5 Tips to Reduce Your Stress Right Now

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This article was written by Carter Harkins.

Stress is at epidemic levels in our population. The American Psychological Association released its Stress in America 2011 Report earlier this year, and according to the report, 73% of us think our stress levels are the same or higher than they were 5 years ago [1]. Ninety-four percent of us believe that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes and depression, but only 29% say that they are doing an excellent or good job at managing or reducing stress. Clearly, this is cause for concern.

Doodle to reduce your stress


In observation of Stress Awareness Month this April, here are five proven, successful stress management tips to help you reduce or prevent stress — and as a bonus, none of these include the words “diet” or “exercise”.

  1. Laugh. Several studies have established that laughing has psychological benefits. Mirthful (meaning joyful) laughter not only improves your mood, but has positive physiological effects on the immune system [2]. Laughing with someone may be even more beneficial than simply watching a funny video clip or reading comic strips, because a shared laugh does the double work of making you feel more connected to others. This connection is a powerful stress reducer all by itself.

  2. Doodle. Any fully absorbing activity undertaken purely for pleasure has the capacity to lower stress, and there is some evidence that doodling may help you pay better attention as well. This method of relaxation, sometimes called zendoodling, has become so popular, entire communities have formed around particular methods. (pictured above is one of this writer’s many doodles)

  3. Sing. In the shower. In the car. The kitchen. By yourself. With others. Just sing. Scientists have found that singing is a powerful immune booster and stress reducer, which lights up your brain’s neural activity and improves your mood in less time than it takes to get to the chorus of “Proud Mary”.

  4. Give. Stepping out of the myopic perspective of your own stresses and into a giving, compassionate and connected role can radically transform the way you see yourself and others. A simple hug may seem like a small thing, but for your brain and body (as well as for the person you are hugging), it can release high levels of endorphins, which relax the body and produce feelings of well-being. There is much exciting work being funded right now, which hopes to shed light on the neurological correlates of compassion and altruism.

  5. Meditate. Perhaps more than any other activity, a daily 20 minute meditation practice can help you reduce stress, improve your immune system, strengthen your brain, and improve your sense of well-being. Even after just 8 weeks, one study’s participants were seeing improved immune response and psychosocial well-being [3]. Another study found that meditation was associated with increases in brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking [4].

About the author: Carter Harkins is co-founder of MindLev.com, a company applying meditation science and neuroacoustic technology to create evidence-based meditation, relaxation and stress relief tools.

References

  1. Stress in America: Our Health at Risk. American Psychological Association. 2012 Jan 11.
  2. Bennett et al. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45.
    View abstract
  3. Fang et al. Enhanced psychosocial well-being following participation in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program is associated with increased natural killer cell activity. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 May;16(5):531-8.
    View abstract
  4. Holzel et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30;191(1):36-43. Epub 2010 Nov 10.
    View abstract