Busy and active lives tend to keep us ‘on the run’, making stress management almost impossible. It can be so difficult to stop and reflect, rest and digest, feel and surrender. Yet it is crucial to carve out some “me time” to lower cortisol (stress hormone) and to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
Below are my 20 top favourite actions I recommend for my clients–and use myself–to give the mind and body TLC.
- Silent walks/nature walks
Totally separating yourself from the stressful environment/situation is a powerful way to break the stress spiral. Walking in nature and or silence also allows your brain to wander and disconnect.
When you feel the first signs of stress building up, take a walk to release the tension. If you miss the first signs and feel the full stress response upon you, make time as soon as you can to go for a calming walk.
- Non Sleep Deep Rest/Yoga Nidra recording
Yoga Nidra or known scientifically as Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) is an ancient yogic practice. It’s a form of guided meditation that acts as mind-body therapy. NSDR is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the “going-to-sleep” stage.
If you feel stressed or in an overloaded mind state, take a 20-minute break to listen to a Yoga Nidra meditation, as a powerful way to disconnect and reset your mind. You can also use NSDR after a learning session to boost memory and relocation of learnt materials.
Feel free to download my NSDR recording directly from here
- Conscious Breathing
Conscious slow breathing is one of the quickest and most effective ways to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system; your calming and restful nervous system.
One of my top hacks is to inhale for the count of 3 and exhale for the count of 6.
By making exhales longer than your inhales, you slow your heart rate down and stimulate the release of neurochemicals needed for relaxation.
You can also perform a ‘physiological sigh’: 2 inhales through the nose, and 1 quick exhale through the nose/mouth. This is fantastic for an instant relaxing effect.
Tapping or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) is a powerful healing technique that can reduce stress and anxiety. It involves tapping on specific points on the face and chest for 1 to 3 minutes, ideally working up to 5 to 10 minutes.
Tapping can be done periodically throughout the day, or when you sense your stress and anxiety levels rising. The EFT has been proven efficacious and is used to treat active military with PTSD.
My favourite tapping points are:
- Centre point of the forehead.
- Between your beginning eyebrow, above the top of your nose.
- On the temples of your forehead.
- Solar plexus.
- A hug
The act of giving or receiving a hug is a powerful thing that can calm us down. Hugging releases serotonin in the brain; this chemical is essential to everyday wellbeing and our ability to handle stress.
So, a hug when you feel stressed will release serotonin in the brain which acts to dampen the chemical that promotes anxiety and stress.
- Splashing Cold Water.
Splashing cold water on your face or dunking your face in a sink of cold water works to reduce stress and anxiety because of vasoconstriction (shrinking/closing of blood vessels).
When stressed, chemicals are released that promote vasodilation, the opening of blood vessels and thus an increase in blood pressure. This is why you can feel hot, or your face turns red when you’re stressed. Splashing cold water helps to lower blood pressure and temperature; it will also stimulate the release of endorphins that can ease symptoms of anxiety.
- Guided Imagery
Guided imagery is a way of daydreaming and using your imagination for stress management. This could be as simple as imagining yourself being in your ‘happy place’ or in some beautiful tropical location, listening to the sound of waves and smelling the ocean. Guided imagery can be done anywhere anytime. It can be done in silence or with a recording where you listen to someone walk you through a peaceful scene.
Simply close your eyes for a minute and walk yourself through a peaceful scene. Think about all the sensory experiences you’d engage in and allow yourself to feel as though you’re really there. After a few minutes, open your eyes and return to the present moment. This is a powerful technique that can dramatically calm oneself down and re-centre themselves.
- Colouring in.
If you have been to a book shop lately, you may have seen adult colouring-in books for sale. These are not a gimmick and can be very effective for reducing anxiety and stress levels. Studies find that colouring-in of geo-metric patterns can induce a meditative state that lowers levels of anxiety.
Creating art or doodling can also be an effective tool. But many people feel they don’t have the artistic skills to draw or doodle and this becomes a hurdle to getting into a relaxed state.
By using a colouring-in book, no matter one’s artistic skills you can get the calming benefits of colouring-in. It is an effective tool to have an ‘adult’ colouring-in book in your desk or bag for when you need to take some calming time to yourself.
- Gratitude Journal
Gratitude journaling does not work to reduce levels of anxiety and stress WHEN we are experiencing these emotions; it works as mitigation against states of stress and anxiety. As a practice, it helps to shift one’s mindset to focus on what is good in your life instead of what is bad, and so will likely feel more positive about their life and less stressed.
Simply journaling for five minutes a day about what we are grateful for can enhance our psychological well-being. It can help us find more meaning in our work, and studies have found gratitude journaling can help protect staff from the negative side effects of a job.
For stress and anxiety reduction, shaking is also known as Therapeutic Tremoring and is a natural way to release emotional tension, returning the body to a relaxed state. Shaking involves a series of exercises that help the body release deeply held stress, tension and trauma.
When we experience stress it shifts our nervous system into a sympathetic state, which is our fight, flight or freeze response. The stress we experience can remain in the body long after the event has occurred and can become chronic. Especially if the stress that is affecting you, like work-related stress, is a daily occurrence.
Shaking allows your systems to release and reset – you are literally shaking off the stress – and helps to lower stress and anxiety, build resilience and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed. Regular practice might include two or three sessions a week of 10 to 15 minutes.
- Listen to your favourite songs
Music can have a profound effect on our emotional state. Faster, more upbeat music can give us more energy, and slow tempo music can quiet our mind and relax our body. Research shows our brain waves sync with the beat of the music; thus, we can use certain music to influence the state of mind we are after.
For stress release we want to listen to music that is around 60 beats per minute; this tempo produces more alpha brain waves, characteristic of a relaxed brain. Music’s ability to influence the functioning of the brain has been found to be as powerful as some medication.
Since one person’s medicine is another’s poison, music choice is very individual. But there exist many relaxing playlists available on Youtube, Spotify, Apple Music etc. you can listen to for 5-10 minutes when feeling stressed to help bring you back down to baseline.
- Mantras or positive words of Affirmation
The mind’s power can not be overstated when it comes to reducing stress. If the mind is optimised, everything else will follow! Mindset shifting is fundamental to health transformation. A great way to support mindset shift is to start adopting positive mantras or words of affirmation throughout the day.
Taking the time to recite a mantra can help calm one’s nerves when stressed or overwhelmed. Reciting a mantra helps to redirect your mind from a state of stress to one of stillness and silence.
A Mantra consists of certain words or phrases that you simply repeat to yourself either aloud or in your head. They can be done anytime, anywhere and are best when you feel stressed and anxious. They’ll help calm you down and help you ut of that mental space where stress is taking hold.
Mantras work best when you commit and practise a few of them often. Reciting for a couple of minutes every day, will over time mean they will become more powerful in their ability to help you oppose negative feelings.
- Reading your favourite passage
When we get stressed and anxious, it can get way worse because we can’t physically escape from the stressful environment, or find a safe place to go. This is where the power of reading comes in. Your favourite passage, poem, psalm, music lyric or quote can be very effective at helping to direct our mind out of a stressful environment without a need for physical movement.
Keep a copy of your favourite passage close at hand wherever you go, or even better, commit it to memory so you can recite it at any time and place.
Some of the most famous examples of this are the reciting of religious texts in times of great stress, romantic poetry or a love letter you received in the past; whatever your preference is, choose a text that has this very special feel good factor for you.
If you don’t have a favourite text, carve out some time to find one for yourself. When you do, keep it close. Read it many times and recite if you feel stressed or anxious. It will help to recentre your attention towards a calming and empowering mindset and away from an anxious and negative mindset.
- Muscle contraction and relaxation.
This involves focusing on contracting a muscle for 5 seconds then relaxing it. Ideally you go through all the muscles in your body, group by group.
Start by practising on the areas you feel the most stress and tension. You can start with your forehead and moving down to your toes.
Sometimes, stress gets stuck in our bodies but with practice, you’ll be able to relax and release this trapped stress more easily.
- Meditate daily
Meditating daily is probably one of the most powerful practices you can integrate into your life for stress management. Whether mediating is used to relieve acute stress and anxiety or used to cultivate a calmer daily disposition, it is a methodology that is both proven by ancient wisdom and science.
You can meditate daily in the solitude of your room; start your day with a simple 10-minute meditation. First, close your eyes and focus your attention on your breathing. As you focus on your breath, start to speak the mantra in your head, ‘I am here’. You can repeat this with every inhalation, followed by a deep exhalation, as a means to steady the mind from chatter, keeping youself anchored to the present moment.
Be aware that there are days when meditation will come more easily, and there are days when your mind will be full of thoughts. Just know that everything you perceive is your presence and that this is a life-long practice which changes every day.
Also, know that mantra – even without being spoken out loud – can still have a profound impact on your body and soul. As can paying attention to the breath as you guide it around the body and up, or up and down the spine.
I recommend mediation before checking your phone/emails so that you are beginning your practice from a neutral place, free of distractions.
After your meditation, you might want to consider a practice such as journaling or gratitude listing. Now more than ever practising gratitude is key to raising vibrations and appreciating what you already have.
- Exercise your stress away!
Being more physically active will help make you feel better mentally, emotionally, physically! Exercising is also a fantastic natural way to release anger and tensions. Exercise comes in many shapes and sizes and what works for one person may not work for another.
I would recommend you find the form of exercise that works for you. All that matters is that you are exercising in a way that you enjoy. Regular exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, metabolism, heart, and emotions.
Many studies show exercise is a powerful tool to treat anxiety disorders and depression. Exercise does this by helping to reduce your body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol while stimulating the production of endorphins which are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
Also, exercise helps your mood because it boosts your self-esteem, pride and confidence for completing an exercise routine or taking part in a sport.
You can choose to exercise in solitude, so you can find that place of catharsis and release all your built-up stress. Or you can exercise with a group and socialise at the same time; When you make friends and build community through exercise, it becomes both a short and long term stress relief.
- Conscious moving with Yoga or Practice
Conscious movement is key to not only keeping your body healthy but to remove stagnant energy, shift negative patterns and release tension. A daily yoga practice or Qigong practice has incredible benefits on the mind and body. It is also fundamental to conscious breathing, building strength, flexibility and getting the blood circulating around the body. All of which are essential for preventing stress and anxiety.
If neither yoga nor Qigong is your thing, then you could take your daily movement practice outside; getting out into nature is key to human flourishing. Depending on where you live this could be anything from a swim in the sea or a lake, a forest walk or run, a country stroll or a bike ride.
Whatever you choose, I recommend taking time to really connect to that moment and the senses of your surroundings, disconnecting from the mind (and your phone), and truly being at one with the healing power of nature.
- Brewing a Cup of Tea
In Japan, Zen Buddhism is integrated into the act of brewing and drinking tea, as a way of focusing the mind and body to find beauty and peace in the very simple.
Brewing and drinking a cup of your favourite tea is an effective way of inducing calm during and after a stressful event. Not only do the properties in tea have beneficial health effects; such as improving brain alertness, cardiovascular health and boosting feelings of relaxation in the body; but by going through the ritual of making tea you are putting your mind and body into a ‘chill-out moment’. You are physically removing yourself from a stressful state and putting yourself into a calming state.
- Five Sense Inventory Check
We are always too mentally stimulated. We spend too much time in our heads and not enough dropping into our bodies; our bodies know how to talk to us but we hardly know how to listen.
A great way to start tapping into your body is to do an inventory check: what do I smell, see, feel, touch, taste for instance; and to really take a moment of pure awareness of that particular sensation. Does that feel good? If so, give yourself permission to enjoy.
A great time to do this sense check-in would during nature walk, maybe with a couple of berries in your hands to eat.
- Sing or chant
It might sound woo-woo but you can use your voice to heal yourself. Singing helps to release endorphins throughout your body and helps to lower the stress hormones. Studies show group singing can improve mental health in people with depression and anxiety.
Singing is also great for maintaining and improving brain health as regular singing can improve memory. Your voice can also be a healing tool when you use it to create vibration and resonance in your body.
By singing or humming, you produce sounds that act as a type of vibrational therapy and can help heal emotional or physical distress. At the physiological level, singing helps to release endorphins, oxytocin and nitric oxide in the body; which all help to reduce your heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure. It also stimulates the vagus nerve which interfaces with your parasympathetic nervous system (your resting and calming nervous system).
Adopt any of these 20 habits and optimise your health to improve your performance.
If you’d like to learn some health hacks to naturally relieve symptoms of stress like headaches, check this out!
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