Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to combat stress.
It might seem contradictory, but putting physical stress on your body through exercise can relieve mental stress.
The benefits are strongest when you exercise regularly. People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who don’t exercise
There are a few reasons behind this:
Stress hormones: Exercise lowers your body’s stress hormones — such as cortisol — in the long run. It also helps release endorphins, which are chemicals that improve your mood and act as natural painkillers.
Sleep: Exercise can also improve your sleep quality, which can be negatively affected by stress and anxiety.
Confidence: When you exercise regularly, you may feel more competent and confident in your body, which in turn promotes mental wellbeing.
Try to find an exercise routine or activity you enjoy, such as walking, dancing, or rock climbing.
Exercise also seems to help mood. Part of the reason may be that it stimulates your body to release a number of hormones like endorphins and endocannabinoids that help block pain, improve sleep, and sedate you. Some of them (endocannabinoids) may be responsible for the euphoric feeling, or “runner’s high,” that some people report after long runs.
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People who exercise also tend to feel less anxious and more positive about themselves. When your body feels good, your mind often follows. Get a dose of stress relief with these exercises:
If you don't have the time for a formal exercise program, you can still find ways to move throughout your day. Try these tips:
Bike instead of driving to the store.
Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
Park as far as you can from the door.
Hand-wash your car.
Clean your house.
Walk on your lunch break.
2. Spend time with friends and family
Social support from friends and family can help you get through stressful times.
Being part of a friend network gives you a sense of belonging and self-worth, which can help you in tough times.
One study found that for women in particular, spending time with friends and children helps release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called “tend and befriend,” and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.
Keep in mind that both men and women benefit from friendship.
Another study found that men and women with the fewest social connections were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
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It’s hard to feel anxious when you’re laughing. It’s good for your health, and there are a few ways it may help relieve stress:
Relieving your stress response.
Relieving tension by relaxing your muscles.
In the long term, laughter can also help improve your immune system and mood.
A study among people with cancer found that people in the laughter intervention group experienced more stress relief than those who were simply distracted.
Try watching a funny TV show or hanging out with friends who make you laugh.
4. Learn to say no
Not all stressors are within your control, but some are.
Take control over the parts of your life that you can change and are causing you stress.
One way to do this may be to say “no” more often.
This is especially true if you find yourself taking on more than you can handle, as juggling many responsibilities can leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Being selective about what you take on — and saying no to things that will unnecessarily add to your load — can reduce your stress levels.
5. Learn to avoid procrastination
Another way to take control of your stress is to stay on top of your priorities and stop procrastinating.
Procrastination can lead you to act reactively, leaving you scrambling to catch up. This can cause stress, which negatively affects your health and sleep quality.
Get in the habit of making a to-do list organized by priority. Give yourself realistic deadlines and work your way down the list.
Work on the things that need to get done today and give yourself chunks of uninterrupted time, as switching between tasks or multitasking can be stressful itself.
6. Take a yoga class
Yoga has become a popular method of stress relief and exercise among all age groups.
While yoga styles differ, most share a common goal — to join your body and mind.
Yoga primarily does this by increasing body and breath awareness.
Some studies have examined yoga’s effect on mental health. Overall, research has found that yoga can enhance mood and may even be as effective as antidepressant drugs at treating depression and anxiety (17).
However, many of these studies are limited, and there are still questions about how yoga works to achieve stress reduction.
In general, the benefit of yoga for stress and anxiety seems to be related to its effect on your nervous system and stress response.
It may help lower cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate and increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that is lowered in mood disorders.
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7. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness describes practices that anchor you to the present moment.
It can help combat the anxiety-inducing effects of negative thinking.
There are several methods for increasing mindfulness, including mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga and meditation.
A recent study in college students suggested that mindfulness may help increase self-esteem, which in turn lessens symptoms of anxiety and depression.
8. Deep breathing
Mental stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, signaling your body to go into “fight-or-flight” mode.
During this reaction, stress hormones are released and you experience physical symptoms such as a faster heartbeat, quicker breathing and constricted blood vessels.
Deep breathing exercises can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response.
There are several types of deep breathing exercises, including diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration.
The goal of deep breathing is to focus your awareness on your breath, making it slower and deeper. When you breathe in deeply through your nose, your lungs fully expand and your belly rises.
9. Spend time with your pet
Having a pet may help reduce stress and improve your mood.
Having a pet may also help relieve stress by giving you purpose, keeping you active and providing companionship — all qualities that help reduce anxiety.
The benefits of eating health foods extend beyond your waistline to your mental health. A healthy diet can lessen the effects of stress, build up your immune system, level your mood, and lower your blood pressure. Lots of added sugar and fat can have the opposite effect. And junk food can seem even more appealing when you’re under a lot of stress.
To stay healthy and on an even keel, look for complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and fatty acids found in fish, meat, eggs, and nuts.
Antioxidants help too. They protect your cells against damage that chronic stress can cause. You can find them in a huge variety of foods like beans, fruits, berries, vegetables, and spices such as ginger.
Stick to a healthy diet with a few simple tips. Make a shopping list. Carry healthy snacks with you when you leave the house. Stay away from processed foods, and try not to eat mindlessly.
Scientists have pinpointed some nutrients that seem to help lessen the effects of stress on the body and mind. Be sure to get enough these as part of a balanced diet:
Omega-3 fatty acids
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A common side effect of stress is that you may struggle to fall asleep. If this happens three times a week for at least 3 months, you may have insomnia, an inability to fall and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can also add to your stress level and cause a cycle of stress and sleeplessness.
Better sleep habits can help. This includes both your daily routine and the way you set up your bedroom. Habits that may help include:
Get out in the sunlight.
Drink less alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime.
Set a sleep schedule.
Don’t look at your electronics 30-60 minutes before bed.
Try meditation or other forms of relaxation at bedtime.
The role of your bedroom in good sleep hygiene also is important. In general, your room should be dark, quiet, and cool -- 60-65 degrees is thought to be an ideal temperature to stay asleep. Your bed also plays an important role. Your mattress should provide support, space and most of all, comfort.
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12. Make Time for Hobbies
You need to set aside time for things you enjoy. Try to do something every day that makes you feel good, and it will help relieve your stress. It doesn’t have to be a ton of time -- even 15 to 20 minutes will do. Relaxing hobbies include things like:
Doing an art project
Watching a movie
Playing cards and board games
13. Talk About Your Problems
If things are bothering you, talking about them can help lower your stress. You can talk to family members, friends, a trusted clergyman, your doctor, or a therapist.
And you can also talk to yourself. It’s called self-talk and we all do it. But in order for self-talk to help reduce stress you need to make sure it’s positive and not negative.
So listen closely to what you’re thinking or saying when you’re stressed out. If you’re giving yourself a negative message, change it to a positive one. For example, don’t tell yourself “I can’t do this.” Tell yourself instead: “I can do this,” or “I’m doing the best I can.”
14. Go Easy On Yourself
Accept that you can’t do things perfectly no matter how hard you try. You also can’t control everything in your life. So do yourself a favor and stop thinking you can do so much. And don’t forget to keep up your sense of humor. Laughter goes a long way towards making you feel relaxed.