6 Surprising & Instant Stress Relievers
We all know the classic stress relievers: taking a few deep breaths, meditating, exercising, spending time in nature... You've probably heard about these techniques a million times and I bet you've tried a few of them too. Perhaps you're even a little tired of the people in your life telling you that you need to start yoga and meditation to better manage your stress (they're right, btw, but that's neither here nor there) ;)
And even though those techniques are undeniably effective, some more surprising and unconventional stress-relief techniques have been proven to be just as powerful.
Here are 6 of my favorites:
1) Hug someone
Hugging a loved one triggers the production of oxytocin, i.e. our "happy hormone". From an evolutionary standpoint, this is the hormone that signals to your brain that you are safe and not threatened. Now, given that the brain associates any kind of stress with *danger*, it is clear how a hug would help bring that stress down instantly. Interestingly, studies have shown that hugs are also associated with lower blood pressure and heart rate! Go ahead and try it... worst case, you're still stressed but at least you got a good cuddle out of it!
2) Stand barefoot outside on the ground
This practice is called "grounding" or "earthing" and is backed up by tons of scientific research! The idea behind what you might be tempted to label as a "hippie practice" is to be in direct contact with the Earth's subtle electric charge. This has been shown to produce instant changes in a variety of physiological factors: decreased stress, muscle tension, heart rate as well as improved sleep and reduced pain. Check out this article from the National Library of Medicine for the hard facts!
3) Tense & Release
I love ending my Yoga classes with this technique. Here's how it goes: take a big inhale and hold your breath as you contract every single muscle in your body: contract your face, your hands, your feet, your stomach, bring the shoulders as high up to the ears as you can... essentially, tense WAY up. Then, when you can no longer hold the breath, exhale powerfully through the mouth as you release your body completely. Do this 3x.
Here's the science behind this funny practice: as mentioned above, our brain associates ANY source of stress with physical danger. Now, back a few thousands years ago, when danger came at us, we would run as fast we could and then go back to chilling by a river once the danger was gone. The problem today is that the source of our stress has changed and we no longer move our bodies in the face of this perceived danger: we are stressed out by things like emails, meetings, bank statements, bills and other things where our only physical activity is usually to click on a mouse. As a result, it is difficult for your brain to understand that the danger has passed, since no running or muscle contraction has happened! As long as your brain hasn't felt that muscular discharge, it doesn't understand that you have, metaphorically, "ran from danger" and that you are safe. This Tense & Release practice, then, is great at signalling to your brain that you are safe and out of danger.
4) Inhale through your Left nostril and exhale through your Right nostril
This practice is an ancient breathing exercise called "Chandra Bhedana", or Piercing the Moon.
In Yogic philosophy, it is believed that the left side of the body is associated with our "lunar energy", i.e. our more meditative, calm, intuitive, emotional state. Therefore, by eliciting left nostril dominance when breathing in through the left nostril, we are able to tap into our calm energy state.
It is fascinating to think that the Yogis from 5000+ years ago came up with this idea, having no concept of the nervous system! This theory checks out today in more modern anatomy: the left side of the body is connected to the right hemisphere of the brain, associated with our calmer, more creative, intuitive, emotional side (contrary to the left hemisphere of the brain which is our more logical/analytical side).
5) Visualise your Happy Place
This is a practice that I LOVE. Here's what I suggest: visualise a place that represents calm, serenity and joy for you. Anytime you feel stressed or overwhelmed, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and take yourself to that place. See it in as many details as you can: visualise the colours, the sounds, the smells of that place. See if you can feel its temperature. Notice your surroundings. Make sure to visualise yourself in that place, too.
For me, I always picture myself on beautiful beach in Brazil that I used to go to often when I was younger. I picture myself alone on this beach, sitting cross-legged, meditating, listening to the sound of the waves.
It has been shown that our brain cannot tell the difference between what's real and what's imagined. Therefore, when you picture yourself in your happy place, your brain thinks that it is really happening, which helps you release stress & anxiety on a physiological level!
6) Repetitive Movement Soothing
According to Jill Owen of the British Psychological Society, repetitive movement is soothing to our brain nervous system.
Activities like: knitting, walking, swimming, doing the dishes, chanting mantras or observing your breath going in and out... those are all repetitive motions which trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, i.e. your relaxation response.
Next time you find yourself feeling stressed and anxious, which technique will you choose to let it go instantly? Email me now at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know which one speaks to you the most!