The oxford dictionary defines stress as “ A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances ”. As such it seems near impossible to avoid stress altogether. We all have different levels of stress tolerance, and stress can affect us in multiple different ways. According to research the most common triggers of stress and emotional strain come from relationships, professional life and change. Living in the fast-paced digital landscape of the 21st century, it has become vital to stay cool, calm and collected in the face of stressful situations.
Being able to deal with stress is important as it can take a serious toll on our mental and physical health. Some of the most common symptoms of stress are:
Difficulty falling asleep and episodes of insomnia.
Fluctuations in weight.
Development of anxiety, anger and irritability
Development of painful headaches
A general downward spiral in mood and loss of interest in activities that used to bring us joy.
Increased levels of blood pressure.
All these factors can have devastating consequences on productivity, efficiency, health, overall happiness and peace of mind.
5 ways to keep your mind at peace during stressful times
1. Relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques are incredibly effective for calming yourself down and combatting stressful times. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing or a combination of all three can relax both the body and mind. In stressful situations we tend to overthink, overanalyze and overreact. Practicing relaxation techniques allows one to become zen, clear the mind and move on with their daily goals and activities. The great thing about relaxation techniques is that they can be done in the comfort of your own home and don't require additional expensive equipment. You also don't need to be an expert since you can easily find free online classes, guides and tutorials to help get you started.
Deep breathing allows a person to enter a state of restfulness and clear their mind, which directly alleviates anxiety, anger and insomnia. In a study in the journal of Teaching and Learning in Medicine deep breathing meditation techniques helped students under enormous stress persevere and strive. This sentiment was also echoed in a study published in the Journal of Neurological Sciences which concluded that just one session of deep breathing exercise a week significantly lowered stress and increased general mood. Additionally a study in hypertension research revealed that deep breathing exercises worked to lower blood pressure levels. The benefits of deep breathing talk for themselves. We can all do it. So why don't we?
Much like deep breathing exercises, yoga is also incredibly effective in the fight against stress. Exercise, movement and stretching all have immense health benefits. Muscle strength. Flexibility. Reduced risk of injury. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind.
2. Sound and Music
Sounds and music are often overlooked when we talk about tools that help keep your mind at peace during stressful times. In fact, sounds and music are probably the very first calming methods we experience in our lives. There is a reason why parents sing and hum to their crying babies. It's simple, it just...works.
Music has been researched to lower blood pressure and help a person relax and “zone-out”. Studies also imply that calming music can reduce cortisol, which is a hormone that gets released in the body during a fight or flight reaction. High cortisol levels lead to increased stress, so as one might expect, lower cortisol levels equal lower stress levels. Music, nature sounds, tantric chants and white noise are now more accessible than ever before with the advent of music streaming. Both Youtube and Spotify have expertly curated playlists for sounds and music to help ease your stress, so don't hesitate to try it out, or better yet, start creating your very own personal relaxation playlist!
3. Work Life Balance
Jobs and careers are one of the leading causes of stress. In today's society, working long hours and working hard are worshipped and celebrated. However this isn't sustainable for a long period of time for a human's psyche. Working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week with 0 breaks will not guarantee you that promotion, however it will almost certainly guarantee burn-out, stress and mental health issues. It is crucial to develop a healthy work life balance. Pick up some hobbies, get out of the office, and spend some time with your family and friends. Recharge and reset your mind. This in turn will help increase your productivity and efficiency while keeping work fresh and fun. If you can feel a burn-out or exhaustion creeping up on yourself, try to get out of your routine and try new things, new experiences and make some new memories.
Struggling to find a new hobby? No better time to get into meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, music or even spending time in nature than now.
Spending time outside in nature is one of the best ways to cope with stress. Going for a hike in a forest is incredibly therapeutic. In nature we feel more in tune with ourselves and our surroundings. In nature we are enveloped by the sights and sounds that help us relax. The wind rustling through the leaves of trees, birds chirping, the soft crackle of the forest soil under your shoes after each step. Walking in the woods is a great form of exercise, and much like everything previously discussed, it is accessible and easy for most people. Spending time in nature can essentially help us disconnect from the things that are causing us stress. The sights, sounds and actions that we associate with stress are non-existent in nature. No office buildings, no emails, no phone calls, no computers, no annoying coworkers, no rush hours. Just you and your thoughts and the fresh non polluted air.
According to a study conducted by Cornell University in 2020, just 10 minutes of spending time in nature is enough to boost happiness, and reduce levels of both physical and mental stress. The American Institute of Stress also claims that venturing outdoors reduces anxiety as well as stress.
Last but definitely not least is proper sleep and rest.
The average healthy person needs anywhere between 7 - 9 hours of sleep every night. Unfortunately the more stressed we are, the harder it is to fall asleep. It almost feels like a paradox. In order to rid myself of stress and anxiety I need to sleep better, but what can I do when I'm too stressed to sleep. Ironically, worrying about getting enough sleep can easily add to the existing stress a person is already under. Fortunately there are several methods that can help us fall asleep better. Reading before going to bed, not using any electronic devices a few hours before going to bed, meditating and exercising all play a big part in the quest for peaceful sleep.
And if all else fails, try not to worry about it. Just rest and close your eyes. Even if you can't fall asleep, find solace in the fact that just resting is half of the battle and can also help reduce stress, and take you that one step closer to complete relaxation.
Mayo Clinic. 2020. How Stress Affects Your Body And Behavior . [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art- 20050987> [Accessed 3 June 2020].
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Paul, G., Elam, B. and Verhulst, S., 2007. A Longitudinal Study of Students' Perceptions of Using Deep Breathing Meditation to Reduce Testing Stresses. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 19(3),pp.287-292.
Perciavalle, V., Blandini, M., Fecarotta, P., Buscemi, A., Di Corrado, D., Bertolo, L., Fichera, F. and Coco, M., 2016. The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurological Sciences , 38(3), pp.451-458.
Knight, W. and Rickard, N., 2001. Relaxing Music Prevents Stress-Induced Increases in Subjective Anxiety, Systolic Blood Pressure, and Heart Rate in Healthy Males and Females. JournalofMusicTherapy, 38(4),pp.254-272.
Healthdirect.gov.au. 2020. The Role Of Cortisol In The Body . [online] Available at: <https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/the-role-of-cortisol-in-the-body> [Accessed 3 June 2020].
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