Top stress busting tips and the science behind why they work
13 April, 2018
Stress is something that affects most people at some point. When we’re stressed a number of hormones flood our system, causing an increased heart rate, heavy breathing and constricted blood vessels. Commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ response, it links back to the times when our bodies were designed to react to predators.
Those ‘predators’ are now more likely to be your boss, your spouse or certain situations, but your body still has the same response.
Usually, once a threat or difficulty passes, the physical symptoms recede. But for some people the body remains in a constant state of stress and high alert, so the symptoms remain.
Stress can affect you in a number of ways emotionally, mentally, physically and also in your behaviour. It can seem like it’s beyond our control, but First4Lawyers research uncovers a number of ways can reduce your stress hormone levels.
While staying active wont magically cure stress, it does boost your endorphin levels, which in turn reduce stress hormones.
Physical movement helps with your stress resilience. After all, stress is preparing you for that ‘fight or flight’, so by exercising you are reducing this energy and therefore your stress levels. Not only that, but a separate study found that exercise may protect against future emotional stress.
In addition, a study by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that walking in areas of green space also acts as a form of mediator, known as mediation in motion.
Breathing deeply may seem like a cliché, but it really does work. Breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds. Repeat this ten times and you will see an instant change. The NHS even recommends breathing techniques as a way to destress.
Deep breaths give you an extra boost of oxygen which helps to reduce tension and stress. Not only that, but it can help with your blood pressure: a symptom of stress.
Food and Drink
There are a number of foods and drinks that can help with stress.
Chamomile tea helps with relaxation and is often noted as a sleep aid due to its calming properties. It’s not a new fad either, chamomile has been used for hundreds of years as a calming agent due to its mild sedative effect.
Reducing or scrapping your coffee and caffeine will also yield results. While it offers a quick ‘pick-me-up’, studies cite it as a magnifier of stress, so it’s definitely best to reduce your intake.
Adding ginger to your diet can also have stress relieving properties. A natural form of stress relief due to its homeopathic qualities, a study on rats found that ginger reduces stress hormones in the body.
For those on a diet, the idea of snacking may be more likely to cause stress. But if you are mindful in your snacking (such as having a handful of nuts, some fruit or just one piece of chocolate) you will see the benefits to your stress levels. This is due to the link between your gut and your brain, known as the ‘gut-brain axis’, where the gut acts as a mediator to your stress response once it is full.
Similarly, avoid processed foods. Eating refined foods and sugars increases your insulin levels, which are known to release stress hormones. So food like fried foods, artificial sweeteners, foods high in preservatives and junk food. So when you’re reaching for that snack to keep your gut and mind balance happy, make sure it’s a healthy one or you’ll be undoing all that good!
Bananas and potatoes both contain potassium, which helps with the regulation of blood pressure, something that is increased through stress. Eating a banana improves energy and can also help protect your body from other side-effects of stress such as increased risk of strokes or heart attack.
Surprisingly, another ‘food’ of benefit to stress levels is chewing gum. You may use it as a breath freshener, but the constant chewing also helps to relieve anxiety and makes you more alert, thus reducing stress, according to a study by Andrew Scholey, Ph.D.
Switch off from Technology
Constant use of computers and phones, particularly late at night, is associated with stress, depression, loss of sleep, reduced performance and other mental health issues. Constant monitoring of social media, for example, can increase your stress levels if you compare your life to others around you.
Remember to take frequent breaks when using computer and mobile screens, and try to make sure you switch off at least an hour before you go to sleep.
Use technology for your benefit
Technology can be used as a stress reliever too though. If you use it in a disciplined way (taking regular breaks) you may see benefits. For example, there are a number of apps for stress management and guided meditation, which may help you relax.
Watching funny viral videos can also act as a stress reducer. Laughter releases endorphins by increasing your intake of oxygen, and therefore stimulating your heart, lungs and muscles. This can ‘deactivate’ your stress response, leaving you feeling more relaxed.
Buy yourself a plant. This may seem like a strange solution but they purify the air, helping to clear your head. Some plants are more beneficial than others, certain house plants like aloe vera have a number of healing properties, but also help to clear the air of pollutants. Other beneficial plants include spider plant, peace lily and bamboo palm.
Kissing is a known relaxant as, again, it helps your brain release stress-relieving endorphins.
If you have no-one to kiss, then spend time with your nearest and dearest. Spending time with your closest buddies can actually reduce your brain’s production of cortisol, a stress hormone, because it increases your feeling of self-worth.
Connecting with those around you also gives you people to turn to when you need it. Although stress can make you feel like pushing everyone away, keep your friends, colleagues and family in the loop about how you are feeling – talking helps.
Helping others can also mean helping yourself. If someone has a bigger problem than yours it can often put our own stresses into perspective. Small gestures and random acts of kindness can go a long way toward helping you regain that feel-good factor.
Yoga and Meditation
There’s a reason that yoga and meditation are so popular. Both are mind-body practices that are known to help with breathing and relaxation.
Yoga is known to reduce stress, lowering heart rate and blood pressure. Certain positions are more beneficial than others, with some professing that the top five positions for stress relief are: the eagle pose, standing forward fold, child’s pose, thunderbolt pose, and the reclined bound angle pose.
Different types of music work for different types of people, so it may be a case of whatever works for you. However, slow and quiet music is often used as a stress management tool. This may be classical music, whale calls, or just the sounds of nature. Whichever you choose, its unique link to our emotions can act as a stress reduction.
The repetitive motion of crafts such as knitting and sewing can help to sooth anxiety. Knitting in particular is beneficial due to the repetition of both sound and movement, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, quietening the bodies ‘fight or flight’ response and thereby lowering stress hormones.
Most importantly, take some time for you.
In our busy lives it isn't always easy to justify taking some time and space, but the research shows that is benefits everyone - you, those around you and, utlimately, your productivity - if you take a bit of time to manage stress symptoms in a tried and tested way.