stress less

10 ways to stress less in 10 minutes

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Being stressed stresses me out. I literally stress about being or feeling stressed, and in the process, I make my stress worse.

It’s because I know how bad stress is for me – I know it’s the number one thing linked to all major diseases and illnesses – stroke, heart disease, cancer, Alzeheimer’s, autoimmune diseases –  so when I’m stressed, I imagine I can feel my cells turning against me.

Over-thinker much? Yeah well, if the cap fits and all.

Bottom line though is that I hate being stressed and since hitting my mid-40s, when I do stress, it feels more intense. (Thanks perimenopause).

We can’t avoid all stress – there are times when there will be pressure of some sort – but we can learn to turn off the stress response, the automatic physiological reaction that happens in our body when our mind sets it off with a litany of stressy, worrisome thoughts.

By turning off the stress response, we control the stress and can minimise any harmful effects.

Here’s my bag of tricks of simple ways to stress less in 10 minutes

1. Deep breathing

This is the first thing I do when I recognise I’m in a stress response spiral. I take some big, deep, slow breaths.

When your mind starts sprouting stressy thoughts, your amygdala (the part of your brain that processes emotions) sends a distress signal to your hypothalamus which puts the body on high alert and activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is your fight or flight response.

One of the effects of this is rapid, shallow breathing as your body sends more oxygen to your brain to be more alert, and to your muscles so you can flee faster.

Slow, deep breathing on the other hand, stimulates the opposite response – it turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, or our ‘relaxation response’. Taking slow, deep breaths effectively signals your brain and body that all is well and there is no threat.

The importance of breathing deeply isn’t new to us – it’s an integral part of traditional yoga and meditation practices – but more recently, science has shown beneficial links to all manner of things, right to the cellular level.

There are a number of different breathing techniques that can energise you, or calm you to the point of a meditative state, but simply stopping for a few minutes and focusing on taking slow, deep breaths will have you feeling less stressed because your nervous system will switch to relaxed.

2. Mindfulness

When I find myself stressing about something that hasn’t happened yet – something I’m worried about – I try to catch myself and bring myself to the present moment and remind myself all is well in the moment.

A lot of our stress comes from worrying about something we can’t control, or that hasn’t happened yet. Not all, but some. Coming back to the present moment can help calm that worry.

If nothing else, focusing on the present moment – where we are, what’s going on around us, what we can see, hear, smell, what needs to be done now instead of later – can calm our stress response and interrupt stressful thoughts.

3. Journal

If you can’t seem to tame your mind, turn to paper and pen. Get the thing stressing you, out of your head and write it out. Try to end with gratitude for what isn’t stressing you.

Just getting it out of your system – as if you’ve talked it over with a friend – can make you feel better. It can also bring clarity to chaos when you have a lot on your plate.

4. Move

Try a walk around the block, even if you’re at work. Or a walk somewhere. My block literally takes 10 minutes to walk around, and it’s often enough to distract my thoughts to something else, and moving my body removes some of the stress ‘energy’. A walk often switches my thoughts from worries to solutions too and I come back energised to tackle something.

Exercise is a proven technique to lower stress as you benefit from the release of endorphines, so if you’re feeling particularly tense at any time, just go for a walk and move.

5. Cancel something

If your stress is coming from overload, then look at your schedule and start cancelling. There will be something you don’t NEED to do right now. Most of us cram in commitments that could either wait or be left out completely. There’s bound to be something you can scratch from your list in order to give yourself some breathing space.

6. Take the next step

If you’re feeling stressed from thinking about ALL the things, or the BIG picture, bring your focus back to just the next step.

If it’s a work thing, do one thing on your list. If it’s a business thing, do the next thing you need to move along. If it’s study, start on one page. Chores – do one room, wipe one thing, pick up one thing.

All big things are achieved one step at a time, not in bulk. It’s the big picture that overwhelms and stresses us, so focus only on the one small thing that you need to do next.

7. Go outside

The research shows that being in green space (or blue space if you’re near the ocean) is good for us – doing some activity in the natural environment can reduce the physiological stress indicators.

So whether you’re a bush or beach fan, get outside somewhere in nature and look up. Even if you’re at work in the city, look for a space you can go for a few minutes to sit in the sun, walk in a park or look up at the sky and breath in fresh air.

8. Hug someone

Preferably someone you know and like, but if you can give someone a hug, do it. Research shows a hug reduces feelings of negativity and within a 20 second hug, there is a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol.

Even without the hugging, seek out someone you love and who loves you, or even someone you’re friends with. Appreciate the shit out of them.

9. Yoga

I know you’ve heard it all before, but let’s repeat: this stuff is designed to bring your body into balance and release tension so that your body is more relaxed. Some poses can even be done at work – it’s not all down dogs and legs up in the air.

I’m a member of The Merrymaker Sister’s online yoga and Pilates studio, and they have a variety of 10 minute classes, some especially for stress relief.

However, they  also shared this post on stress relief poses.

10. Contemplate death

Take a leaf from the stoics and remember you are going to die and so are the people you love. Does what you’re stressing about compare to that?

Nothing gives you clearer perspective than thinking about death.  It soon gives you a stronger appreciation of the present, no matter how crappy it feels at the time.

So let the small stuff go – if it won’t matter in five years or 10 years time, then it probably doesn’t really matter too much now either. Save your stress for what actually counts.


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