It can keep you awake at night, have you overeating, undereating, greying, losing hair, and aging rapidly. It is that thing called stress, and it can wreak havoc on both your mental and physical health. But there are plenty of ways to alleviate stress to avoid those sad outcomes. Easy ways, even. That’s why we searched the web to find the best ways to alleviate stress, according to professionals.
Research “reveals that stress literally makes people age faster at a genetic level.” As if humans don’t already age fast enough. The study goes on to note that “experiencing stress speeds up the chemical changes in a person’s DNA that naturally occur as they age.” Though a bit of good news is that “Their findings reveal that although stress makes people age faster, strengthening your emotion regulation and self-control can block out the genetic impact of stress.” And that’s why learning these easy ways to combat stress becomes that much more important.
There’s also a scary D word associated with stress: dementia. And researchers found that “today’s stressors can impact future brain functioning, especially for women.” It’s unfortunate, but “the longitudinal study confirms Alzheimer’s Association statistics: One in six women over the age of 60 — compared to just one in 11 men — will eventually be diagnosed with dementia.” They go on to share that “From other studies, we know that in terms of age-related stress response changes, women experience triple what men experience.” And “Other research confirmed that extremely stressful times in life can cause temporary memory and cognitive problems.” But remember, there are methods to lower your stress levels, many of which are the easy fixes that landed on our list below.
Take the edge off, it’ll only help you in the long run. StudyFinds did the research for you and turned to the experts to find the top five best ways to alleviate stress. We want to help you age gracefully and remain mentally sharp for all your years. Of course, we want to hear from you. Comment below to let us know how you destress!
The List: Best Ways to Alleviate Stress, Per Experts
1. Be Active
This took the top spot on most experts’ lists, and it came in a variety of forms, from exercise, including yoga, to taking walks to get outdoors into nature. No matter the choice, the important part is to carve out time for physical activity the benefits both your mind and body.
Mayo Clinic shares that “Virtually any form of physical activity can act as a stress reliever. Even if you’re not an athlete or you’re out of shape, exercise can still be a good stress reliever. Physical activity can pump up your feel-good endorphins and other natural neural chemicals that enhance your sense of well-being. Exercise can also refocus your mind on your body’s movements, which can improve your mood and help the day’s irritations fade away. Consider walking, jogging, gardening, housecleaning, biking, swimming, weightlifting or anything else that gets you active.”
“Yoga has become a popular method of stress relief and exercise among all age groups,” writes Healthline. “Yoga styles differ, most share a common goal — to join your body and mind by increasing body and breath awareness. Several studies show that yoga helps reduce stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Plus, it can promote psychological well-being. These benefits seem to be related to its effect on your nervous system and stress response. Yoga may help lower cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate while increasing levels of gamma aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that’s low in people with mood disorders.”
Verywell Mind writes, “Exercise is a fantastic stress reliever that can work in minutes. Taking a walk allows you to enjoy a change of scenery, which can get you into a different frame of mind and brings the benefits of exercise as well. So whether you just need to take a stroll around the office to get a break from a frustrating task or you decide to go for a long walk in the park after work, walking is a simple but effective way to rejuvenate your mind and body.” And if you do decide to walk outdoors, you’ll get the added benefit of being in nature. The healing properties of time in nature are well-documented.
2. Meditation & Deep Breathing Exercises
No surprise here. These go hand in hand where many forms of meditation require that a person focus on their breaths. The calming effects of meditation and deep breathing exercises are backed by much research. These techniques at this point are tried and true. Many people claim that they cannot meditate because they cannot quiet their mind, but just as with any new endeavor, improvement only comes through repetition.
“Do a relaxation exercise,” writes Harvard Health Publishing. “The relaxation response — the opposite of the stress response — was defined by Harvard Medical School professor Herbert Benson. It slows your breathing, reduces your heart rate, and lowers your stress hormones. To elicit this state, Dr. Ramchandani recommends a basic breathing exercise, such as taking 10 very slow breaths in and out. Or try an imagery exercise: ‘Imagine being in your favorite vacation place, maybe the beach or in nature,’ Dr. Ramchandani suggests. ‘Imagine all the sensations you’d experience there, such as the sight and sound of the waves, the smell of the ocean, and the breeze brushing against your skin. Hold this image for a few minutes and notice the relaxing effect.’”
Cleveland Clinic recommends studying and practicing relaxation techniques: “Taking the time to relax every day helps manage stress and protect your body from the effects of stress. You can choose from a variety of techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation. Many online and smartphone apps provide guidance on these techniques. Although some require purchase costs, many are available free of charge.” Or if you’d prefer to follow a video, there are plenty of free videos that can guide you through these exercises. Just do a quick online search and you’ll find many to choose from.
“Guided meditation is a great way to distract yourself from the stress of day-to-day life. There are many guided meditations available online that can help you find five minutes of centered relaxation,” writes Mayo Clinic Health System. “Deep breathing is a great way to reduce the activation of your sympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s response of fight or flight to a perceived threat. Deep breaths taken in for a count of five seconds, held for two seconds and released for a count of five seconds, can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system to rest and digest, which helps reduce the overall stress and anxiety you may be experiencing.”
3. Connect With Others
Sometimes keeping to yourself is detrimental to your health. The issue is that self-talk, if negative, can create a downward spiral. This is when it’s best to connect with others whether it’s to get your thoughts out into the open or just to vent. Having a support structure in place in the form of friends and family is one of the easiest ways to alleviate stress.
“Maintaining, improving, and increasing healthy relationships with supportive friends and family powerfully promotes resilience,” writes Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Many find that connections with a faith family, neighbors, and even pets, help them feel positive and energetic, even if children and grandchildren aren’t close at hand.” And as they mention, it doesn’t need to be another human; cuddling with your pet was listed on many of the expert lists we reviewed. It’s hard to beat a pet that’s always happy to see you.
Verywell Mind writes, “If you lack emotional support and friendship, it’s important to get it. That may mean reaching out to your existing network. Perhaps confiding in a family member or distant friend can help you become closer, and it may give you the social support you need. You may also need to expand your network. Join an organization, attend a support group, or get professional help if you lack supportive people in your life.” They also make another great recommendation: “get a hug from a loved one. Physical touch can do a lot to relieve your stress. Hugging a loved one can be especially beneficial. When you hug someone, oxytocin (also known as the ‘cuddle hormone’) is released. Oxytocin is associated with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress.”
The CDC shares that “Having meaningful relationships can create a sense of belonging. A feeling of being cared for, valued, and supported can help us become more resilient. This is called social connectedness. Connecting with others can help us cope with stress and become more resilient. Reach out to your community, family members, or friends. Talk with someone you trust about your feelings or any concerns. Make time for cultural, spiritual, or religious activities. Volunteer with organizations that interest you. Giving back to others can help you too. Get outside with others, connect with nature, and explore green spaces.”
4. Healthy Diet
Healthy food is the answer to many of life’s ailments. With the prevalence of fast food, maintaining a healthy diet isn’t easy, but it’s certainly doable with some willpower and determination. It’s true that what a person eats shows in their body. Food affects both the mind and body.
Cleveland Clinic recommends that you eat and drink to optimize your health. They share an all-to-common scenario: “Some people try to reduce stress by drinking alcohol or eating too much. These actions may seem to help in the moment, but actually may add to stress in the long run. Caffeine also can compound the effects of stress.” The way then to help alleviate stress is to eat “a healthy, balanced diet.”
“Your diet affects every aspect of your health, including your mental health,” writes Healthline. “Studies show that people who follow a diet high in ultra-processed foods and added sugar are more likely to experience higher perceived stress levels. Being chronically stressed may lead you to overeat and reach for highly palatable foods, which may harm your overall health and mood. Plus, not eating enough nutrient-dense whole foods may increase your risk of deficiencies in nutrients that are essential for regulating stress and mood, such as magnesium and B vitamins.”
Mayo Clinic Health System lists fitness and nutrition and writes that “When your body is healthy, your mind can be healthy and vice versa. Nutrition is important because stress can deplete certain vitamins, such as A, B complex, C and E. Maintaining proper nutrition not only helps your body feel better, but your mind as well, which allows you to better combat stress.” And even if you supplement with those vitamins, stress will override them with its powerful, and draining, effects.
5. Laugh More Often
Laughing benefits your health, and there’s ample research to back it up. Even if you’re not able to laugh with family or friends, you can always throw on that funny flick that gets you every time. No matter how you choose to do it, find a way to laugh more often and watch your stress levels decline.
“Think back to the last time you laughed—and I mean laughed (not just said ‘LOL’ in a text). You probably felt way less stressed in that moment, right?” writes Women’s Health. “There’s a reason: ‘People often hold a lot of their stress in their face, and laughs or smiles can help relieve some of that tension,’ according to the APA. That’s why Chapman says scheduling time to interact with family on FaceTime or playing with friends on the Nintendo Switch (or other gaming devices) should be a regular activity. Talking to and laughing with family and friends will get rid of those not-so-positive thoughts that can come with feeling isolated and stressed.”
The University of Colorado Boulder writes: “Laughter is one of the sillier ways to beat stress, but there’s science behind it. A fit of hysterics can increase blood flow and boost immunity. Check out a hilarious YouTube video (maybe a piano-playing pug?) for a quick pick-me-up.” And there’s certainly no shortage of funny videos out there. Try one of the YouTube compilations that challenge you not to laugh. Good luck!
Harvard Health Publishing agrees: “Laughter has been referred to as ‘internal jogging’ by Dr. William Fry, and may provide a source of healing. ‘It reduces stress hormones and becomes an expression of joy, optimism, and hope,’ Dr. Ramchandani says. ‘Watch a movie or TV show that makes you laugh, maybe your favorite episode of ‘I Love Lucy.’” And there you go, if external jogging isn’t your thing then maybe some good old fashion “internal jogging” will do it. Choose to laugh often and watch your stress levels plummet.
You may also be interested in:
- Mayo Clinic
- University of Colorado Boulder
- Harvard Health Publishing
- Cleveland Clinic
- Mayo Clinic Health System
- Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Verywell Mind
- Women’s Health
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