10 Science-Backed Techniques to Relieve Stress
As a small business owner, you’re no stranger to stress. From managing employees to dealing with inventory and staying on top of your finances (not to mention your personal life), there’s a ton to juggle. While being on overdrive is sometimes necessary, it can wreck havoc on your health if it’s your chronic mode of operation. That’s why it’s important to integrate tools, strategies, and states of mind to keep stress at bay.
Here are a few research-backed ways to relieve your stress.
You’ve heard it a million times from your doctor, but it’s worth another reminder — exercise is paramount to maintaining both physical and mental health. Studies have shown that moderate aerobic exercise, like walking or running several times a week, helps boost mood, improve sleep, and sharpen focus — and can even combat more chronic health challenges like depression.
New research suggests that yoga is an effective means of reducing stress and anxiety. Lead researcher Lindsey B. Hopkins DeBoer, Ph.D., from the San Francisco VA Medical Center, says that yoga has been linked to reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reason enough to strike up a few poses at least once a week.
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You don’t have to look far to find research that backs meditation as an extremely effective way to combat stress — there have been a slew of studies on the subject over the past few years. One recent study by the University of California, San Francisco, found that meditation bolsters brain chemicals and hormones that help you regulate stress and fight off sickness. In the same study, meditation also proved to help lower blood pressure and enable people to react to stressful situations in more patient ways.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk psychotherapy that’s designed to change the ingrained, negative thought patterns that could be affecting your reaction to certain stressful situations. Ultimately, the goal is to change the way you react to triggers. Cognitive distancing and de-fusion are practices that help create space between you and the thoughts that might send you into spirals. If you’re experiencing chronic stress, it might be worth researching mental health professionals in your area that specialize in CBT.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction, which was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center to help patients deal with pain, uses a combination of meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help people become more mindful and present in the moment. And there’s a reason many larger corporations — from Google to Target — are now offering courses on it to help employees manage stress: It’s proven to be extremely successful in reducing anxiety. Studies have even found that it can actually change how your brain is wired.
Few people would pass up the chance for a massage, but now even science says that frequent massage is a good way to reduce stress symptoms. Massage reduces the stress hormone cortisol, in turn helping to lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. Even a brief, 15-minute chair massage once a week can be enough to help alleviate stress.
Here’s an excuse to get outside: Taking walks in green spaces or even looking at pictures of nature can increase your resilience to stress. Stanford researchers found that getting up and taking a stroll through the park reduced anxiety more than walking on a busy street and had cognitive benefits as well.
A recent study by the University of California, San Francisco, showed significant changes in gene expression processes related to regulating stress. Researchers found a direct correlation between regular vacations and a healthy immune system, resistance to early-onset Alzheimer’s, and protection against cellular aging.
Chores and repetitive activities
Next time you need to decompress, head straight to the kitchen. A study from Florida State University found that chores like washing dishes could successfully calm the mind and decrease stress. The thinking is that things like doing the dishes, vacuuming the house, or tending the garden can act as informal contemplative practices that promote a positive state of mindfulness. Likewise, repetitive activities like knitting help to induce a relaxed state, similar to those associated with yoga and meditation, according to a report in The New York Times.
Research from the Association for Psychological Science suggests that proactively doing things for others, even small things like holding a door open, could help you cope with everyday stressors and tough days and even boost daily well-being. In the study, a greater number of helpful acts for others correlated with higher levels of daily positive emotions and better overall mental health.
Combating stress is not only important for your well-being, it also helps you operate effectively at work. So it’s worth taking the time to adopt these practices and strategies to keep your stress levels in check.
Photo credits: “Yoga” by Dave Rosenblum, Flickr, CC by 2.0, cropped from original; “Just a short walk” by Val Wroblewski, Flickr, CC by 2.0, cropped from original.