In the modern world of today, where everyone is pressured with work, families and all manner of problems, it can be very easy to find your stress levels at boiling point. Stress of all kinds is all around us, and being able to manage and reduce that stress is a fine art which takes practice.
There are different ways to teach yourself how to do exactly that, and various methods will suit some people better than others.
Changing your lifestyle does not need to be a massive overhaul of everything you do, but small additions to your daily life (and sometimes eliminating others) that can better prepare you for dealing with stressful situations.
Table of Contents
8 Ways To Reduce The Stress In Your Life
1. Exercise Programmes
It should come as no surprise that exercise is a fundamental way of reducing stress levels. Most of us can understand that it works, but not so many of us could explain why. Essentially, a good amount of exercise does 2 things:
- Distracts from stressful events
- Protects the heart by lowering blood pressure
In order to fully maximise an exercise regime and keep it interesting (thus reducing the potential of the participant becoming bored), a variety of different pursuits should be followed.
For people who do little exercise, any exercise programme should start slowly and build upwards, as doing more exercise than you are physically capable of can be dangerous.
There are many different types of exercise that can be utilised to reduce stress. Swimming is relaxing and ideal for people who are pregnant or suffering mobility problems, as the feeling of weightlessness reduce pressure on the body.
Exercise classes such as aerobics or pilates bring a social aspect to the regime. And running (or brisk walking) is free and also reduces stress.
Meditation has been used in many Eastern cultures for generations, and studies have shown that it is an ideal way to reduce stress levels. The purpose of meditation is to relax the mind, and since a lot of stress comes not from physical activity, but from the thoughts in our head, mastering relaxation techniques can help users clear their minds.
However, perfecting this takes time, effort, and perseverance, and for beginners going to a meditation class (at least to start with) can help set them on the right path.
There are different methods of meditating, some of which are also used in other forms of exercise. ‘Mindfulness’ is a common practice in most of them, where the user sits quietly, spine straight, eyes closed or looking forward, and focuses on breathing.
If the mind starts to wander, bring it slowly back in on an ‘out’ breath. This practice is also a core part of exercise such as yoga or tai chi, which are also both excellent ways to discipline the mind so stressful thoughts can be reduced and avoided.
There are different forms of massage, some of which will be familiar to most people. Massage as been shown to reduce stress levels through the power of physical touch. In the hands of the right professional, massage can help to reduce the physical effects of stress or illness on the body.
Swedish massage is the most well-known, where the muscles of the body are stroked, kneaded and pressed to relax them. Other forms are shiatsu – which tends to be slightly harder on the muscles but has the same effect, or reflexology – which focuses on pressure points in the feet to reduce physical ailment.
4. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy
If the stress being experienced is connected to physical pain or a chronic disease, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) has been shown in studies to reduce those stress levels far more than support groups.
There are different methods involved in CBT, but a typical one is through identifying the source of the stress, establishing one’s priorities and methods for coping with the stress, then changing the response to that stress.
Identifying the source is usually done through keeping of a personal diary, outlining daily events as basic information. This may sound time-consuming, however if done with basic detail, the information gathered should be sufficient to trigger further details when needed.
Of greatest interest here are any pressure points in daily life that can cause a physical response; for example commuting to work results in a headache. Positive responses to daily events should also be noted. Over the course of a week or so, a pattern should develop.
The sources of stress should then be questioned; for example, Do I need to commute to work at that time? Is there an alternative? Following from that, ways of coping with the stress should be established, such as taking time for self, expressing feelings, listening to music and so on.
A positive mental outlook and use of humour have also been shown to help reduce stress levels here.
5. Reduce or Eliminate Addictions
Today’s modern world encourages us to intake products that can cause us to become addicted. Alcohol, drugs, caffeine and nicotine are all addictions that can increase stress levels.
Many of us use addicting products in order to help us calm down, when actually excessive levels produce the opposite effect. Rather than helping us to calm down, they really just mask the problem we are struggling with.
When stressed, addicting products reduce the body’s ability to cope and respond adequately. Many addicting products deplete the body’s store of vital nutrients and actually damage health.
Some products are fine in moderation, if the user knows their safe limits and that using such products is only a temporary solution. Long-term, the ideal solution is to cut or or eliminate entirely the body’s craving for the addiction.
Studies have shown that in some cases of severe stress, hypnosis may be used to alter the thoughts and reduce the levels of cortisol that raise stress levels. Listening to hypnosis tapes or visiting a professional hypnotherapist can turn around the mind into thinking more positivily and helping the body fight against stress.
7. Eat More Healthily and Sleep More
This is another lifestyle change that may sound obvious but has actually been shown in studies to be very beneficial. People who skip breakfast or lunch are known to be more at risk of stress, as stress levels can be higher when feeling hungry or worn down.
Having even a small breakfast in the morning, with small healthy snacks to graze on throughout the day, can boost energy, improve concentration and reduce stress.
Getting a good night’s sleep is an important way of reducing stress on a daily basis, as feeling tired and worn out increases aggravation leading to higher stress levels and at an extreme level can cause stress-induced insomnia.
As obvious as it sounds, many people simply do not get enough sleep, and many studies have shown a direct link between lengths of resting time and the body’s ability to fight stress. Going to bed a little earlier at the same time may require some discipline at first, but this can be an easy way to reduce stress levels.
Preparing the body for bed by having a bath, reading a book and a warm (non-caffeine) drink can help the body wind down and loosen stress. This is a method that works very well for young children so can be utilised for adults too.
8. Own a Pet
Many studies have shown that ownership of a pet can help reduce blood pressure and therefore stress. Stroking a pet, caring for it and walking it reduce cortisol levels and this has been well documented.