These days, stress seems to be a way of life, but as research shows time and again, chronic stress can lead to serious health problems such as depression, anxiety and more. “Chronic stress can affect the cardiovascular system with increased risk for high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke,” says William O. Roberts, M.D., MS, professor at the University of Minnesota. “What’s more, continued stress over long periods of time overexposes and saturates the brain with stress hormones like cortisol.” Then when stress is reduced, you suddenly feel relief because the chemical assault on your brain is arrested and you return to a normal state, Roberts explains.
While an overall lifestyle change is the best long-term answer for stress reduction, we all need a little help in the here and now, and taking mini stress breaks during your day could be just the thing to promote relaxation and give you relief and peace — if only for the moment. Here are some suggestions to help you press pause on stress and improve your mental and physical well-being.
LOL. Laughter really may be the best medicine for your body and mind, according to the Mayo Clinic: Laughing increases your oxygen uptake as well as your endorphin levels, giving you that feel-good high that comes with their release. And research from Hiroshima University in Japan found that just hearing the laughter of others can decrease stress and increase relaxation.
Become a right-brainer. The right side of your brain handles creativity and art, whereas the left side controls logic, science and math, and research from Drexel University concluded that creating art of any kind reduces cortisol levels and stress. No skill was deemed necessary to reap the brainy benefits, so grab a pen and paper and doodle, sketch or draw. “Coloring and journal writing are also excellent ways to practice mindfulness and reduce stress,” explains Jill Barnes, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Smell the flowers. Research from the National Institutes of Health found that lavender oil can relax your nervous system by directly targeting the part of the brain affected by stress. Keep dried lavender or lavender oil in your office, car or home for an on-the-go stress-busting solution.
Fifty shades of blue. Recent research from the Philippines found that wearing and/or seeing a specific color can elicit a specific energy in your body, triggering a chemical or hormonal response that can dictate your mood. To best relax and unwind, surround yourself with shades of blue, which were shown to reduce heart rate and decrease irritability and anxiety.
Breathe slowly. Taking a few deep, slow breaths can immediately reduce stress while decreasing pain and anxiety, according to research from Harvard Medical School. Try taking six long, deep breaths each minute for up to 20 minutes, Barnes advises. It may take multiple training sessions in order to comfortably breathe at that pace, she adds. Begin with three to five minutes once a day and work your way up from there.
Stttrrrreeeeeetttttccch. Stretching, when combined with deep breathing, helps increase blood flow, and according to Harvard Medical School, it can increase feelings of relaxation. Sarah Pace, a certified personal trainer, recommends standing up and stretching every few hours. “Start with your toes and work your way up through your body to your head,” she says.
Get a tuneup. Hearing your favorite songs can trigger specific thoughts and emotions, causing your brain to release hormones that elicit a particular mood, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health. Dancing also has been shown to decrease stress, so don’t hold back — put on your favorite playlist, dance around and sing your heart out. ■