Any doctor you visit will happily tell you that you have too much stress. Even if you eat right and exercise, even if you get eight hours of sleep every night, your cortisol levels will probably be through the roof. Unfortunately, modern life is exceedingly stressful, and outside of some significant lifestyle changes ― like moving to paradise or becoming a yoga instructor ― there are very few ways you can escape stress in the long term.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the effects of stress in the here-and-now. The following five techniques have been proven by research to lower cortisol levels, relieve high blood pressure, and increase feelings of relaxation.
1. Jam Session
It probably isn’t hard for you to believe that listening to music is one of the most effective ways to help you chill out. Science has shown that music helps you relax in almost every way in almost every situation. For example, in one study college students tasked with giving presentations performed much better (with lower heart rates and blood pressure) when they spoke accompanied by Pachelbel’s Canon. Another study saw that listening to music provided a significant decrease in anxiety to patients undergoing medical procedures, like cavity fillings, booster shots, and even chemotherapy.
Right now, you can queue up your favorite calming jams ― researchers found folk, classical, and contemporary genres to be most effective ― to relieve some stress. However, you might feel even more stress-relief by engaging with your tunes in some way, like singing or dancing.
2. Slow Breathing
You breathe all-day every day, but your regular breathing isn’t doing much to help you calm down. Taking a short five-minute break to focus on your breath will lower your heart rate and blood pressure. For the best results, you should follow these steps:
- Sit up straight
- Close your eyes
- Place one hand on your heart and the other on your abdomen
- Inhale through your nose for a count of four
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of four
- Feel your lower hand rise and fall with your breath
- Feel your heart beat slow
- Repeat for five full minutes
This is the simplest breathing exercise, but you might find other techniques to be more effective at combatting your stress. It might even help to simply take slow, deep pulls on your vaporizer during your daily vape breaks. You can try a new breathing exercise every day until you find one that helps you truly destress.
3. Tea Time
You probably can’t wait to have your daily five cups of coffee, but all that caffeine is terrible for your stress. The increase in heart rate caused by coffee’s excessive caffeine only serves to worsen the symptoms of anxiety, so the next cup you drink could very well cause a full-blown panic attack.
Right now, you should dump out your coffee mug and reach for a different beverage instead: tea. Science absolutely loves black tea, especially as a coffee replacement. Tea is healthful in a number of ways, many of which reduce stress. For example, one study found that after imbibing a cup of tea, participants demonstrated lower cortisol levels, which made them feel more relaxed.
4. Progressive Relaxation
Many people swear by the healing powers of meditation, but real relaxation experts promote progressive relaxation, which is like meditation, mindful breathing, and a self-massage all at once. The key in progressive relaxation is to relieve the body’s tension by systematically flexing and relaxing muscles throughout your body.
To do this, focus wholeheartedly on a particular muscle group, like your right foot, and squeezing those muscles as hard as you can. Holding this tight clench for five seconds, you may feel quite a bit of discomfort. However, once you allow the tension to flow out, your muscles will be loose and rested. You should focus on the difference between the tense state and the relaxed state, so you can recognize when and where you feel stress during times of high anxiety.
5. Love and Laughter
On average, kids smile 400 times per day. When was the last time you smiled ― hours ago? Days? Research shows that smiling leads to increased happiness, not the other way around, so by choosing to grin, you can consciously choose to reduce your stress. Laughter is even more powerful at dispelling the physical effects of stress, so you might benefit by reading a few of the internet’s best jokes.
Yet, even more important than smiling and laughing is touching. Some researchers believe that a significant amount of modern stress is caused by the distances between us in the digital age. Physical touch fosters a sense of safety and calm unlike anything else. Experts say you need, at minimum, four hugs daily to survive, but to truly see your stress levels drop, you should be getting at least 12 positive touches every day. If you can, you should hug someone nearby right this instant.