Top 5 ways to reduce stress
Stress reducing practices should never be an SOS situation. They should be incorporated into our daily life so that they can help build resilience overall.
Stress is spoken about in plenty, but stress reduction is not prioritised on a daily basis. Have you seen articles on the damaging effects of stress and simply scrolled by? Are you someone who knows how damaging stress is, but do not include practices into your daily life? Are you that someone who only starts to practice breath work and meditation when you are spiralling under the impact of high stress with heart palpitations and insomnia?
Well, then you are the one who needs to read this. My mantra to all my clients is that stress reducing practices should never be an SOS situation. They should be incorporated into our daily life so that they can help build resilience overall. That way, when there are situations of high stress, and we all will face them again and again, you have the resources to face the stressors, not allow long term impact, and get back on even keel quickly.
How stress affects our body?
Stress impacts systems within the body in several ways. When you are in a sympathetic dominant state of high stress, a fight or flight state, then your body releases adrenaline, pupils dilate, blood vessels constrict, digestion stops, heart rate increases, temperature increases, immune function weakens, and reproductive function reduces.
All these can be associated with poor sleep, high stress, and therefore reduction in the quality of health and perhaps a risk for severe conditions.
You can have symptoms of poor digestive health, hormone fluctuations and weak immunity for several weeks. If stress is perpetuating, and you have poor resilience to it, these symptoms can move from acute to chronic, where they remain.
Eventually, you might try and take over the counter medication for specific symptoms, and they might not improve, since the root cause is the high stress.
Here are the top five ways to build resilience to stress.
Since we are talking about oxygenation, let me just mention the difference between nose breathing and mouth breathing. Observe anyone who has challenges with health -- physical or emotional, when they sleep, you might observe that they sleep with their mouth open.
Mouth breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system, increases mouth dryness, increases respiratory state, increases heart rate, release less carbon-dioxide, and makes your blood pH acidic. It also reduces nitric oxide and impacts the lymphatic system and circulatory system. Nasal breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, increases nitric oxide production, improves lymphatic movement, and helps with resilience.
Practicing simple nasal breathing is the best way to manage stress. Sit in a comfortable position and focus on two key point together. The first is feeling the breath in your nostrils and observing the coolness of the air with the inhalation and the warmth of the air with the exhalation. The second is to feel the abdomen gently ballooning out with the inhalation and relaxing with the exhalation. Practicing this for ten minutes a day is very powerful.
2. Yoga asana
When you are under high stress, it can be difficult to sit down and practice meditation, as might be usually recommended. However, practicing regular yoga asana the right way helps use the body to calm down the mind.
The key point here is how yoga is practiced. In the modern yoga parlance of Instagram yoga pictures and power yoga, this can be confusing.
The practice you really need is one where anything that involves movement, such as sun salutations, are done very slowly. Anything which is an asana is held where you feel comfortable without forcing the boundaries of comfort. The focus is on remaining still in the asana and being mindful about the breath becoming slow, silent, and subtle. This is something that even long-term practitioners can struggle with.
3. Guided relaxation
I mentioned at the start of the article that practices should be done regularly, and not only under high stress. I have had several people tell me that they are unable to calm down while playing my guided relaxations, and that their heart rate remains elevated. Usually, the ones who do this are those who only try and play them after a highly stressful event in their life has already upset even keel and set off that physiological chain of events of elevated heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. If you try to include a daily guided meditation in the middle of the day, your ability to regain that equilibrium under stress is always higher. I suggest lying down on the ground, using earphones, and playing a guided meditation in the afternoon. This allows you to take pause and relax.
4. Prioritise sleep
Lack of sleep is a stressor. One night of poor sleep also raises ghrelin, the hunger hormone, so you feel unnatural hunger. It lowers leptin, the satiety hormone, so no amount of food will make you feel satiated. Therefore, you are more sensitive to blood sugar, adrenal, and hormone fluctuations. This disrupts mood, increases the tendency towards anger, and prevents you from having the ability to stay calm under stress. Sometimes, things may not be in your hand. But, if you are someone who works late into the night and sleeps towards the dawn, think again. Research has shown that you can have higher levels of cortisol, and disrupted hormones when sleep has poor quality, quantity, and improper timing.
5. Eat right
One of the mantras I believe in is that psychology follows physiology. What I mean by this is that it is very challenging to have a balanced mind, when the body is in a state of imbalance.
Cortisol and insulin are the two sides of the same coin. High cortisol from perpetuating stress impacts the behavior of insulin. In turn, eating a high sugar diet which constantly requires an output of insulin can predispose you towards higher cortisol release and more stress.
Eating right with low sugars, plenty of colorful vegetables, optimal protein, and inclusion of healthy fats at every single meal can help to keep blood sugar stable, keeping insulin and cortisol balanced.
Managing stress is an art. The main thing to remember always is that increasing resilience to stress should be subtle practices built into daily life. They should not be just during SOS situations. Adding a few minutes a day can go a long way into making you more balanced and have the ability to quickly restore even keel.
Edited by Megha Reddy
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)