7 Ways to Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are often referred to as “the common cold of mental health,” mostly because they’ve become so prevalent in recent years. That’s depressing, isn’t it?
But the fact that stress and anxiety are now so mainstream in no way lessens their impact — I think we’d all agree that feeling overwhelmed and nervous can be debilitating.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to reduce stress and anxiety, and most of them don’t take much time or much effort. Here’s a look at seven specific ways you can reduce stress and anxiety.
Meditation reduces stress and anxiety by connecting you to the space beneath your thoughts and feelings. Regular meditation instills a deep understanding that thoughts and feelings, including stress and anxiety, are ephemeral and need not be accepted as a true reflection of reality.
There are a number of different types of meditation, and research suggests that you can choose any of them. A review of more than 100 studies on various types of meditation concluded that, overall, meditation effectively reduces stress and anxiety.
2. Improve Your Diet
Certain foods can worsen stress and anxiety. Try cutting back or eliminating the following:
- Caffeine: Caffeine increases heart rate and can bring on shaking or trembling, which can often be misinterpreted as symptoms of anxiety.
- Alcohol: Alcohol temporarily changes the brain’s levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and anxiety. When the effects of alcohol wear off, this change in brain chemistry can cause you to feel anxious.
- Refined Sugar: Similar to caffeine, consuming a large amount of refined sugar can exacerbate stress and anxiety through physical symptoms such as shakiness and tension, which are brought on during the “sugar crash” when blood glucose levels dip.
Taking a daily probiotic can also help to reduce stress and anxiety. Psychologists have discovered that microbes in the gastrointestinal tract have a profound impact on brain function, behavior and mental states. They also discovered success in treating mental illness by manipulating bacteria in the gut.
3. Get Some Sleep
It’s long been documented that sleep deprivation has a significant effect on how we process information and interact with the world. Research shows that insufficient sleep can increase worrying, especially in people who are prone to stress and anxiety.
4. Practice Mindfulness
What exactly is mindfulness? It means paying close attention to what is taking place in the moment with an attitude of non-judgment and non-attachment. By choosing to focus on the now, you reduce anticipation of the future and rumination on the past. Your mind slows when you channel it into a singular point of awareness.
Also, when you feel stressed or anxious, acknowledging and accepting what you’re feeling triggers the body’s relaxation response. We all know that we should “live in the moment,” but that’s much harder to do in practice. Check out these ideas for easy-to-practice mindfulness techniques.
5. Use Essential Oils
Essential oils are derived from plants, which have been used for centuries to take advantage of a number of physical and mental health benefits. But I won’t go too deep into the background of essential oils, because my friend and colleague Hailey Flynn already did that in her post on top essential oil brands.
But, specific to this topics, here’s a look at essential oils that are known to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Lavender: Users have revered lavender for ages because of the way it induces a sense of relaxation, a sensation backed by research. One study found that lavender essential oil significantly reduced anxiety in patients undergoing surgery.
- Roman Chamomile: Chamomile tea is often cited as a way to unwind, but there is powerful evidence for the efficacy of chamomile essential oil in reducing stress and anxiety, even in patients with moderate generalized anxiety disorder.
- Vetiver: A study done at a university in Thailand demonstrated that, in rats, Vetiver essential oil has a similar effect on neural activation as Diazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety disorders.
There are a number of ways you can use essential oils: add a few drops to a diffuser, enjoy them in a warm bath, place oils on pulse points (like the insides of your wrists or behind your ears), or rub oils between your palms and then cup your hands over your nose as you inhale deeply.
Again, if you’re looking for specific product recommendations, check Hailey’s rundown of top essential oil brands — which includes some starter kit options.
Stress and anxiety can be felt physically in the body through its “fight or flight” response, which is an activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). Fight or flight causes an increase in heart rate and breathing, among other things. You can reduce stress and anxiety by turning on the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which counteracts the effects of the SNS. Breathing exercises are one way to do this.
To reduce SNS activation, take deep breaths in and out through your nose. As you inhale, expand your belly and press your ribs outward. As you exhale, feel your belly contract to expel all of the air you’ve taken into your lungs. It’s that simple … And you can do it anytime and anywhere.
7. Practice Yoga
Yoga is a powerful way to reduce stress and anxiety because it incorporates many techniques that effectively promote calm and relaxation on their own. Deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness and physical activity have all demonstrated an ability to reduce stress and anxiety, and are all woven together in a yoga class.
A few poses that are particularly useful for reducing stress and anxiety include:
- Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose: Lie on your back with your sit bones against the wall and your legs extended straight up along the wall. You can place a bolster, block or cushion beneath your hips to elevate them slightly. Allow your arms to rest on the floor a comfortable distance away from your sides.
- Seated Forward Bend: Sit with your legs extended in front of you and your feet hip bone-width apart. Flex your feet and engage your quadriceps. Bring your fingertips to the floor beside you. Extend through the crown of your head and then hinge forward from your hips, keeping your chest open. Walk your fingertips toward your ankles until you feel a stretch along your hamstrings.
- Extended Puppy Pose: Get onto all fours with your wrists stacked beneath your shoulders and your knees stacked beneath your hips. Walk your hands forward and tuck your toes under. Move your hips halfway back toward your heels as you lower your forehead to the floor. Continue to pull your hips back as you stretch forward through your arms.
Final Thoughts on Ways to Reduce Anxiety
The reasons I included seven ideas above is that everyone is different. You may not be into yoga and meditation, but you love breathing exercises and mindfulness. All that to say, choose the techniques that work best for you — and then implement them.
Life is too short to wander through it feeling stressed all the time, especially when there are simple solutions available. So, give some of these techniques a shot, and see what works for you.
Already tried one of the above? Let us know via our contact form, or you can always leave a comment below.