Research shows stress is one of the
six things we have control over that predict roughly 80% of the
we will face in life. Stress is a healthy, normal response intended
to keep us safe in dangerous situations. It causes a cascade of
hormonal changes that enable us to move fast and protect ourselves,
like, when, say a saber-toothed tiger is chasing us through the
bush. But it’s not supposed to be a sustained state, which is,
unfortunately, how many people live now.
When we experience chronic stress, our body is constantly
overwhelmed with high levels of the hormone cortisol, which changes
our neurochemistry, increasing our risk of depression and anxiety.
And—over the long term—it puts us at greater risk for heart attacks
and strokes. It also lowers our ability to cope with stress, which
just perpetuates the cycle.
How to break the stress cycle
Using simple techniques that tap into our parasympathetic nervous
system (our rest and digest system) and relax our sympathetic
nervous system (the fight or flight response), we can lower our
stress level all the way down to the cellular level. Our heart rate
decreases, our cholesterol level lowers, even the chemistry in our
gut normalizes, helping us better digest food, and we can rest.
Here’s out to help your body breathe a sigh of relief and know that,
everything is okay.
Focus on your breath. When we get stressed, the
first thing we do is breathe shallowly and quickly, decreasing the
amount of oxygen available to our body. When you are able to take
deeper, slower breaths, you allow more oxygen to flow to your
brain and turn on your parasympathetic nervous system. Best of all
it’s easy and available to us at any time.
one of these three techniques. Start with a repetition of 10 and
build from there.
Belly breathing. Put your hand on your belly and
feel it fill up as you breathe in and then empty as you breathe
Equal breathing. Focus on making your inhale the
same length as your exhale. You can do this by counting and work
on lengthening your breaths over time.
4-7-8 breathing. When you have mastered the first
two and are ready for a challenge, try breathing in for a count of
four, holding your breath for a count of seven, and then exhaling
Get outside. While getting outdoors seems like a
no-brainer when it comes to making you feel better, researchers in
2018, found that
being in the wilderness
(as opposed to city park) was the most effective in lowering
The researchers measured the levels of two
biomarkers for stress in the saliva of participants before and
after they did an activity in a wilderness setting, an outdoor
urban setting (like a park) or a built environment (city). The
participants who had the greatest drop in their stress markers
were those who went to the most natural environments, followed by
those who were in a park, waterfront or greenway. The folks stuck
in the city didn’t see much change.
There are all kinds
of theories on why natural environments lower our stress including
“attention restoration theory,”
which suggests that nature resets our ability to focus, to
evolutionary theories that posit we relax when we can see things
that are key to our survival, such as water and open spaces.
Tune into what is happening right now.
Mindfulness is a hot new buzz word, but an ancient, simple
practice. It just means paying attention to whatever is happening
right now, without judgment.
that practicing mindfulness meditation can reduce chronic pain, be
as effective in treating depression as medication, and, yes,
substantially lower our stress levels.
The things that
cause our stress are rarely happening at the exact moment we are
feeling the stress. Usually, our anxiety and stress is focused on
replaying events that have already happened or making stories
about what could happen in the future. But, usually, in the
present moment, we are safe and not at risk. Mindfulness teaches
you how to find yourself there.
The most studied
Western approach is
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, an eight-week course created by Jon Kabat-Zinn and taught
around the world. But there are also plenty of apps and online
courses—such as Headspace, Insight Timer, and Ten Percent
Happier—that offer guided meditations and courses right on your
Work it out. Movement is the original stress
reliever, because the chemicals you release during stress are
intended to get you moving. When you move, you’re giving your body
the stress workout it’s begging for.
To get the most stress-relieving bang for your buck combine one or
more of these and practice your meditation, breathing, or exercise