“I am so stressed out!,” “I have too much stress to deal with in my life!,” “I have so much stress I don’t know what to do!”
We hear (and say) statements like the above all the time. The word stress is thrown around so much that we may not realise what it really means in different situations.
So, what is stress?
Stress is a normal reaction when you experience changes or challenges, which are called stressors. The way your body physically, mentally, and emotionally reacts to stressors is stress.
Stress is common; in fact, according to the American Psychological Association, “three-quarters of adults report physical or emotional symptoms of stress, such as headache, feeling tired, or changes in sleeping habits.”
Stress can be positive by keeping us motivated, alert, and ready to avoid dangerous situations. However, if the stress continues on a regular basis, your body’s “fight-or-flight” response will take over and cause problems on your physical, mental, and emotional health.
You may experience physical symptoms such as chest pain, exhaustion, headaches, muscle tension, digestive problems, and an overall weakened immune system. Stress also causes mental and emotional problems like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
In an attempt to manage stress, many people will turn to unhealthy behaviours which can turn into addictions, including:
- Abusing alcohol
- Abusing drugs
- Overeating or undereating
- Compulsive shopping
While there is no one-size-fits-all stress relief method, it is essential to find what works for you. The best stress relievers are natural ones that you can practice and master. They are also free!
Ten Natural Ways to Relieve Stress
1. Learn to Say No
Sometimes the best way to reduce stress is to say no and strategically remove stressors from your life. Make a list of the things that cause you the most stress. Too much work? Too many commitments? Too much social media or watching the news? An unhealthy relationship?
Decide to say no when you need to. Whether it’s “no” to a project, you know you don’t have time to do or “no” to a social event you don’t want to attend. Maybe it’s “no” to too much screen time or “no” to a relationship that causes you stress. Whatever you can remove in your life to reduce your stress, do it.
2. Write it Down
Writing down your stressors, thoughts, and emotions can prove a valuable tool for managing stress. Grab a pen and paper (or a notebook or journal) and write out how you feel without worrying about how it sounds.
Research shows that journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression by helping you prioritize your problems, fears, and concerns. Once you have identified your stressors, you can make a plan on how to tackle the stressors. Journaling regularly is an easy, natural way to relieve stress.
3. Meditate Regularly
Meditation is often an overlooked stress reliever because people don’t understand what it means to meditate. While an old-age practice, meditation can take many forms and may or may not be combined with spiritual practices. Meditation is defined as practices intended to reach a heightened sense of awareness and focus.
While meditation techniques differ, research shows that most have four elements in common: 1.) a quiet location, 2. ) a comfortable posture, 3.) a focus of attention, and 4.) an open attitude. Studies show that meditation is a highly effective way to relieve stress and anxiety, and other physical problems like high blood pressure and pain.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness has become a popular way for people to manage their stress levels and improve their overall well-being. A form of meditation, Mindfulness, can be described in different ways, but it comes down to training your attention to achieve calmness and acceptance.
When practising Mindfulness, you pay close attention to what is happening at the present moment. You will direct your breath and your thoughts to the way your body feels, physically and mentally. After observing those feelings, you let them go without judgement. Mindfulness classes and therapies can be helpful in adding this healing practice to your day-to-day life.
5. Exercise Regularly
The link between exercise and stress levels has been studied extensively over the years. Exercise is one of the most important ways you can combat stress. Research shows (over and over) that people who exercise regularly experience less stress and anxiety than those who don’t.
How does this work, exactly? First, exercise lowers the body’s stress hormones and releases endorphins, the body’s “feel-good” chemicals that naturally improve mood. Second, exercise can help you sleep better, and if you are stressed on a regular basis, more than likely, you experience sleep disruptions. Stress also helps you feel more confident, which contributes to your overall well-being.
6. Enjoy Aromatherapy
Think about Aromatherapy this way: certain smells, like fresh-cut grass, lavender, vanilla, or even cookies baking in the oven, take your mind to positive, even nostalgic places. The benefits of Aromatherapy are vast—scents can help you feel more energized, calm, and more alive in the moment.
How does this work? Research reports that certain scents affect brain activity and cognitive function through improving mood, stress, and productivity. You may enjoy lighting candles, using diffusers and essential oils, or incorporating scents throughout your day in other ways, but realize the power of smell and how it positively affects the brain and stress levels.
7. Reduce Caffeine
Most people enjoy daily jolts of Caffeine in the forms of coffee, tea, sodas, or energy drinks, but pay attention to how much Caffeine you consume. While low to moderate doses of caffeine increase alertness, attention, and elevate mood, studies show that high amounts can increase anxiety, stress, and depression.
How much Caffeine is too much? For most healthy adults, the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration cite that 400 milligrams, around four to five cups of coffee, is generally not associated with negative side effects. However, everyone’s caffeine tolerance differs, so if you notice caffeine-related symptoms like insomnia, jitters, anxiety, fast heart rate, headache, try cutting back or eliminating altogether.
8. Practice Positive Self-Talk
Think about the way you talk to yourself. You may not even realize the thoughts you have and what you say to yourself in your mind, but the way you speak to yourself strongly influences your stress levels. Harsh self-criticism, unrealistic expectations, and self-doubt aren’t beneficial and cause your stress levels to skyrocket.
When you notice what you say to yourself, ask: Would I say this to someone I love? If the answer is no, then stop. Replace your statements with positive ones. For example, if you find yourself saying things like, “I can’t handle this!” or “I am not strong enough!” ask yourself, “How can I handle this?” and “I have the tools necessary to handle anything that I encounter.”
9. Express Gratitude
Researchers have discovered a key to reducing stress and increasing overall well-being: Gratitude! The benefits of expressing Gratitude include improved physical symptoms like stronger immune systems, more energy, better sleep, and psychological improvements like increased positive emotions and reduced stress and anxiety.
Expressing Gratitude is a simple practice, and you can do it anywhere. Start with a conscious decision to notice what you are grateful for. Write these things down and remember them throughout the day. Researcher Robert Emmons writes, “Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness. It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.”
10. Enlist Social Support
Having supportive people in your life is another key to managing stress levels. Defined by psychologists, social support refers to “acts that communicate caring; that validate the other’s words, feelings or actions; or that facilitate adaptive coping with problems through the provision of information, assistance, or tangible resources.”
Being a part of a network gives you a sense of belonging, increases feelings of self-worth, and helps you know you’re not alone. Studies show that spending time with family and friends releases the hormone oxytocin, a natural stress reliever.
Finding the best ways to manage stress takes practice and experimenting.
We are all different, and what works well for someone may not work as well for someone else, but the bottom line is that there are many research-proven ways to naturally lower stress levels.
If you find that your stress is unmanageable, reach out for help. Through techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), professionals can help you understand your stressors and how to manage them to live a healthy, fulfilling life.