April is not only when spring is in full swing — it’s also National Stress Awareness Month! And stress is certainly an issue that deserves its own month.
All over the world, people are suffering from stress-related illnesses and threats to their wellbeing. According to a study from The Regus Group, 48 percent of people worldwide said their stress levels had increased in the past year, with work named as the top source of chronic stress.
Stress in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. It alerts us to risky situations, and helped our ancestors know when to “flight or fight” in response to lions, tigers, bears, or whatever other prehistoric dangers awaited them.
In today’s world, however, chronic stress is a serious problem.
Unfortunately in modern society, temporary stress has turned into constant pressure — and many people feel its effects all day, every day.
Stress is supposed to quickly come and go, but because we’re faced with work, bills, traffic, health issues, raising children, 24 hour news coverage, and the pressures of social media — stress often enters our lives and never leaves.
When stress is chronic, that means our body is constantly releasing the stress hormone, cortisol. In small amounts, cortisol is necessary and beneficial. It helps us to regulate blood pressure, increase the immune system, and decrease sensitivity to pain.
In high amounts, however, cortisol is toxic. It can cause fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, anxiety or depression, weight gain, high blood pressure, low libido or erectile dysfunction, and poor sleep. Overall it can contribute to a host of health issues including the number one killer: heart disease.
The key is finding healthy strategies to deal with chronic stress and cortisol overload, which is crucially important for our physical and mental health!
In keeping with National Stress Awareness Month, here are five ways to instantly relax. Take a deep breath and dive in.
1.Meditate. Yes, this is an obvious choice, but it’s one that too many people skip because they think it’s too difficult, too boring, or too
2. Get out in nature. Often called “forest bathing,” walking in the woods or another green space is now prescribed by some doctors as a way to reduce stress and boost mental and physical health. In Japan, it’s called
3. Breathe deep. Our breath is what keeps us alive, but all often we forget about it altogether. Because it happens automatically, it’s easy to lose touch with how important the intake of oxygen is. And how we breathe can make a major difference in our mood, stress level, and general wellbeing. Most of us are shallow breathers, meaning, we breathe only into our chest cavities, taking in less oxygen than we should. To fix this, we can practice proper breathing, which involves using our entire diaphragm to breathe all the way into our lungs. For a few minutes each day (particularly when you’re feeling stressed or anxious), breathe deep to the count of three, hold it to the count of three, then exhale to the count of three. It’s as simple as three, three, three!
4. Doodle. It may sound a little strange, but doodling can be a great brain drain and way to turn your attention away from stressful thoughts. Doodling is basically just drawing little images, shapes, or any other random scribbles. (Coloring is another option — hence the rise in popularity of adult-oriented coloring books.) Science has shown that doodling can actually help improve your focus and memory retention, relieve psychological distress and chronic
5. Take a bath. Baths may seem like a luxury in our time-crunched lives, but it can be just the relaxation tactic you need. Hot water is instantly soothing. Stress makes our muscles tense, but warm temps loosen them up. A bath can also help reduce blood pressure and help us breathe more easily, which can aid in reducing chronic stress. Interestingly enough, one study even showed that hot baths (specifically, hour-long baths) can burn as many calories as a half hour walk! So baths are a worthwhile addition to your weekly routine.
Do you have any other favorite ways to relax and recharge? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!
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