April is Stress Awareness Month. So let’s talk about stress…. not that I want more stress in my life, but stress awareness is a good thing! It would be fair to say that most of us – if not all of us – experience stress at times… some of us rarely and some of us all the time. Sadly, stress is something we can come become habituated to, not even realizing how much it has built up in our lives, or how much we have let IT control US. Some of us even become addicted to that adrenaline rush, and choose careers or make style choices that heighten the stress.
Why should we reduce stress?
The stress response – also known as the fight-or-flight response – is not just a mental state, it’s a physical state. Stress triggers body changes such as increased heart rate, increased respiration rate, and the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. And, yes, in critical situations, this innate response helps us move faster, think faster, react faster. But when we are always stressed, that increased adrenaline can lead to heart and other problems and the increased cortisol can lead to weight gain.
So what do we do? Awareness is the key – if we don’t know we’re in stress, it would be challenging to reduce it. Here are my top three tips for reducing stress (plus 6 bonus tips!)
Tip # 1: be present
Eckhart Tolle says stress is caused by being “here” but wanting to be “there”. So take a moment to notice where your thoughts are: in the future, worrying about what might be coming? In the past, worrying about what has already happened? Shift your attention to the now, to what you are doing this particular moment, and fully engage in that. When we focus on the now, typically we will feel an immediate downward shift in tension.
Another great way to get present is to pause and do a quick body scan with your mind, working from your crown chakra all the way through to your feet, noticing where you have tension or pain, where there is tightness, where you are relaxed. Notice your heart rate and your breath rate. Recognize what stress feels like in YOUR body, and you will be that much more aware next time you’re in that state.
Tip # 2: breathe
I have said it before (Tip of the Day: Breathe!) and I’ll say it again: one of the easiest ways to reduce stress, anxiety and tension is simply to breathe: take a few long slow breaths, inhaling deeply and fully, and exhaling until it feels there’s nothing left to give. Rinse & repeat!
When you breathe deeply and slowly, your body reacts immediately … both your heart rate and blood pressure will decrease and you will feel a greater connection to your body and your mind. Make it a habit – a few times a day, take a 5 minute breathing break.
Tip # 3: have a giggle
Break the tension with a little “risa terapia” – laughter therapy. Laughter feels GOOD! Laughter relaxes the body, reduces stress, tones the muscles, improves both respiration and circulation, and releases those “feel good” endorphins. Many medical professionals also believe that it boosts your immune system.
Laughter therapists recommend you:
- start by shaking out the tension, shaking your hands and feet, wiggling your fingers, rotating your shoulders.
- visualize the emotion you want to remove – the tension, stress, anxiety or other emotion
- warm up the throat with a little “ha ha ha”.
- With each big “HA”, visualize that that unwanted emotion is being expelled and released.
- Keep it going…. feel those deep belly laughs, feel the joy that is bubbling up, feel the stress being released, feel what it is like to be stress-free!
Make laughter part of your to day…. And consider joining a laughter yoga group.
What else can you do?
There are many ways to reduce stress and I encourage you to explore what works best for you. Try these six bonus tips:
- meditation – any kind is great for reducing stress and increasing focus
- movement and exercise – going for a walk or run, gentle yoga, stretching in your chair
- playing your favourite music
- reading a book
- sipping a herbal tea or lemon water (hydration is always good for the body!)
- call a friend just to say hello, or meet up for a fun activity
Top tip for reducing stress?
Most importantly, remember that stress is also a choice… we can choose to NOT be stressed by situations. Yes, it’s true. We can choose to breathe, to relax, to focus on what we can control, on what actions we can take, and we can let go of what we can’t control. We can choose another thought – one more empowering that moves us forward.