat for a few minutes and notice how you feel.

3. Have a laugh

Laughing reduces stress by triggering the release of endorphins, which are “feel-good” hormones that promote pleasure and relieve pain. It also activates the relaxation response, reducing the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. 

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

So lighten up a little and look for an opportunity to be silly or playful with someone, or perhaps watch your favourite goofy TV programme or a funny video. 

4. Tune in to the senses

Animals are much better at using their senses than humans, but it can help to pause and tune in with our surrounding stimulus. This activity promotes grounding and relaxation. Keep your eyes open and focus on something you can see. ‘See’ or contemplate it for a moment, and then close your eyes and focus on one thing you can hear. Keeping your eyes closed, go through the remaining senses of touch, smell and taste, to help bring you into the present moment. 

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

Equally, try to make it a habit in your daily life to engage more with your senses. For example, consciously smell and taste the ingredients you are using to cook dinner or listen to the sound of cups clinking in a coffee shop.

5. Hug someone

We should be giving more bear hugs! Human contact is an automatic stress reliever and it actually releases oxytocin, also called “the bonding hormone,”. By giving someone a warm embrace, not only will you feel instantly better, but the person you’re hugging will do too.

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

Also, the physical contact involved in hugging can have a positive impact on your immune system. Studies suggest that hugging can stimulate the production of white blood cells, which help protect the body against infections and diseases.

6. Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that involves systematically tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. Here’s how it typically works:

Find a quiet and comfortable environment where you can relax without distractions.

  1. Start with a deep breath in and exhale slowly to begin the relaxation process.
9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

2. Begin by focusing on a specific muscle group, such as your face (you may wish to start at the ‘top’ of the body and work your way down). Tense the muscles in that group as tightly as possible for a few seconds, then release the tension and let the muscles relax completely.

3. Pay attention to the sensations of relaxation and the contrast between tension and relaxation in the muscle group you just worked on.

4. Move on to the next muscle group, gradually working your way through different parts of the body, such as the arms, shoulders, chest, abdomen, legs, and so on.

5. Continue the cycle of tensing and relaxing each muscle group until you have gone through the entire body, for example, if you started with the face you may end with your feet. Observe the difference in your body after this exercise, and you should feel noticeably less stressed.

There are a range of relaxation videos available in Cardiac Lauren that you can participate in.

7. Listen to music. 

Music has a unique link to our emotions and releases endorphins – the feelings of pleasure we also get from exercise – in the brain. The first thing music does is trigger a relaxation response in your body. It’s like a gentle lullaby for your nervous system. Soothing music is the best for stress relief. As you listen to slow-tempo melodies and soothing rhythms, your heart rate slows down, your blood pressure eases, and your tense muscles start to loosen their grip. Give it a go!

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

8. Move

Many people shut down when they are stressed and it can be hard to pull themselves out of this state.

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

Movement is an immense help here, as even a quick burst of activity releases endorphins, distracts from stressful thoughts and triggers and boosts your mood and self-confidence.

Why not go for a brisk walk, dance to music, lift some heavy objects around the house or simply take time to stretch all of your limbs and muscles.

9. Talk about yourself in the third person

Our last stress relief tip may sound a little peculiar, but thinking in the third person (“Joan is going to have a nice cup of tea after this”) is like stepping back and observing a situation from a bird’s-eye view. It can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and help a person gain perspective on a situation. 

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

It can also be useful to try what is known as ‘self-soothing’ too – i.e. using your internal voice to calm, support and soothe yourself during stressful times. This is something that our parents did during our childhood, which helps to regulate our nervous system and calm us down. In this way, self-soothing and positive self-talk can be very effective.

Committing to making stress relief a habit

Although all of these tips may help with stress in the short term, plan to build stress relief tools into your everyday routine. For example, look at your day-to-day life and try to identify when you feel stress – even low-level stress, such as commuting. Once you have identified the stress triggers, commit to using techniques to try to reduce stress at these times. It may be taking 5 minutes to do deep breathing on the bus. It may be setting time aside to make a healthy dinner when you get home from work, and making a conscious effort to use all of your senses in the process.

Eventually, your stress reduction techniques will become a habit and you can prevent the likelihood of stress occurring in the future.

9 tips for immediately reducing your stress levels

Try out these techniques the next time you feel stressed and build up a toolkit of the ones that help you the most. Remember that stress is a natural response, and although it can be overwhelming, you do have the power to control it.

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