4 Ways to Reduce Stress that Won't Stress You Out!
As a personal trainer and nutritionist, I get a lot of questions about what to eat and how to exercise to get into better shape. But I often need to look beyond that, because what many of us don't realize, is that stress is as big a factor as nutrition and exercise when it comes to health.
And now more than ever, with stress levels at record high levels, we need to be aware of it. So here’s the low-down.
According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. Believe it or not, 60 to 80 percent of all physician office visits may have stress-related component.
Chronic stress can affect your brain, suppress your thyroid, cause blood sugar imbalances, decrease bone density and muscle tissue, raise blood pressure, reduce your immunity and ability to heal. It can also increase fat deposits around your abdomen that are associated with heart attacks, strokes, and elevated “bad” cholesterol, which in turn increases your risk of disease, abdominal obesity and other unhealthy conditions.
That sounds like a lot to deal with. BUT, the key is not how to get rid of stress, but to learn how to handle it.
Don't Ignore Stress
The risks are real so don't ignore it. While eating a healthy diet and regular exercise can improve stress levels, taking time out for a little deep breathing or meditation can make a real difference.
Spending even just a few minutes in meditation or deep breathing can help give you a sense of calm and restore balance. And what’s more, these benefits don’t end when your session does. Meditation can help carry you calmly through the rest of your day. It may even help manage symptoms of certain medical conditions such as anxiety, heart disease, cancer, sleep problems, and depression. As with any condition, check with a physician if you feel physically or mentally unwell and are unable to manage your symptoms.
Easy Everyday Meditation
Don’t let worrying about how to practice meditation the “right” way add to your stress. There are many uncomplicated ways to find calm throughout your day.
Use an app
There are so many good apps out there for meditating that trying to sort through them alone can be stress inducing. Two of my favorites are Headspace and Calm. While they both have subscriptions (yearly access for about the same price most of us pay for a bottle of wine!), they both have plenty of free content or offer a free trial so you can see what works for you.
Hint: I always subscribe to the free trial session and then immediately cancel it. This way you still get access to content until the end of the trial, but you don’t have to stress-out about being charged if you forget to cancel when the trial period expires.
Scan your body
Practicing body scanning can help break the cycle of physical and psychological tension. Body scanning simply means paying attention to parts of the body and bodily sensations in a gradual sequence from your feet to your head. You can practice body scanning anytime you feel stress, try it several times throughout the day to create a regular practice.
Try this quick-start version. Sit comfortably and start noticing your breathing. In-and-out. Become aware of any place in your body that seems to be carrying tension. Breathe into those places and begin to visualize the tension leaving your body through your breath and evaporating into the air.
Try this longer version where you scan your whole body.
You probably can’t think of the last time you walked outside and just focused on your surroundings. We are usually on our phones, listening to a podcast or music, or distracted by any number of other things and don’t always notice the pleasant things in our surroundings.
A walking meditation syncs your body and mind giving you an opportunity to gather awareness of the moment. Basically, you walk without distraction and listen, watch, and smell the world around you tuning into positive things. This is another one of my favorites because it is super easy to fit into your daily routine. It takes less than five minutes to learn how here.
Here's a quick exercise adapted from Harvard Health:
Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.
You'll clear your head and the deep breathing is a powerful stress-reduction tool.
These are just a few of many natural techniques to reduce stress levels. Pick one and give it a go today. Your body and your mind will thank you for it!