Being stressed or anxious is not a rare feeling to have nowadays. They have been there since time immemorial but even since the pandemic broke out, the frequency and strength of stress have only increased. According to a study conducted by a Delhi-based preventive healthcare platform The Center of Healing (TCOH), 74% of Indians are suffering from stress and 88% from anxiety issues since COVID-19 hit India. Everyone’s mental health has indeed gone for a toss but the severity of rising issues of anxiety, be it moderate or extreme, is genuinely alarming. That is why I wanted to share some of the stress relief activities that are not only approved by me as an anxious person but also are backed by science.
Stress: What is it like?
Stress, as I would describe it, is a continuous feeling of exhaustion both mental and physical caused when one is overwhelmed with or cannot deal with emotional pressures. It is your body’s and your mind’s way of responding to the emotional strain.
We often use the term ‘stress‘ in the most casual ways to describe how we feel but in this way, we only trivialize the most serious aspects of it and the effects it causes to those who have it. Stress can be of two major types- Acute and Chronic. The former is when you are feeling pressurized emotionally and unable to express yourself daily and the latter is when you are living in a stressful situation with the suppressed feeling for a long time.
The chemical changes caused by stress result in some involuntary consequences including an increase in blood pressure, blood sugar and heart rate. The most common effects are nervousness, shaking, exhaustion, inability to sleep often turned into insomnia, mood swings, instability of emotions and sometimes stress can affect your hormones, if you are a woman then your menstrual cycles could get affected. Sometimes severe hair fall and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) could also be the results of being stressed.
The reason for Stress
To address stress, we need to precisely scrutinize the reasons behind it. It could be caused by a traumatic experience or just a result of a flawed lifestyle. It could be personal or work-related or both. It could also possibly be a repercussion of being in a toxic environment where you overburden yourself with irresolute emotions. Even being burnt out could be a reason too. For an instance, the reason that I am stressed all the time or I should say most of the time is because I am a very self-critical person. I judge myself way too much that sometimes I suffer from imposter syndrome. This leads to overtaxing myself and eventually being stressed and anxious.
Stress and Anxiety: How are They Related?
Coming to anxiety, well, being stressed doesn’t necessarily mean you are anxious too. Stress may or may not result in anxiety but if you have anxiety then it can assume that you are stress-ridden. Basically, all I am trying to say here is that stress and anxiety both are related to each other but it doesn’t establish a pattern of one of them being the result or reason of the other.
Anxiety, as described in Google, is an “Intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating and feeling tired may occur.” Basically, it is a fear or apprehension about what’s about to happen. Although indescribable you can compare it with nervousness or restlessness. It can happen before a big event or while taking an important decision or while thinking about you being heard by several people. In my case, it happens before a big day, or when I am too much behind my schedule, I keep judging and doubting myself. Being anxious means you have definitely been hit by stress.
Reasons to Choose Natural Ways to De-stress
Stress is not exactly as grave as it may sound. It is a part of our lives and almost all of us deal with it. In the present-day scenario, stress is inevitable as it comes along the chaotic lifestyle we have chosen for ourselves. We have the ability to treat stress ourselves in the early stage when the severity of it is mild to moderate.
There are many medical therapies, anti-depressants, stress-relievers available in the market which not only harms your body internally in the long run but also makes you dependant on the medicines. Even if it is a mild mood swing you’ll be reaching for medicines as you know they are going to work in a jiffy. But, that is totally not how you should treat stress. Some simple changes in the lifestyle and a few adopted practices can make your life simpler and happier. No medicines can make you internally happy which is the only guaranteed treatment for a stress-ridden person.
Science-backed Stress Relief Activities You Must Try
The reason why people often turn away from natural de-stress techniques is that A) they don’t have much idea, B) they are sceptical of the results, and C) they think natural remedies take too long to show effects. Busting the myths around natural stress-relievers, I am going to share in this post 13 Stress Relief Activities that are backed by science.
1. Practice Mindfulness
In simple words, mindfulness is the process of being fully aware of what you are doing and feeling. It is synonymous with being present in the moment and living each second being exclusively attentive to and focused on things that you’re doing. Believe me, it is as easy as it sounds. One gets hang of it when practised.
According to Mayo Clinic, “Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.” As true as it is, I believe we can practise mindfulness in each activity that we do on a day to day basis. For example- mindful eating where you are completely focused on the food you eat and not in the surroundings like the people who share the table with you or the TV show that you’re watching while eating, mindful journaling- where you genuinely pay attention to your thoughts and ideas without being critical or judgemental of them.
We attain ultimate peace when our mind, body and soul are aligned correctly. Mindfulness is a process that ensures they are aligned. It awakens our senses and makes us realise the importance of each moment, each breath we take, each work we do.
The next three points are how I practise mindfulness which you can try too!
Chant a Mantra or Prayer
India is a land of spirituality. The Indians have been practising chanting mantras and hymns from the bygone era. Indian culture has a lot to do with creating a healthy lifestyle and positive atmosphere which leads to eternal peace. Thus we can assume that the idea of chanting mantras had more reasons than just a religious practice. Chanting is one of the most powerful mindfulness exercises. Not only does it create a positive aura around you but also it works best in accordance with the Law of Attraction.
It is scientifically proven that repetitive motions or sounds can soothe anxiety, plus, it distracts you from the environmental interruptions and negativity.
Meditation- One of the Most Popular Stress Relief Activities
The benefits of meditation are known to all. It helps us cope with stress and anxiety by calming down our senses. Meditation is the most popular and most celebrated way of practising mindfulness. It opens the window of self-exploration as it allows the mind to be focused on what is been happening within us and not on the external world. Meditation allows us to delve deeper into our soul and thus receiving the vibrations that are hidden inside us. That is why meditation is considered one of the most rewarding methods to ensure physical and mental well-being.
You definitely don’t need to be an expert to start meditation. There are many tutorials on meditation all over the internet but what works best for me is to close your eyes and think of the happy times, or of a person who makes you happy, or of any god your worship. You won’t be able to focus in the first but soon you will get the hang of it. Make sure you are meditating in an open space in the quietest hour of the day, preferably in the early morning.
Many of us do breathing exercises or ‘Pranayama’ but have you ever heard of breathing consciously? Well, if not then keep reading. The term conscious breathing is quite self-explanatory. It means being completely aware of your breathing and taking control of it. Deep conscious breathing calms us down, reduces blood pressure, and relieves stress. It helps us balance our physical and mental health.
Inhaling and holding your breath for 20secs and then exhaling slowly is the key to deep breathing.
2. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Being grateful allows us to work on ourselves and improve. Counting your blessings every now and then and keeping a gratitude journal has been beneficial by many including me. Every morning, listing down the things I am grateful for helps me get mental peace as I know how lucky I am and what has been given to me by the universe and how should I use them to improve myself. A gratitude journal is just a place where you jot down your gratitudes.
It is proven to improve your mental health, give you a boost of self-esteem, bring positivity, help relieve stress and calm you down. Regular practice of gratitude journaling will fill you with immense happiness and appreciativeness.
3. Doing Morning Pages
This is a term that might sound a little alien to many. I myself have started practising morning pages very recently. I got the idea from Lavendaire’s video. As I started doing it I actually started loving the process. Basically, morning pages is a writing one or, as Lavendaire mentioned in her blog, three pages every morning. The writing should be spontaneous and not at all planned. In the morning pages, you dump all that has been going on in your head, all that has been making you hold back or making your heart heavy in a journal. It makes your mind a lot lighter and gives you vision and clarity in life. This is basically purposeless writing where you just empty your heart out on a piece of paper.
Morning pages might seem hard to do at first but you must not stop writing no matter how ridiculous it may read. Remember, you are writing for yourself and not for others to read. As you keep writing, you’ll get the hang of it and then you’ll start to notice the change in your overall mental health.
You may start by writing the quote you saw the other day, or about how your yesterday went, to-do lists, prayers, gratitude, books you’re enjoying reading, TV shows or web series you loved etc. Basically, anything and everything. I’ll recommend you to watch the video on the Lavendaire channel. She has discussed this in detail.
4. Include Yoga in Daily Routine
According to Wikipedia, “Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that originated in ancient India, aimed at controlling and stilling the mind, and recognizing the detached ‘witness consciousness as untouched by the activities of the mind and mundane suffering.” Yoga is a century-old method of stretch your body scientifically which is practised to target many physical and mental problems and at the same time relaxing the mind and soul.
Practising yoga every day for at least 15-20 minutes will help you increase your fitness, calm you down, reduce neck tensions, relieve soreness, and rejuvenate you. Regular practising Yoga will increase vitality, give clarity to your thoughts so that you have a clear vision of life.
5. Spend Time in the Sun
A lot of us have to spend most of our time confined in a small space for work. Even when we are not working we hardly go out in nature. But, that is essential to keep up the balance and harmony between you and nature. We are made from nature and it is obvious that nature has all the essentials to make us content and happy in-store. Such a thing is Vitamin D. We have learnt in school about Vitamin D and how we can get it only from the Sun. Not only does it strengthens your bones or regulates your immunity but also helps with the neuromuscular functions which enable you to fight stress, anxiety, hypertension, sleeping disorders, depression and other psychiatric problems.
Spending time in the Sun, definitely not in the scorching heat but the mild Sun during the early period of the day with help you absorb the necessary Vitamin D thus taking care of any deficiency. It will automatically uplift your mood, make you feel lighter and give you a good night’s sleep.
6. Meet the People you Love
Our body works under different mysterious substances that are commonly called hormones. Not only do they regulate our bodily functions but also our emotions. Such a hormone is Cortisol. This hormone helps control many internal concerns like blood sugar levels, blood pressure, metabolism, inflammations etc. There is an increase in the cortisol levels when a person is going through a tough mental state for example anxiety. It is scientifically established that there is a significant reduction in cortisol levels when we meet our loved ones.
Another such hormone is Dopamine which is popularly known as the ‘happy hormone’. When spiked it makes you feel happy and content. Any pleasurable experience, delightful emotion can spike up the dopamine level which in return gives you the feeling of comfort which eventually becomes a stress-reliever.
7. Stay Away from Social Media
In the current scenario when most of us are homebound, our exposure to social media as well as screentime, in general, has been increased dangerously. Too much addiction to the digital space eventually escalates the chaos of the mind and lessens the enthusiasm that is essential for a peaceful life. Days started with a small scroll through the social media handles vs the days started without that seem significantly less peaceful and productive. It overwhelms our minds and weighs down our thoughts. Also, this consumes a lot of our time and positive energy making us procrastinate.
Staying away from social media or what we call it these days, social media detox, once in a while, provides us with clarity in life, makes us focused and help us getting all our work done in a timely and organized manner. Excessive screentime can cause stress, loss of sleep and headaches. It is recommended to turn away from the screen at least an hour before bedtime.
8. Laugh a little Harder
When comes to relieve stress naturally, there is no better medicine than a dose of laughter. A hearty laugh has many benefits like stimulating the organs like the heart and the lungs, stretching your muscles, boosting endorphins released by the brain which helps us deal with stress and anxiety.
I get my daily dose of laughter by watching funny animal videos on the internet.
9. Listening to Music
Those who are easily affected by overthinking and are overwhelmed with emotions know what music can do to pacify the senses. The right choice of music can help you calm and soothe yourself which could be considered one of the best stress relief activities.
Here is a playlist created by me that has songs that are meticulously handpicked for stress relief. I consider it to be one of the best Spotify playlists for anxiety.
10. Surround Yourself with Plants
Houseplants are not just to have a pretty corner in the house or to purify the air, they are anti-depressants too. You can lower your stress level just by looking at them. Research shows houseplants can reduce stress by 40 per cent which is insane. It is more of a mental thing than a physical one. Living amidst plants tricks our mind to believe we are living a slower, simpler life close to nature which instantly calms us down.
Some of the indoor plants you can consider having in your home or in your office are- Aloe Vera, Jade plant, Areca Palm, Peace Lily, Syngonium, Snake Plant etc. These are some of the houseplants that cleanse the air and detoxify the space they are in.
11. Start Eating Healthy
Eating a healthy diet does not only ensures your physical health but also your mental health. To fight the adverse effects of stress and anxiety i.e. increased heart rate and blood pressure, a nutritious diet plays a huge role. Stress negatively impacts the functioning of the brain and the signals it sends. The brain needs nutrients to work properly and those nutrients are derived only from a good diet.
Usually eating junk food creates a subliminal guilty feeling which indirectly affects your already amplified stress level. Eating homemade clean food makes you feel good about yourself as if you are taking care of your body. This sense of satisfaction helps reduce the stress level. The increased blood pressure caused by stress can also be treated with food that helps regulate the blood flow in the body.
Daily consumption of greens, leafy vegetables, fruits and nuts are helpful for health. Also, nutrients like omega-3 and vitamin E are should be kept in your diet. Fibrous food like cereals and vegetables and yoghurt also take care of the gut and psyche.
12. Take a Stroll in the Nature
There is nothing like nature therapy to de-stress or unwind. A quick stroll in the park or a hike through the jungle help reduces the stress level. This light cardio does not only work for your physical health but also helps release endorphins which makes you feel better, reduces pain and help achieve a positive attitude. It also helps in lowering the level of cortisol also known as the stress hormone.
A walk in nature allows you to breathe properly, increases the intake of pure oxygen and at the same time helps you distract your mind from your otherwise chaotic life. So, like many other stress relief activities mentioned here, it is also beneficial for both the mind and the body.
13. Aroma Therapy
Fragrances play an important role in relieving stress in our day to day life. The significance of aroma in human psychological and physical health is increasing day by day and that is the reason why there is a considerable increase in the use of essential oils in medicinal as well as in cosmetic industries. The aromatic essential oils can reduce your cortisol levels, relax your senses and help you sleep well. Here are a few of the essential oils that help you calm yourselves-
To treat insomnia or for relaxing- Lavender and Chamomile,
To lift up your mood- Lemon Essential Oil
To stimulate the mind and the body- Peppermint, Rosemary
To reduce fatigue, anxiety, agitation and nervousness- Bergamot, Thyme
To treat restlessness and promote good sleep- Ylang Ylang Essential Oil
So, these were the 13 easy stress relief activities that are science-approved and need to be incorporated into your lifestyle straight away. Stress is inescapable, what we can do is to know how we can deal with it and we must make sure we are choosing the natural way to treat our stressed mind.
Don’t forget to let me know what you think about this post. How many of the above-mentioned activities do you follow. Comment with your favourite destressing methods. I’ll be back with another exciting post in a couple of days. Until then, have a great weekend ahead!