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Most of us can’t afford to take a spa day or time off from work to lounge on the beach to relieve stress. These tension-reducing techniques might actually cause you to feel even more uneasy because they cost money, and money worries are the No. 1 cause of stress for Americans.
Is just thinking about this causing some symptoms of stress like headache, fatigue, irritability and overeating? Put down that cupcake. There is hope.
Comfort eating, self-medicating with alcohol, and other unhealthy ways to respond to stress are on a steady decline, says the Stress in America annual survey by the American Psychological Society. Taming your tension can be done in more productive and less expensive ways.
1. Take a hike
Physical activity is one of the best ways to deal with stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. Especially if work has got you tense, a change of scenery and a short jaunt around the block can make a world of difference. Sunlight (with the proper sunscreen, of course) and fresh air are also stress relievers. More than half of us have learned to lessen tension with exercise, according to the American Psychological Society study.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff — appreciate it
It’s easy to get consumed by your problems. Americans consistently report levels of stress higher than what they believe is acceptable and healthy. Sometimes we all need a little reminder of what we do have when we’re focusing on what we don’t. It may sound silly, but keeping a gratitude journal in which you list at least one thing every day that you enjoy or appreciate can help keep your optimism up and your tension down. It can be something as simple as literally stopping to smell the roses or having a good chat with your grandmother. When you’re feeling especially stressed, you can revisit your list to remind yourself of the goodness you do have in your life.
3. Put the smartphone down and back away
Technology might enhance our lives in many ways, but the constant beeps and vibrations also hinder us. Dr. Manny Alvarez suggests disconnecting sometimes:
Part of the problem with reducing stress in today’s world is that we are never truly able to shield ourselves from it. By turning away from the Internet and shutting off our cellphones, we can at least block some of the channels from which stress can reach us. Doing this also allows us to live in the moment and appreciate it.
He also says that “it is particularly important to cut off electronic use before sleep, which can cut down on insomnia-related problems.”
So, say goodnight to your Candy Crush Saga or Angry Birds prior to hitting the hay.
4. Take some “me time”
While it may seem like a no-brainer that doing something you enjoy will boost your mood, how many of us forget to schedule some quality alone time? Some of the most popular stress-relieving strategies are listening to music, reading and watching television, says the American Psychological Society. So, dig out that old vinyl collection or rejoin the book club. Be a little selfish.
5. Laughter just may be the best medicine
Hanging out with a particularly amusing friend or reading your favorite comic can help lower tension levels. A hearty chuckle can reduce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Just last night, giggling during a few episodes of the prank show “Impractical Jokers” increased my mood tenfold and not just because I have a crush on Murr. Take two episodes, and call me in the morning.
To explore more benefits of laughing, watch this WedMD video.
6. Eat comforting foods, not comfort food
Certain foods are known to actually lower stress levels. So, seriously, put down that cupcake.
Anything with a lot of B vitamins can help. Many nuts are a good source, especially almonds.
When you think of turkey, you might think “nap,” but the same amino acids that might make you sleepy also make you calm and elevate your mood.
Just as laughter can lower stress hormones, so can citrus fruits and other foods loaded with vitamin C. Put some lemon on a filet of salmon, which has serotonin-boosting fatty acids, and you have one tasty, stress-reducing dinner.
7. Sexual healing
Marvin Gaye’s song “Sexual Healing” was actually right on. “Helps to relieve my mind. Sexual healing, baby, is good for me.”
Having sex can reduce your stress, and being less tense can lead to more sex. How is that for a win-win situation? According to About.com, women exhibit less of a stress response after “positive physical contact” with a partner. “Emotional support alone didn’t have the same effect,” the article notes. On top of lowering cortisol levels, sexual activity also releases endorphins and other feel-good hormones.
8. And now, your moment of Zen
Meditation and deep breathing exercises can not only take your mind off of what ails you but also battle cortisol levels. It may have been a counterculture trend in the past, but meditation is now being embraced by modern medicine, including the Mayo Clinic.
It doesn’t have to be spiritual or too involved. Simply take some time to sit quietly and comfortably and tune out any of your problems. Some people focus on a word or mantra, others picture their “happy place” like a mountaintop or beach. Just as everyone’s stress is different, so is their best way to relieve it.
What do you do to deal with stress? Let us know on our Facebook page.