Most of us have been affected by stress at some point in our lives. Whether caused by our jobs, our relationships, or just the daily toll of our busy lives, stress is not something that should ever be ignored.
Allowed to continue, daily stress can develop into more serious and enduring mental health issues such as depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
So what's the answer? Of course the first and most effective solution would be to remove the source of stress from your life. But as we all know, this isn't always possible. Daily sources of stress such as our jobs or finances can't be solved with a click our fingers, they take time. So during these times of high stress it's a good idea to have techniques to help manage the physical effects of stress on your body, and build your resilience for dealing with what daily life throws at you.
We all know about the stress busting benefits of exercise and a healthy diet, but have you ever considered some of these alternative methods for alleviating stress?
1. Transcendental meditation
"Scientific studies have shown that the daily practice of the TM (transcendental meditation) technique helps eliminate stress and increases a person's resistance to stress.
For example, research funded by the National Institutes of Health has found that during the 20 minutes of TM practice people experienced a significant decrease in a major indicator of stress--the hormone cortisol."
"Research also found that as a result of regular TM practice that meditators exhibit greater autonomic stability and faster habituation to stressful stimulus, and greater efficiency of brain functioning when faced with a stressful activity."
Transcendental meditation (TM) was introduced by Indian yogi Maharishi Mahesh in the 1950s, and popularized by its celebrity following (most notably practiced by The Beatles in India in the 1960s). It is a mantra based form of meditation practiced 20 minutes twice every day which must be initially taught by a certified instructor. Studies such as the one mentioned above have shown this form of meditation has been proven to reduce stress in the short and long term. Well worth 40 minutes out of your day!
2. Chamomile & other supplements
"Some compounds in chamomile (Matricaria recutita)bind to the same brain receptors as drugs like Valium. In one study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, in Philadelphia, patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who took chamomile supplements for eight weeks had a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to patients taking placebo."
It may seem like a simple and small change to make to your life, but by simply adding certain vitamins to your diet you can help to reduce your stress levels, and it's not just chamomile that can help with stress busting! Other vitamins that have been proven to alleviate anxiety and help with sleep include vitamin B12, fish oil, kava root, St John's Wort, and valerian. Although you should always check with your doctor if these are compatible if you are taking prescription medication.
"Without taking pills or undergoing surgery, many North Americans testify that acupressure relieved pain and stress, improved their immunity, and helped them to sleep better after wrestling with insomnia for years."
This ancient practice ironically has often been dismissed as' new age' by the medical community, but has actually been shown to have a proven impact on those suffering with a range of physical and mental health issues.
Acupressure involves applying pressure to different pressure points in the hand which correlate to different parts of the patient's body. The practitioner can then identify where the pain is being felt and release energy blockages thus improving circulation, and reducing muscle tension to the affected area. The practice incorporates emotional elements: training you to release emotional anxiety or stress.
4. Massage therapy
"Massage can help relax tight and painful muscles, improve range of motion in the joints, enhance circulation and lower stress levels. Stress is considered a risk factor for many chronic diseases, and can make your symptoms worse. When administered by a well-trained and licensed practitioner, massage therapy may help with conditions that affect your state of mind, including stress, depression and anxiety. A massage helps you shift your thoughts away from everyday worries and allows your body and mind to relax."
The impact that stress has on our physical body can't be underestimated. Stress causes tension in our muscles which can often lead to injury and long term pain if we're not careful.
Massage can be an ideal way to relax and reduce stress after a long day or week. Of course we don't all have the money to spend on paying a masseuse after work every day, but there are many stress relieving massage techniques we can perform on ourselves that can also be very effective. A quick online search will bring up plenty of head, face and neck massages to help you relax after a long day!
5. Deep breathing exercises
"Abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and reduce stress. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body- it brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and quiets your mind."
It's something that we do every day, every hour, many times a minute, but it is without a doubt one of the most important things that we can learn to do properly. Becoming more aware of your breathing, and learning deep breathing techniques can help you manage stress on a daily basis, help you sleep better, and give you more sustained energy throughout the day. Just breathe!