I don’t need to tell you that in 2021, our stress levels are reaching heights they’ve never seen before. It’s no wonder so many people are searching for ways to reduce stress, and how to do so quickly.
While we may think that in order to get our stress levels down we need to run away to a deserted island (yes please) or spend a day at a spa, it isn’t actually as complicated or out of reach as that.
The first step in learning how to reduce stress is to actually understand what stress is.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a natural response of our body that kicks it into fight or flight mode.
This happens when the body dumps a whole heap of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) into our system to allow our body to function better (faster response, ability to think quicker).
It does this by taking resources from less urgent areas of our body, such as our digestive system, and redirecting them to our ‘get the hell out of here’ systems such as our muscles and brain.
Our eyes become laser focused and senses become heightened. Our heartbeat increases and our breath quickens in order to intake more oxygen and pump it to the muscles needed to fight or run.
Our bodies are intricate machines that react quickly to situations it deems to be stressful.
Why Do We Need A Stress Response?
Back in our lovely cave days, this stress response allowed us to run from wild animals and fight off others when they tried to steal our food/families/whatever we had to steal.
The issue today is, we don’t usually have a lion waiting outside our cave to attack us, but our body has now started confusing other stressful situations with these life threatening ones.
Got a meeting with the boss at work you’re worried about because they’ve been laying off staff and you’re not sure if you’re going to be next? Kick up the adrenaline and cortisol.
Got a text that makes you angry? Hello adrenaline and cortisol. Stuck in traffic and running late (again), cue adrenaline and cortisol.
However, instead of these ‘fight or flight’ responses being every now and then when we go out hunting, they are now multiple times a day.
Our adrenals are in overdrive and they are pumping more adrenaline and cortisol around our body than we know what to do with.
And what makes it even worse is that our bodies can no longer regulate this cycle as quickly as they once did. Instead of our systems returning to their level of ‘normal’ quickly after a stress response, they are now staying in their heightened stress state for longer.
Which takes it’s toll.
It means our body can ‘misfire’ a fight or flight response which can result in a panic attack.
Cortisol has been linked to life threatening conditions such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and anxiety.
It can even affect the way we digest our food (remember how our body takes away resources from digestion to deal with the fight or flight) and leave us addicted to the ‘high’ adrenaline provides looking for a sugar fix or caffeine kick to keep us going.
What Can You Do About Stress?
So we know what stress is, we know we have a lot more of it than we realize, but now what?
But what can we do about it? Stress is part of life isn’t it?
Well, yes and no.
There are a lot of stress inducing aspects of our life that we can’t avoid, including our daily responsibilities of parenthood, our jobs, and the world around us.
However, there are some exercises we can include in our lives to reduce our stress.
I don’t know about you but I suck at meditation, so while it is said to be amazing for reducing stress, I’m not going to suggest it because I can’t do it.
I’m meditationally challenged.
But, mediation aside, there are things you can do at anytime that will help you to reduce stress immediately, help your body come back down to it’s more calm state, and help you fight off the effects of stress.
1 – Go Outside and Face The Sun
This one is my favourite and the one I use the most often. It makes such a massive difference. Taking yourself outside (or to a window if you can’t get outdoors) and breathing in the fresh air has an incredible calming effect.
Closing your eyes and facing towards the sun gives you a nice little boost of Vitamin D (thanks sunshine) and the warmth helps take your mind off whatever is happening, even if it is just for a few minutes.
Also, the break in the routine you’re in of thinking and stressing, helps you to shift your focus and allows you take that little time out that can help redirect and refocus your thoughts when you have to get back to it.
Recents studies have even found Vitamin D plays an important role in acute stress and critical illness. We often turn to medicine quickly to heal, when one of the simplest resources is right above our heads!
And it’s even been suggested that over a billion people worldwide are deficient in Vitamin D! It’s incredible to think that a simple act like spending 10 minutes in the sun can actually have such huge physical changes within your body.
2 – Make a To Do List
I love lists. They make me happy and they make me feel like I’ve got my life together (even if I don’t… at least it’s in a pile).
Making a list gets things out of your head and onto paper, allowing you to actually see in structured form what it is you need to achieve.
More often than not what I think I need to do versus what I actually need to do is usually quite far off, with me thinking I have way more to do than I really do.
The key is creating a to do list that actually makes you feel good, not one that adds to your stress (yes it’s possible).
If you need to, make two lists. One that is a brain dump of everything that is in your head, and another that is your ‘things I actually need to get done today‘ list.
3 – Smile
Before you scroll past, just try this one. You can fake it if you want, it all works the same.
Smiling helps release serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter. Serotonin works against cortisol (stress) and helps you relax and feel good. Even if you fake smile, there is still a trigger for serotonin. Winner!.
Alternatively, you can sit in front of YouTube and watch funny cat videos to get a good belly laugh happening.
4 – Make a Cup of Tea (or a Pot)
There’s something so relaxing about a cup of tea. I don’t know if it’s the aroma or the warmth of it, but there’s something special about the process of making a cup of tea and then sitting and drinking it while it’s still hot!
But it’s not just me who things tea can reduce stress – it’s backed by science!
Research has found that drinking tea does lower your stress hormone and that green tea can have significant health benefits including a reduction in the risk of developing depression and dementia.
What a great excuse to go and splurge on a fancy tea cup and tea pot and enjoy you tea time.
5 – Get Up, Move and Breathe
When it comes to reducing your stress immediately one of the easiest and fastest things you can do is to literally get up and move.
Staying in the same place, in the same position and in the same ‘zone’ is just going to make your stress worse.
Using something like physical movement acts as a pattern disrupter and forces your brain out of its stressful spiral.
Get up, move from where you are to a different place and focus on your breathing. Bring your attention to your breath, focus on slowing it down, relaxing your shoulders, and breathing deep into your belly.
Even better if you can go outside and face the sun (even just for a few minutes for those of us who burn at the thought of UV rays).
Just simply moving your physical presence to another location can sometimes be enough to break a negative and stressful thought pattern.
Take the opportunity to shake out your arms and legs (remember like you did in school??) and roll your head around, stretching your muscles and always focusing on big deep breaths.
Feel better yet? You should!
These little stress busters may seem incredibly simple but they are powerful.
When you are aware of stress, what it is, what causes it, and what it looks like in your body, it’s easier to recognise when it’s happening and takes steps to reduce stress immediately.
Take the time to do just one or two of these things from the list during your day and see how much of a difference it can make.
This post was originally published on Project Hot Mess and has been revised and shared with permission.