Commit a minimum of 10-20 minutes to a stress management activity of your choice. Try and establish a routine that you keep as often as possible. This means the same time and place every day. Ideally this should be something that you look forward to doing every day. If it feels like a burden then it will obviously be counter-productive.
Great for beginners, breathing meditation incorporates the use of deep, synchronized in and out breaths and holds. When practicing, special attention should be paid to the out breath, as this is when your parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response) is engaged. This can be used on the go, to great effect. Before meetings, public speaking etc. Two options below:
Breathe in for a five count, hold for a five count, exhale for a five count. After repeating several times try and lengthen your exhale by one second at a time. So you would breathe in deeply for 5 seconds, hold for five seconds, and exhale for six seconds, repeat this several times and then repeat with a seven second exhale and so on.
Alternating Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
This is an ancient yogic technique that does wonders to calm the mind. It is also one of my favorites. Begin by sitting comfortably and taking a few deep breaths to become settled. Then, using your right hand, place your thumb over your right nostril and your ring finger over your left nostril. To begin, pinch your right nostril shut with your right thumb and breath in deeply through your left nostril. Hold this for 3-4 seconds. Then release your right nostril and pinch your left nostril shut and exhale slowly. Repeat 3-5 times and then alternate by inhaling through your right nostril and exhaling through your left nostril.
(Demo video via yogajournal.com)
Also great for beginners, guided meditation incorporates the use of a guide (or voice) that will lead you through a full meditation from beginning to end. There are thousands of resources online for these but I’ve listed some here:
A traditional Vedic, or ancient Indian, style of meditation, Mantra based meditation incorporates the use of a word or phrase with little or no meaning that is used to quiet the mind into a more settled state. To get started with a mantra practice for some it is best to get an instructor but others can do just fine by researching different mantras and instructions online. Some resources for you below:
Possibly the most researched form of meditation; mindfulness meditation is practiced by observing thoughts and feelings, but not judging them. Instead you observe them and “make space for them.” In other words, you acknowledge them and let them be
Mindful.org has a great resource HERE
Best done outdoors, walking meditation is an active form of meditation in which we strive to be mindful of the experience of walking. This means not only the experiences and sensations that arise inside the body, but also the environment around us. We strive to cultivate greater awareness of the, sights, smells, sounds, feeling of the ground against our feet etc.
Drawing or Painting
Drawing, painting and almost all forms of art require us to be deeply present and engaged in what we are doing in order to facilitate the creative process. I’m sure you’ve heard that many artists frequently lose themselves in their work. In effect, they are not lost but instead deeply present in the moment. In effect, anything that requires you to be present can be an incredible stress reliever. Other examples include gardening, playing music, reading a book etc. Adult coloring has become quite popular lately
Here we’re talking about expressive writing, or writing about negative thoughts and feelings that may have arisen during the day. This is particularly effective for people that have experienced stressful or traumatic events. One reason expressive writing may be effective is that it allows you to think critically and intellectually about an event and therefore avoid excessive rumination or cyclic thinking. We enable ourselves to express the negative emotion associated with an event and then move on.
Religions have incorporated a regular prayer practice for centuries and for good reason. If you follow a particular religion then this can be a great way for you to relieve stress.
All you need here is an iPod and a good pair of headphones. If you are short on ideas for music then something like Pandora, Spotify or iTunes radio are great options. Try searching the keywords “relaxation,” “meditation” etc. Youtube is another great option. *This song was shown to reduce anxiety in participants by an average of 65%
Touch can have a tremendously therapeutic effect. Stress often results in tension in the body and massage is an extremely effective way to relieve this tension and facilitate the relaxation response, or parasympathetic nervous system. After a hectic day our fight-or-flight system has likely been overactive and massage can help to tune the parasympathetic nervous response, acting as a counter-balance to a stress filled day.
In functional medicine we embrace the notion that the mind and brain are not separate from the body, and vice versa. It is this mind-body connection that makes yoga such an extremely effective approach to stress management. Practiced for thousands of years in south-Asian cultures, this synchronization of our movement, breath and awareness is a powerful way to relieve stress. Although commonly thought of as a form of exercise, yoga in it’s traditional form can be much more than that. Yes, yoga can be physically demanding but through synchronized movements and breathing you can effectively access the limbic region of the brain, which is the area of the brain that reacts to stress. Therefore, yoga has many of the same benefits of a meditation practice. If practiced regularly you will notice that you are less stressed at work, more flexible, having an easier time standing most of the day etc. All things that we want in order to be more productive! There are many yoga channels online
- If you are finding it hard to make the first move and attend a structured class, then consider an at-home course. There are thousands of these available on all forms of media, from DVD’s, apps, Internet etc. All you will need is a yoga mat, which can be purchased online.
- If you are looking for a structured class in a yoga studio, make sure you find a beginner course with an instructor that is both supportive and experienced with coaching beginners. The last thing you want is to leave thinking that “I’m glad that’s over, this is way too hard for me.” Instead you should leave feeling refreshed and feeling great.
Spend time in Nature
By far one of the most underrated but effective ways to relieve stress is to return to our roots. By that I mean return to the lush green environments in which we have evolved. This can be especially impactful for those of us that live in a metropolitan area or spend most of our time in an office setting. Countless studies have shown reduced cortisol levels (the stress hormone) in those that have regular access to natural environments. Going for a hike or walk, playing with your kids at the park, taking the dog for a walk, going to the beach are all good options.