Stress is a natural part of life. From small stresses of running late for an appointment to large stresses like the death of a loved one, you encounter stress every day. You may experience stress as tension in your jaw or worry in your mind. While a little bit of stress can help motivate you toward a promotion, too much stress can lead to increased blood pressure, heart rate, and other negative consequences.
To move away from unhealthy distress, it is important to be able to confidently de-stress. While getting a massage or taking a relaxing vacation can help you majorly de-stress, it is important to take time to de-stress everyday. Here is a list of five scientifically supported activities that aim to be accessible and easy to integrate into your everyday.
1. Gratitude Lists
Research suggests that cultivating gratitude benefits your physical health—specifically, stress and sleep. Even if you are inclined toward a specific temperament that does not always see things so rosey, you can attain more gratitude with practice.
Your “gratitude muscle” is strengthened with habitual focus and appreciation toward the positive aspects of life. It can be helpful to schedule your gratitude workout around the same time you do something else daily. So maybe you have a list next to your coffee maker or you think about three things you’re grateful for while you brush your teeth. Make it a daily commitment and notice how your brain will start to become more inclined to see the positive.
2. Yoga Everyday
Yoga, every single day! The science is starting to catch up to what millions of us already know, yoga helps. Practice daily not only the physical movements but also sink into the rich philosophy. For example, Sutra 2.33 speaks to what we just discussed about gratitude. Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam - discontinue negative thinking patterns through training yourself to cultivate the opposite. Foster gratitude and positivity when your brain wants you to look at all the negative.
Regarding the science, the practice of yoga is associated with interrupting the stress response. So hey stress, I am going to stop you right there. The practice of yoga also inhibits the posterior or sympathetic area of the hypothalamus and optimizes your body’s sympathetic responses to stressful stimuli.
Yoga also is linked to restoring your autonomic regulatory reflex mechanisms associated with stress. All of this equating to you being better able to manage stress because your body is working for you. So get on your mat, open your sutra book, and remember to breathe.
Researchers compared three groups of college students during their study break for one hour once a week for four weeks. The participants were assigned to either 1) a mindfulness meditation group, 2) an ecologically valid and active control group where they interacted with dogs, or 3) a control group with no intervention or treatment. While the group that interacted with dogs reported significantly less anxiety than the control group, the meditation group expressed significantly lower state anxiety than both groups.
In the post treatment assessment, the meditation group expressed significantly higher heart rate variability (HRV) indicating a more adaptive response to stress compared to the other groups. So while playing with dogs is a great, quick anxiety fix, training your brain during meditation has a more lasting impact on your ability to respond to future stress.
4. Curate a Playlist
In the story of Apollo, the Ancient Greek God of music and medicine, his music dispelled disease and returned a person to a state of harmony and order. Recent research also suggests that music may alleviate stress and have an impact on the endocrine system to positively influence concentration and information processing. While individual music tastes differ considerably, there are some scientifically crafted songs with the aim of lowering blood pressure, stress levels, and heart rate. For instance, the song Weightless by Macaroni Union was a collaboration between artists, sound therapists, and researchers.
While this list may be helpful, it is not exhaustive. Take note of the activities that bring you joy and add them into your life. For example, try aromatherapy if you feel grounded by smells. Or kick off your shoes and walk around barefoot in the grass to connect to the earth. Try some bibliotherapy and read a good book to disconnect and de-stress. Invest in yourself and seek out a professional if you want to talk about what is going on in your life and need/want help understanding and managing your everyday emotions (like stress). Happy de-stressing!