A little bit of stress never hurt anybody. In fact, a healthy dose of good stress can be just what you need to get things done. But when stress crosses the line from helpful and motivating, to stressful and life-ruining, it's important to slow down and find ways to relax your body.
This is especially the case with chronic stress. Everyone has a bad day now and then — crazy work meeting, horrible commute, fight with their SO, etc. But when this lifestyle becomes the norm, you run the risk of having some pretty serious health complications.
According to an article by the American Psychological Association (APA), "Unlike everyday stressors, which can be managed with healthy stress management behaviors, untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system."
This can, in turn, can lead to the development of major illnesses, such as heart diseases, depression, and obesity, noted APA. Not to mention the general, all around bad feeling that day to day stress creates (headaches, stomach aches, and muscle pain anyone?).
Don't let chronic stress ruin your health. Here are some ways to relax your body, and your mind, the next time you're feeling way too stressed out.
1. Stop Holding Your Breath
It's the oldest relaxation trick in the book, and yet we all forget how important breathing really is. In fact, when we get stressed, many of us hold our breath — or at least breathe shallower than we should. This is such a unfortunate natural reaction to stress, especially when all it takes to calm down are a few abdominal breaths.
According to an article posted on Stress.org, "Abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and reduce stress. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body — it brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind." So go ahead and take a few deep breaths right now.
2. Pretend You're In Yoga Class, And Unclench That Jaw
If you've ever taken a yoga class, then you've probably heard the instructor incessantly reminding everyone to unclench their jaw. Whenever I hear this, it's like a new epiphany each time. I never have any idea my jaw is so clenched, but it always is. And it feels really good to finally relax it.
No one's really sure why we clench our jaws, but it's believed to be related to stress. (Which, to me, isn't all that surprising.) So take a hint from yoga instructors everywhere, and remind yourself throughout the day to relax your face. Just open our mouth for a half minute or so and continue breathing naturally through your nose until your jaw feels more relaxed, suggested Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., on PyschCentral.com. Easy as that.
3. Sip On Some Green Tea
I'm jealous of countries that have tea time. Japan, England, China — you know where it's at. I mean, what's cuter than sitting down for a steaming cup of tea? Not to mention the cupcakes and crumpets. (I don't know what a crumpet is, but I still want one.)
But tea time actually has more benefits than just being an adorable way to spend an hour. According to Shana Lebowitz on Greatist.com, "Green tea is a source of L-Theanine, a chemical that helps relieve anger." All the more reason this ritual started in the states.
4. Pick Up A Pack Of Gum
If anyone ever tells you to spit out your gum, tell them you need it for relaxation purposes. That's because researchers are finding that the act of chewing, which has been a popular pastime for centuries, can help relieve the body of tension.
As Caitlin Covington noted on Greatist.com, "In one study, participants who chewed gum twice a day for fourteen days rated their anxiety as significantly less than the non-chewers ... Although it’s unclear exactly why gum chewing relieves stress, it could have to do with flavor, and research suggests flavored gum (as opposed to standard gum base) increases arousal in the brain."
5. Stare Out The Window And Daydream
Go ahead, allow yourself to get lost in a fantasy world where the weekend is three days long, tea time is a thing, and James Franco is a major part of your life. Because when it comes to stress reduction, getting lost in a daydream is a great way to calm down. According to Lebowitz, "These little daydreams, also known as 'creative visualization,' involve thinking of something that makes us feel happy. It’s an instant mood boost on hectic days when we’re feeling tense."
6. Buy Yourself A House Plant (Or Two, Or Three...)
It seems like succulents are a thing right now, and probably for good reason. It's nice to come home to an apartment that has greenery, and ya know, something alive other than whatever's growing in your fridge. Not to mention, studies have found that being around plants can actually calm you down.
As Meredith Melnick noted on HuffingtonPost.com, "Researchers have found that simply being around plants can induce your relaxation response. One Washington State University study found that a group of stressed-out people who entered a room full of plants had a four-point drop in their blood pressure, while a comparison group who didn’t see plants dropped only two points..." Sounds like a good excuse to head back over to the Home Depot plant department, like right now.
You may not be able to rid stress from you life, but you can change how you handle it. Stay in tune with how your body is reacting to your daily stressors, and take some time to relax whenever you can.
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