15 Proven Ways to Relax and Destress After a Hard Day
Is your job, your relationship, or the general state of the world today stressing you out? Even the most seemingly together person can find themselves overwhelmed by tension and have difficulty coping from time to time. Studies have shown that chronic stress can be very harmful to your health, so it’s important to recognize when you’re feeling overwhelmed and in need of some TLC.
Here are 15 tried and true methods to help you unwind after a stressful day.
Take a deep breath
It sounds like a cliché, but studies have shown that deep breathing really does help alleviate stress because it triggers a natural response in your body. By sending oxygen to the brain, it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms both the body and mind.
One breathing exercise that many swear by is the 4-7-8 technique: inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale slowly for 8 seconds. Repeat the cycle as many times as you wish and you should find yourself feeling a little more serene than when you started.
Have a snack
Sometimes when we’re stressed, we have a tendency to stress eat, and some of us turn to junk food. Fatty, salty, or sugary foods might feel good and calm you down in the short term, but they don’t do much for your mind or body in the long term.
Stress eating doesn’t have to be a bad thing. By choosing the right foods you may even be able to decrease stress by way of nutrients. Foods like berries, avocados, asparagus, and green tea contain antioxidants that have been found to have calming effects.
Listen to music
It should come as no surprise that music can have a powerful effect on our emotions, but did you know it can influence your physical self too? Researchers at Stanford University found that music can alter your brain function much like medication can, by creating alpha brainwaves that relax us.
Before you reach for your favorite death metal album though, studies found that some types of music are more relaxing than others. New age music featuring Native, Celtic, or Indian stringed instruments and flutes is the most calming, along with classical music and light jazz.
Take a hike
Exercise of any kind has long been known to help alleviate stress because it releases endorphins, which are the feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain that give you that “runners high” and stimulate relaxation. However, you don’t have to run a marathon in order to find tranquility. Studies have shown that even just a 30 minute walk can have the same relaxing effect as a mild tranquilizer.
Surround yourself with greenery
While you’re out for that walk, do yourself a favor and stroll past some trees. A recent academic study showed that people who live in neighbourhoods with trees and wildlife enjoy better mental health than those who don’t.
If you’re trapped in a concrete jungle without access to nature, never fear. Houseplants have been found to lower blood pressure, lower anxiety, and improve general well being too. Some plants that are supposed to be particularly calming are snake plants, peace lilies, and philodendrons.
Step away from social media
Social media is a fairly recent phenomenon so the full extent of its effect on society is not yet known, but apparently almost half of millennials worry that social media has a negative impact on their mental health. One thing we do know is that looking at screens all day certainly has an affect on your sleep. Heavy cell phone and computer use, particularly before bedtime, has been linked to sleep disorders and depressive symptoms.
At the very least, try to take more breaks from social media when you can, and turn off your screens at least one hour before bedtime. This can help improve your sleep cycle, which in turn can help lower stress levels.
Try this Naam yoga trick
If you’re looking for a quick fix for your stress, a simple Naam yoga technique that targets pressure points in the body just might help. Next time you’re feeling anxious or distressed, try applying pressure to the inside of the base of your middle finger. Sharon Melnick, author of Success Under Stress says that this technique “activates a nerve that loosens the area around the heart, so any of that fluttery feeling you feel when you’re nervous will end up going away.”
Take up knitting
This age-old pastime isn’t just for grandmas anymore. Activities that involve repetitive motions, such as knitting or crocheting, have been found to help calm the mind and body, much like meditation or yoga. This is because it lowers your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormone levels.
Knitting isn’t just women’s work anymore, either. Plenty of men have taken up their needles to stitch their way to relaxation. As an added bonus, you’ll be alleviating some of that holiday stress before it even happens; handmade scarves make great Christmas gifts!
Get some Zs
Which came first, your stress or your insomnia? Being in a state of stress causes hyperarousal which can make it difficult to fall and/or stay asleep. But there’s also nothing more stressful than having to function after a bad sleep, so in turn one affects the other.
Dedicate yourself to improving your sleep cycle if need be. Try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day. Eliminate any stimulants or distractions that might be affecting your cycle. You can even download an app that monitors your sleep patterns and helps you work towards getting a better night’s rest.
Get some Xs and Os
If you’re feeling keyed up, a kiss or a hug from someone you trust might be the best medicine. Research has shown that a simple hug between loved ones can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and even improve your memory. Kissing has also been found to lower blood pressure, boost self-esteem, and lower anxiety. Physical touching increases serotonin and oxytocin, and decreases the stress hormone known as cortisol, boosting your mood and relaxing the body.
Gratitude isn’t just a good character trait; it’s actually good for your health. Studies have found that people who are grateful for what they have supposedly had better immune functions, less inflammation, and even better sleep patterns than others. In fact, cortisol levels were found to be 23% lower in “grateful people.”
So how do you practice gratitude? One way is to keep a gratitude journal where each day you reflect on what you are thankful for, whether it is big or small. By keeping track of your blessings, you just might thank yourself into better health.
Strike a yoga pose
You’ve probably heard by now that yoga is a proven tool for stress management that can lower both your heart rate and blood pressure. Some of us like the idea of yoga, but the thought of working out in a class full of strangers sounds even more stressful than the stress we’re seeking to relieve in the first place.
Luckily, yoga really can be done anywhere and by anyone; all you need is a few key poses to get you started. Child’s pose, cat pose, corpse pose, and downward dog are great places to start if you’re a beginner who just wants a few moments of relaxation.
Stop and smell the roses
Or the lemonbalm, or the lavender, or the vanilla. Whatever you prefer! Aromatherapy might sound like a new-age hoax, but scents have been used to reduce stress and anxiety for centuries. Although it’s scientifically measurable benefits have been disputed, one study did find that subjects required lower doses of antidepressants when combined with a citrus aromatherapy treatment.
Oils like lavender, chamomile, jasmine, ylang ylang, and sandalwood are thought to be particularly good for reducing stress levels and promoting a sense of calm.
Pet a puppy
Dogs aren’t just cute and fluffy, they’re basically mystical healers. Owning a dog is thought to improve overall mental health as they have an infectious enthusiasm that humans can’t help but catch. Dog owners are supposedly more relaxed and more optimistic than others. They get a great deal of joy and stress relief out of their daily dog walks.
Some academic institutions are starting to recognize the impact animals can have on tension levels and have even set up puppy petting stations to help their students relax during exam time.
Like yoga, meditation is one of those no-brainer stress cures that we know will work, but that we just can’t seem to get into. “Clearing your mind” is easier said than done for some of us, especially when those same stressful thoughts you’re attempting to escape keep popping into your head and interrupting your Zen.
Just remember that meditation isn’t about being perfect or achieving nirvana, it’s simply about taking a few moments out of your day for yourself. If you’re interested in meditation but don’t know where to start, try Headspace. It’s an app that gives you the building blocks you need to start a simple 10-minute daily meditation that could potentially grow into a lifelong habit.