Six Simple Ways to Reduce Stress
By Robert Silverman, DC, DACBN, DCBCN, MS, CCN, CNS, CSCS, CIISN, CKTP, CES, HKC, FAKTR
Whether you’re drowning in year-end analysis at work, perspiring over planning your impending Big Day, or figuring out that financing your latest side hustle isn’t all smooth sailing, stress can loom over us for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes we can easily get to the root of the issue and squash it; other times we need coping methods to manage and alleviate that stress. Here are six ways you can reduce stress and get back to mindful and meaningful living.
1. Make time to exercise
We all have busy schedules, and some days, heading to the gym might be the last priority on your to-do list. However, vigorous exercise will help get more oxygen into your brain, release endorphins, alleviate stress and boost creativity. Your workout doesn’t have to be lengthy to be effective. In fact, even a single bout of acute exercise can have significant positive effects on people’s mood and cognitive function.1 Studies show that adults who spend at least 68 minutes a day doing moderate physical activity have better glucose metabolism, which signals a healthy brain. Those who exercise also have greater brain volume in the areas of reasoning and executive functioning.2 Even light aerobic exercise on an elliptical machine or stationary bike, or a 20-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout, positively impacts cognitive functioning and brain-derived neurotrophic factor.3
2. Get better sleep every night
A consistent lack of sleep not only leads to short-term health issues, it’s also been proven to harm you in the long term. Continued sleep deprivation raises the risk factors for a number of long-term health problems.4 Furthermore, insufficient sleep can also have negative effects on mental health.5 While all of these health problems may initially increase your stress levels instead of lowering them, the fix is easy—get more sleep. How much sleep is considered sufficient? Sleep experts say we should get seven to nine hours each night.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, your first consideration should be your mattress. Most of us know that we should replace a mattress at least every 10 years, but how do you choose the right one? For starters, a mattress should provide firm but comfortable support to keep your spine in alignment while sleeping on your side or on your back. When you lie down, your mattress should give you a sense of floating, not sinking. Memory foam mattresses are a great choice because they conform to your body’s shape and eliminate pressure points. Hot sleepers can also choose a mattress that helps you to “sleep cool” and provides the same feel no matter the ambient room temperature.
3. Meditate often
When we experience stress, our bodies react with an increase in blood pressure and pulse rate, faster breathing, and increased blood flow to our muscles. These responses occur as a result of the release of the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine.6 In turn, meditation can help counteract these biological responses, aiding you in controlling stress, decreasing anxiety, and improving your cardiovascular health. According to research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice, meditation and mindfulness—the practice of learning to focus on moment-to-moment experiences with openness and acceptance—can be effective in treating psychiatric symptoms, pain, and stress. Even meditating for as little as 10 minutes per day has proven effective.7 Need help getting started? There’s a wide variety of apps available to guide you in beginning—and evolving—your meditation practice.
4. Practice yoga
Like meditation, practicing yoga encourages the use of numerous relaxation techniques, which can make you calmer. Also similar to meditation, the breathing you partake in during yoga can bring your mind to the present moment and help reduce stress. Those who have trouble sitting still to meditate may find yoga a worthy stress-relieving alternative. Aligning your breath with movement, and breaking a sweat in the process, can have positive effects on your mood and cognitive function.
5. Get regular massages
According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, regular massages can play a role in reducing anxiety, eliminating excess stress, and keeping cortisol levels in control. The study also showed that just one 45–60-minute relaxation massage lowered subjects’ heart rates by more than 10 beats per minute, lowered blood pressure, and promoted serotonin levels.8
6. Practice better time management
A survey conducted by psychologist Robert Epstein revealed that 25 percent of our happiness relies on how well we’re able to manage stress. Researchers polled 3,000 participants across 30 other countries about stress-management skills. Participants were asked about how happy and successful they were in their personal and professional lives. Turns out the stress management technique that worked best was planning; when people fought stress before it happened, they reduced later onset stress and frustration.9 The lesson here? Those who plan ahead tend to feel less stressed.
Taking the time to focus on mindfulness and self-care can greatly impact overall health, wellbeing, and ability to manage stress. Proper sleep, regular exercise, intentional breathing, and planning ahead should all be tools in the modern toolbox. Your startup, significant other, and/or strategy board are all counting on you to manage your stress—and, ultimately, your long-term health.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
- Basso JC et al. Brain Plasticity. 28 March 2017;2(2):127-52
- Dougherty RJ et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;58(4):1089-1097.
- Marquez C et al. J Appl Physiol. 2015;119(12):1363-1373.
- Harvard Health Publishing. 2009. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health Accessed February 8, 2019.
- Harvard Health Publishing. 2011. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response Accessed February 8, 2019.
- Harvard Heart Letter. Harvard Health Publishing. 2015. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/research-were-watching-too-much-or-too-little-sleep-linked-to-stiffer-arteries. Accessed February 8, 2019.
- Marchand WR. J Psychiatr Pract. 2012;18(4):233-252.
- Rapaport MH et al. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(10):1079-1088.
- Peláez MW. Time. 2011. http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/31/study-25-of-happiness-depends-on-stress-management/. Accessed February 8, 2019.
Dr. Silverman is a paid consultant and guest writer for Metagenics.