5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Feel Less Stressed

Reduce Stress

Did you know that chronic stress has been shown in studies to shrink your hippocampus, one of the major memory centers in the brain, and suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections and viruses such as COVID-19, according to additional research? It’s true. While a certain amount of stress is healthy and necessary in life, chronic stress is not.

 

 

Chronic stress has been shown in studies to shrink your hippocampus, one of the major memory centers in the brain, and suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections and viruses such as COVID-19. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, we are all under a lot of stress. The latest Harris Poll conducted on behalf of the American Psychological Association found that 74% of U.S. adults reported having experienced various impacts of stress in the last month. Here are 5 things that can help you to feel less stressed now.

5 EASY WAYS TO REDUCE STRESS

1. Learn to say “No.”

While people pleasing may sound benign, it’s not. It will set you up for overwhelm, bitterness, and chronic stress. People-pleasing is associated with low prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity, which limits forethought. If you are a people pleaser, when someone asks you to do something, you’ll likely immediately respond, “Sure!”

If you do this over and over, your schedule becomes burdened with obligations and events that don’t necessarily reflect what’s important to you or how you’d like to spend your time. What’s worse, the commitments you’ve made to others out of people-pleasing limit how much time you have for the things that really matter to you, like spending time with your family and other interests and priorities.

Instead of people-pleasing, respond to requests using this magic phrase: “I have to think about it.” It may feel odd at first, but do it anyway! Also, consider filtering every request through this one important question: Does this fit the goals I have for my life?  Consider your relational goals, work goals, financial goals, and goals for physical, emotional, and spiritual health. If it doesn’t, politely decline. Practice this for three months, and you may see that this simple exercise not only reduces your stress but also changes your life!

2. Practice diaphragmatic breathing.

When you get upset, angry, or experience anxious feelings, breathing tends to become rapid and shallow. Shallow, short breaths can affect oxygen levels in the blood, which, in turn, causes more anxious feelings. This can become a vicious cycle, causing you to feel irritable, act impulsively, get confused, and make poor decisions.

Start adding diaphragmatic breathing into your days to promote calm.  Simply follow these steps:

  1. Inhale through your nose for 3 seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for 1 second.
  3. Exhale for 6 seconds (twice as long as your inhale).
  4. Hold with your breath expelled for 1 second.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

It takes less than 10 minutes, and it provides immediate benefits. Research shows that this kind of breathwork calms the amygdala, shifts the body’s fight-or-flight response, relaxes muscles, warms hands, and regulates heart rhythms. Learning to breathe slowly, deeply, and from their belly may feel strange at first, but it will soon become a tool you can use at any time of the day when you need to promote calm.

3. Use your 5 senses to calm your emotional brain.

As your senses deliver data to your brain, your brain “senses” the world. If you can change the sensorial inputs, you can often quickly change how you feel. Research suggests that certain sensory can reduce stress hormone levels and heart rate. Here are ways to use your 5 senses to calm your emotional brain:

  • Vision—Curate a collection of images that you can look at that make you feel happy. Nature images are particularly soothing, according to research.
  • Hearing—Use an audio streaming service to develop a playlist of soothing music. If you need a suggestion, try David Lanz’s “Beloved.”
  • Touch—Don’t underestimate the power of human touch. Ask for a hug, get a massage, pet your animals, or try acupressure.
  • Smell—Aromatherapy offers a plethora of calming scents. Try diffusing essential oils or lighting a natural candle made with them.
  • Tastes—Savor powerful flavors and spices such as lemon, fresh basil, garlic, curcumin, cocoa, cinnamon, saffron, mint, and nutmeg.

4. Know when your nervous system is out of balance and bring it back.

When you perceive a threat, real or imagined, it activates your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), causing a fight-or-flight response that allows you to quickly fight or flee to safety. Stress hormones are released in the process. In a healthy nervous system, our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) counterbalances the SNS and helps us calm down. They work together to keep stress in check. Yet, this very same system, meant to protect, can get activated by frequent stressors or trauma (such as during our current pandemic) to the point that it does not downregulate; it stays on, causing you to feel anxious, panicked, hyperaroused, hypervigilant, restless, and sleepless, or it can be “stuck off,” leaving you to feel depressed, flat, exhausted, confused, and disoriented.

When your nervous system appears to be out of balance, take action!  If SNS appears to be overly active, calm it with meditation, prayer, hypnosis, guided imagery, diaphragmatic breathing, and calming supplements, such as GABA, magnesium, or theanine. If it appears sluggish or “off,” activate it with brain healthy physical exercises, such as dancing or table tennis.

5. Don’t turn to alcohol or marijuana.

While you may be tempted to turn to alcohol or marijuana during times of stress, don’t. Both substances are harmful to your brain, and while they may provide temporary relief, they can both cause more stress in the long run.

Clinical research and SPECT imaging at Amen Clinics show that even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with brain shrinkage, reduced blood flow to the brain, and atrophy to the hippocampus, which compromises memory function. What’s more, research shows that heavy drinking is associated with higher levels of stress. And if you already struggle with anxiety, a hangover often makes that anxiety worse. Additionally, consuming alcohol disrupts sleep. Disturbed sleep patterns exacerbate stress and anxiety.

Despite some studies suggesting stress-relieving benefits, other studies point to marijuana’s serious negative effects on developing brains. It also has been found to impair cognitive function, disrupt the brain’s normal maturation process, and decrease blood flow to the brain. Human clinical studies on marijuana use demonstrate a common anxiety-producing response to THC (the main psychoactive compound in marijuana), especially at high doses. In a recent 2020 study participants with preexisting depression and anxiety, who used marijuana for pain, self-reported even greater symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Seek Calm

Chronic stress is a true physical and mental health liability. In addition to these suggestions, find new ways to seek calm in all areas of your life. Remember, any activity that allows you to relax and your parasympathetic nervous system to be activated is good for you!

Chronic stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

4 Comments »

  1. Age 89yeats. Carer for dear husband. Very stressful. Suffer IBS which is aggravated by stress. Do the breathing exercise but not often enough.

    Comment by Dot — January 3, 2022 @ 4:51 AM

  2. This is a great way to start off my day and the new years at work. Thanks.

    Comment by Mark Warriner — January 3, 2022 @ 5:29 AM

  3. Interesting article. I wanted to find out more about “people pleasers” and the frontal lobe. My mother has frontal lobe dementia. I was wondering if this may have been a contributing factor. Please let me know where I can get more information. Thank you

    Comment by Judy — January 3, 2022 @ 6:29 AM

  4. I’m going through a time of constant stress and sadness. My husband is in the hospital (last 6months) from a reaction to Vitamin K. Thank you for the article about 5 things to relieve stress.

    Comment by Cynthia — January 3, 2022 @ 9:27 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Have a Question?

Dr. Amen’s Latest Book You, Happier Is Now Available For Pre-Order

X