Six practical ways to reduce stress

Stress reduction

We are living through some challenging times, and it’s clear that many people are feeling fearful as they look to the future.

We all have troubling and stressful thoughts at varying points throughout our lives. Learning ways to reduce stress allows us to cope with the different situations that we find ourselves in and can boost our sense of wellbeing.

How does fear affect us?

Ongoing negative emotions and fear can lead to us become stuck in a permanent state of fight or flight. This is where hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline pump through our bodies to prepare us to face or run from the perceived life-threatening situation.

In the past, our ancestors would be responding to a predator – a short-lived encounter in which you quite simply lived to tell the tale, or you perished. If you survived, the danger would be gone and you would return to a calm state, feeling sociable and able to rest and digest.

Today, with our demanding modern lifestyles, we are likely to encounter numerous stressors regularly, and because of this, we can easily move from one fear state to another. This causes the nervous system to become overwhelmed, leading to a wide range of debilitating physical and psychological symptoms, such as feeling frequently anxious and stressed.

How do we create calm?

Creating calm within the mind and body does take effort, but the good news is that there are some practical ways to help yourself.

The following suggestions increase HRV or heart rate variability – the healthy irregularities in our heartbeat – by targeting the vagal nerve, which is the longest in the body. This nerve has two branches and connects the brain to the body and important organs such as the stomach, liver, heart, and lungs. By improving vagal tone, through an increase in HRV, you can feel calmer and more resilient. You can also help to improve your immune and cardiovascular systems and improve bodily processes such as digestion and bodily repair.

Improving vagal tone is also associated with a reduction in anxiety and depression in adults.

We are living through some challenging times, and it’s clear that many people are feeling fearful as they look to the future.

Below are six ways that can help you to reduce stress.

Six top tips to help you reduce stress

Breathe

Our breath is an amazing tool that is always on hand to help you reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

We are often encouraged to take a deep breath when we are anxious or feeling stressed. However, the key to increasing your HRV is to focus on the length of the exhale. So, spend longer on the out-breath, do it more slowly, and practice this for about 10 minutes.

You can also learn and practice diaphragmic breathing that uses the large dome-shaped muscle at the base of your lungs.

Cold water

You may find cold water uncomfortable, but that sharp intake of breath and tingling sensation in your body helps your HRV. Try adding a cold shower of 30 seconds and upwards to the end of your warm shower, or simply splash cold water onto your face.

Meditation/mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation practices are now soundly supported by scientific research and evidence to support the many benefits, which include helping us to increase our HRV.

Making time for this daily practice can be as simple as setting aside 10 minutes a day, practicing mindful walking in nature and being more present in the here and now. You can also use readily available apps such as Headspace or Calm to help keep your motivation going.

Singing or chanting

If you’re blessed with a great singing voice that’s wonderful, but any kind of singing will help you to relax, calm yourself, and increase your HRV. Whether you sing in a choir or sing in the car, the act of singing will help.

Chanting is also a healthy practice, so repeating OM is working with your breath to improve your HRV.

Tai Chi

There are five types of tai chi – Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao, and a combination of the techniques. The meditative state and movement work with the breath, and you can physically attend a class or look at YouTube to find online videos to fit around the demands of life.

Gargling

Finally, although it may seem odd, gargling makes your vagal nerve more responsive, which helps improve, amongst other things, relaxation and digestive processes.

There’s no place for dainty gargling here though. It needs to be active and noisy, to the point of possibly feeling like gagging. Simply fill a glass with cold water from the tap, you can add ¼ tsp salt, and gargle noisily for as long as you can. You can also swish around your mouth to give yourself an oral cleanse.

As a bonus for the cold and flu season, scientists have found that doing this daily practice helps ward off colds, sore throats, and upper respiratory tract infections.

If you are unsure about your condition or how these might affect you, please do seek professional medical advice.

First published on Life Coach Directory.

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Jayne Cox

I am a wellbeing consultant for Fusion Spaces, which works alongside my private practice of Life Coaching and Stress Management Consultations. I’m passionate about helping people to thrive at work.

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