Let’s talk about the “s-word”.
Stress affects people all over the world. Year after year, Americans have reported to feel more stress than the previous year. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, 45% of Americans report their stress to translate into lying awake at night for the past month. About one-third of those people said that their stress led to anxiety, irritability, and/or fatigue.
What can you do to tame these chaotic cortisol levels? Here are five quick exercises you can do anywhere to tap into your inner zen.
- Focus on your breath
Our breathing patterns are known to change when we’re relaxed, stressed, fearful or excited. One of the most common techniques is the 4-7-8 exercise developed by Dr. Andrew Weil:
With your lips closed, breathe in through your nose over the course of four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and, with a “whooshing exhale,” release the air over a period of eight counts. You can repeat the process as many times as necessary.
It’s meant to serve as an oxygen boost and a method of slowing down heart rate.
- Tense and release
Whether you carry tension in your shoulders, neck, or any other area, a 10 to 15 minute tense-and-release exercise is a prime way to relax. At your desk, systematically tense different parts of your body, hold for a few seconds, then release. Start with your toes and feet, and move all the way up to your neck and face.
It can help you to cue a relaxed state when you feel yourself starting to become stressed.
- Get moving
Try walking around the block to ward off stress. Physical activity — even a brief, brisk walk — amps up the brain’s production of positive neurotransmitters, also known as endorphins. Exercising regularly can help clear the mind, improve sleep, and assuage mild depression and anxiety symptoms.
People who brainstormed while walking on a treadmill averaged close to twice as many creative ideas as their seated counterparts.
- Make a relaxation playlist
Americans spent an average of about 32 hours a week listening to music. Listening to music before a stressful situation is proven to help the autonomic nervous system — which is responsible for breathing, heartbeat and digestion — recover faster from feelings of stress. Create your own playlist to de-stress, or turn to an existing one (ex. streaming platform Spotify has curated options like “Relax and Unwind,” “Nature Noise” and “Calm Down”).
Music can influence mood quickly and completely — even when it comes to minimizing stress.
- Go for gratitude
Think about what you’re thankful for. Adding gratitude into your daily routine can take many forms, in whichever way you introduce it, it can decrease stress levels and boost your general happiness. Try incorporating gratitude into your daily routine by thinking of 5 to 10 things you’re grateful for just after waking up or before going to sleep.
Practicing gratitude can increase optimism and sleep quality — as well as decrease diastolic blood pressure.