Money, work, family, relationships, extracurricular activities, commitments, responsibilities, housework, car repairs, money again—what do they all have in common? Common causes of S-T-R-E-S-S.
Stress is a real issue facing people worldwide today, and stress relief has become a regular topic of discussion among friends, family members, coworkers and the blogosphere. Stress can be caused by any one or several things, but even if it starts out small, it can snowball if the stress is not dealt with as soon as possible.
With National Stress Awareness month (April) just behind us, it’s time to apply that awareness to everyday life and to rid yourself of stress as much and as best as you can. Awareness is the first step—identifying your stressor and confronting it head on.
Once you know what the stressor is, you can figure out smaller steps to take to get you to a point of a relaxed mind and body, free of stress. And then once you figure out ways to take care of one stressor, you’ll know how to handle any other stressors that come along in the future.
Looking for ways to get rid of stress as soon as possible? Here are five ways that you can free yourself from stress, all of which you can start to implement in your own life right away.
5 5: Focus On The Present
A great deal of stress comes from wallowing in the past or worrying about the future, and neither of these things can be controlled by anything you do in the present. What happened, happened, and what will happen, will happen, regardless of how much you think about and stress over it. It’s best to accept that you can’t control anything except what you are doing and thinking at that moment, and to surrender all other regrets, worries, expectations, and so on until you are focused solely on the present.
One way to help you focus is doing breathing exercises, particularly in conjunction with meditation or yoga. Concentrating on your breathing is one of the easiest ways to focus and clear your mind. Start by breathing in deeply and counting the seconds slowly, then exhale just as deeply while still counting the seconds. If you try to focus only on how you’re breathing and the seconds you’re counting, you should be able to focus and clear your mind, even for just a moment.
This is a difficult exercise when you’re just starting out, and it’s very easy to become distracted by all of the thoughts and stresses running around your head. But every little bit helps, and even a few moments away from stressful thoughts is better than nothing, so you should start right away. It’ll become easier and you’ll focus longer as you practice for awhile.
Once you have focused and cleared your mind, then you can ease your way back into everyday life, doing your best to only focus what you can do, feel, think and control in that moment, taking each moment one at a time.
4 4: Express Yourself
To relieve stress, sometimes simply releasing energy and feelings through either talking or some other creative outlet can help you feel the stress and tension leave your body. When you express yourself, you are letting those feelings go, allowing them to flow through and out of you.
Expressing yourself can be as simple as talking through the situation with a loved one. Whether you call your parent or best friend or sit on the couch and vent to your significant other, talking through your thoughts and feelings can be a positive way for you to relieve yourself of some of the emotions and stress you’re experiencing. Even just the act of being listened to often makes people feel better and understood. Just don’t vent or dwell for too long—the exercise is meant to release the stress and move on, not wallow in it.
In addition to the release of energy and emotions, talking through a stressful situation can also help illuminate it, either through self-realization or through the suggestions and advice of others, making it easier for you to solve the issue or at least make it easier and less stressful to deal with or think about.
Another way to express yourself is through some creative outlet. This could be writing in a journal, a way for you to take down all of your thoughts and feelings and put them on a page. You could either put them away forever or keep them as a reference or memories for later.
You could also draw or paint a picture, play a musical instrument or any other creative activity that allows you to focus on the activity and express your energy and emotions through it. You never know what a stressful situation might inspire—and how good you might feel after creating from that inspiration.
3 3: Engage In Physical Activity
When you’re stressed out or upset about something, sometimes the last thing you want to do is get up from the couch or bed and do any kind of physical activity. But little did you know that it is just that physical activity that can rouse you from a slump and help free both your mind and body of stress.
This physical activity doesn’t have to mean getting ready and dragging yourself to the gym. It can simply be taking a walk outside, even if just for 10 or 15 minutes around your neighborhood. You could do jumping jacks for one minute or a set or two of crunches or push-ups. Even just stretching for a few minutes would work, particularly if it was in yoga poses.
When you get your body moving and exert energy, that exercise decreases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, in your body. These stress hormones can wreak havoc on your body, making you feel tired and unhappy. Decreasing these stress hormones elevates your mood, relieves anxiety, improves your focus and concentration, boosts your self-esteem and makes you feel more positive and happy overall.
Physical activity not only decreases stress hormones, but it also increases endorphins, another hormone in your brain. Endorphins are often known as “happy hormones,” and they interact with receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain or otherwise trigger positive feelings in the mind and body. Sometimes this is referred to as a “runner’s high.”
By simultaneously decreasing stress hormones and boosting endorphins, exercise and other physical activity do wonders for relieving stress in both the mind and body.
2 2: Immerse Yourself In A Group Activity
Whether you go out for a drink with friends or participate in a volunteer group, being around other people is often a positive stress reliever. Besides simply taking yourself out of your own head and bringing you more into the present, interacting with other people can introduce new ideas and concepts into your life that can alter your perspective both in the long and short term.
Don’t just interact with people—enjoy your time with them. Appreciate their company and their time, and know that they could be doing many other things. Instead, they choose to spend that time with others, including yourself, so find the value in that sentiment and live in the present moments that you are sharing. Share a laugh, create a memory and otherwise allow yourself to become immersed in the present to leave your stresses behind.
Now, one time this may not be the case is if you are anxious in social situations. If that is the case, you still have other options. If you are more comfortable talking online than interacting in person, then find a way to host a group chat with your friends online to enjoy the group immersion effect that way.
If you are more of a loner by nature, then you might find that watching a movie can have a similar effect. The point is to get out of your own head and focus on other people and their actions, thoughts and feelings. If actual social activities stress you out even more, then you can achieve some of the same effects by watching a movie with characters that interest you or that you can empathize with—any way that you can forget your own stress long enough to reset your mind and give yourself some perspective.
1 1: Actively Change Your Thoughts And Behavior
This last tip can be easier said than done, but sometimes it is the only way to solve a problem and cure current and future stresses. If a certain thought is stressing you out and repeatedly pops into your head, you need to consciously do whatever you can to erase that thought from your mind or combat it with a more positive thought or feeling.
You can perform many different thought-stopping exercises to practice this, one of which is to simply think of the word stop or picture a stop sign every time that thought pops into your head until it goes away or you start thinking about something else. It may seem silly at first, but it can really work.
In a similar light, you can immediately replace the nagging, stressful thought with a predetermined positive one that you use every time. For example, if the thought is, “I’m never going to find a job,” your positive thought can be, “I’m working toward getting a job, and the right one will come around when the time is right.”
The same goes for behavior. Behavior that results from stress or anger tends to have negative consequences for the mind and body, so actively and consciously working to change that is key to letting go of your stress, both in the present and for preventing it in the future.
This may be done by practicing stress management activities, such as breathing exercises, meditating and exercising, right when you feel the negativity coming on or right before or after a situation that you know might trigger that type of stress. What you want to do is begin actively participating in another behavior that counteracts and hopefully eventually replaces the negative stress-related behavior.
Changing thoughts and behaviors takes a lot of time, effort and practice, but it can be one of the most valuable tools for stress reduction. It’s easy to take the first step and start implementing small changes here and there as soon as today, or even right now.