We all experience some level of stress every day, there is simply no escaping that fact. Despite this, some of us experience more stress than others, or are just more susceptible to the negative effects of stress.
This vulnerability to stress can depend on many factors. Your social support network, coping habits, personality type and even your genetics are all parts of your life that influence your ability to deal with stress.
This stress can originate from many sources. Most people have work or school, relationship and money related stressors, although there are many more reasons why a person can be experiencing stress.
There is no way we can avoid stress, or try and control your circumstances. Instead, we have to learn how to manage stress effectively and efficiently
I believe the best way to reduce the stress we feel is to incorporate some stress reducing habits into our daily routines. They are simple to implement, yet brutally effective at helping you manage stress
On top of that, they will also stay ingrained in your daily life if you let these methods become habits. They will become second nature to you and hence you won’t have to think much of them anymore once you have turned them into a habit.
Let’s get into some of the most efficient stress reducing habits!
Meditation is not only a great stress reducing activity, it is also simply to implement.
The type of meditation that I suggest is mindfulness meditation. Personally I have had the best experience with it since it has helped me to relax a great deal during stressful university times.
Mindfulness meditation is quite simple to do. Let me explain how it goes.
The entire point of mindfulness self-care is to be mindful of yourself and your surroundings. Yet when we are stressful environment, we have to lay emphasis on being mindful of yourself.
To start, pay attention to the sounds of your surroundings. Notice that the sounds coming from the behind you differ than those to your right side, and that the sounds in front of you might differ than those from your left, and so on.
Once you have recognized those sounds, try and feel your body. Can you feel your arms resting by your side. Can you feel a small itch somewhere on your skin.
Once you have tuned out the environment, put to the focus of your attention on your breath. As you inhale, follow the air from your nose into your lungs and belly. Feel the rise and fall of your stomach as you breath.
If you have troubling feeling this, you can always place a hand on your stomach and feel it physically rise and fall.
Note that we are not trying to regulate out breath, we are simply a spectator and noticing it.
This idea of shutting out the surroundings and moving our attention inward to ourselves puts us in a relaxing mood. Our breath will naturally slow down, and our heart rate decreases. This puts us in a calmer state!
One of the common struggles most people will encounter with this kind of meditation, is that they lose their focus. Instead of watching their stomach rise and fall for example, their mind will start racing and daydreaming.
This is perfectly normal!
Whenever you catch yourself losing focus, make sure you immediately bring your attention back to your breathing! This also trains your brain to be more mindful of yourself throughout the day. Another bonus when it comes to stress management!
How do we make this a habit?
Mindfulness meditation is something that you can do for 5 minutes at a time, all the way up to an hour or even more. Due to its versatility it can be used wherever and whenever.
Just try and find a moment in your day where you know you will not be interrupted. It can be performed while sitting or even laying down. The choice is yours.
My preferred time to do this is before I go to sleep, as it is a great transitioning tool from a busy day to night time. That being said, if I feel a very stressed out, I also do it in the middle of the day because it can calm me down in no time!
To ultimately make this a habit, simply set aside some time for yourself before bedtime, about 10-15 minutes. During this time you can get your meditation in.
2. Exercise More Frequently
We have all probably heard that exercise is a great way to combat stress. Yet few actually understand why this is the case. Let’s go over some of the main reasons.
Exercise is essentially meditation on the move. When we are pushing our bodies to the limit, whether that is by jogging, playing a sport or lifting weights in the gym, chances are we experience physical tiredness and pain. This effectively takes our minds of the days struggles. We forget about the world for a while as we focus on ourselves. From the last point you can see why that is a great asset for stress management.
Your body gets a healthy dose of endorphins. Endorphins are also known as the “feel good” neurotransmitters of the human body. After we complete a difficult task we feel pleased with ourselves. Anyone that has ever had a tough workout will know that we experience the best feeling when we are going home. This positively affects our brain and helps push out the negative thoughts and emotions such as stress
It improves your life in other ways that directly benefit your stress management attempts. Getting into shape or becoming good at a certain sport is a great way to boost your confidence and self-esteem. Another benefit is that it enhances sleep. We will see in the next point why sleep is so vital in regulating our stress!
How do we turn this into a habit?
Getting into a daily exercise isn’t that difficult. It is just that people choose to make it difficult without actually realizing it!
We all get spikes of motivation at times where we promise ourselves that we will start eating healthy and getting in shape. We say that we will be going to the gym every morning before work, and that we will stay on a strict low calorie diet.
Much to no ones surprise, they quit within a couple of weeks.
The mistake here is quite simple, you have to learn how to walk before you run.
Take it slow, you don’t have to be working out daily to be in shape. Simply starting out slow by going for a 45 minute walk twice per week suffices! After a while, this will become a habit, and you will be able to stick to this plan because it is easy and doable!
Then once this has become a habit, you can start to either increase the frequency, or the intensity of the workout. Instead of walking twice per week, try 3 or 4 times. Or instead of walking do a light jog.
Slowly build up your training plan and it will become an ingrained habit in no time!
3. Aim To Build Meaningful Relationships
Relying on the help and support of others is a great way to lower your stress levels. We might not realize this, but friends and family provide a great support network that is their whenever you need them!
Note that I am talking about the type of friendships where you are not ashamed or embarrassed to say anything to that person. When we feel free to discuss anything, only then will we see the true benefit of this method!
But how exactly do meaningful relationships help with reducing stress?
Friends often times make us laugh. Humor is a great way to reduce stress. Not only does it brighten up our mood, it also makes us forget about whatever we are stressing over. Cherish the friendships that can make you laugh at any moment, as it can really help to lower your daily stress levels. Not only that, laughter has also been shown to boost our immune system. There are many health benefits to a good laughing session!
Social contacts can make us live a healthier life. Based on the people you surround yourself with, your lifestyle will likely be influenced by them. Therefore if you surround yourself with healthy people, chances are you will adopt this as a personality trait as well. In the previous point we saw how important exercise can be in managing stress. Having sporty friends is a great way to make exercise a habit. Of course this has many positive benefits in life, and should not be underestimated!
Friends can offer alternative perspective on our struggles in life. Whenever we find ourselves in a stressful moment, we tend to get bogged down by our thoughts. We often times tunnel vision on just one possible solution. Try to phone and friend and ask what they would do. More often than not they will think of ways to approach and solve the problem that have never crossed your mind. This could lead to a solution and hence your stress disappears.
I know that a lot of us can struggle with making and keeping social contacts. I myself am quite an introverted person and I understand this struggle wholeheartedly!
They way I have been able to solve this problem is by learning how to enjoy social situations. This is slightly off-topic to this article, but if you wanna learn how to enjoy to be more social, then please check out my dedicated article on that topic here!
4. Create A Proper Sleeping Routine
Sleep, as you already know, is an essential part of life. It carries many benefits with it. One of them is that it allows our body to handle and deal with stress!
There are many ways that sleep influences our ability to manage stress.
Research has shown that amount of sleep is correlated with activity seen in a part of the brain known form emotional processing and control.
It is common knowledge in the scientific community that there is a lot of brain activity when a person sleeps. Research has indicated to see large activity in regions of the brain that are directly related to emotional control and processing.
It is during our sleep that our minds are able to process all the emotions that we have experienced in the past day.
If we had a particularly stressful or emotional day, a good nights rest is the best way to relief that kind of stress. Ensuring you have a proper sleeping routine is key to relieving stress!
Sleep Decreases the stress hormone called cortisol
Sleep is the time that our body is able to process everything that the brain has experienced the past day. it is able to deal with all that information. Research has also shown that during our sleep there is a large change in the levels of certain hormones. One of these is cortisol, which is a hormone directly correlated to stress.
Seeing a decrease in cortisol levels means that your body is able to deal with stress on a hormonal level during sleep. Chances are you will be less stressed if you have a good sleeping routine!