This article has been translated from our English edition.
Let’s talk about the word “stress”.
Although adult stress levels have been constant over the past two years (an average of 4.8 on a scale from 1 to 10), people felt the effects of stress more in 2017 than in the previous year. In fact, 45 percent of American Psychological Association respondents said that stress caused them to stay up all night for the past month. And almost a third of people said stress made them feel nervous / anxious, irritable / angry, or tired.
And women have it worse as they have reported higher levels of stress than men since the start of this survey, and increased slightly in 2017, while that of men decreased.
So what can we do to keep our cortisol levels stable? We’ve rounded up five quick exercises you can do anytime, anywhere to get back into Zen mode.
Focus on your breathing
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When we are relaxed, stressed, excited, or scared, our breathing patterns change. Therefore, it makes sense that the process also works the other way round. In other words, slow breathing often creates a feeling of calm. Another benefit of breathing exercises is that you can do them anywhere and that they are relatively subtle. One of the most common techniques is the 4-7-8, an exercise developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, author of the book, was developed Breathing: The Master Key to Self-Healing. To prepare for this exercise, place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth and try to hold it there during the exercise (some people may find this easier if their lips are slightly pursed. Let your lips part and exhale fully.
Here’s how to start: With your lips closed, inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold the air for seven seconds, and then exhale for eight seconds. Repeat this process as often as necessary to increase the oxygen levels and decrease the heart rate.
Tension and relaxation
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Whether you feel tension in your shoulders, neck, or any other area of your body, this 10-15 minute contract and release exercise is a great way to relax. Systematically tense different parts of your body at your desk, hold them for a few seconds, and then let go. Start with your feet and work your way up to your neck and face. Every time you let go of a muscle group, notice the feeling. People who live tense get used to the feeling and stop noticing it. Therefore, this exercise also brings awareness of the tension in the body. Also, it can help you notice when stress is starting to build up in your body.
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Take a walk around your office to relieve stress. Physical activity also temporarily improves brain production of positive neurotransmitters, better known as endorphins. Exercising regularly will help clear your mind, improve the quality of sleep, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Planning a half-hour walk in the middle of your day between so many meetings and calls might sound impossible, but according to the Mayo Clinic, giving yourself a 10-minute walk that is similar to a long exercise session can benefit you. Another benefit was recently brought in by Marily Oppezzo, a behavioral and learning scientist, in her TED talk, showing that exercise in the form of walking can improve your creativity. In fact, people who brainstorm while walking on the treadmill have almost twice as many creative ideas as their counterparts.
Have a relaxation playlist
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In 2017, Americans listened to music an average of 32 hours a week, about 5.5 hours more than the previous year. One of the reasons it’s such a popular hobby is because music affects our mood quickly and completely, even when it comes to minimizing stress. According to an article in the Public Library of Sciences, listening to music before a stressful situation helps the autonomy of the nervous system (which is responsible for breathing, heart rate, and digestion) so that it recovers from the feeling of stress much faster. Try creating your own playlist to relieve stress, or use one of the playlists you already have (e.g., there are playlists curated in Spotify like “Relax and unwind”, “Nature noise” or “Calm down”).
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One of the best stress relieving tricks of all time is to think about the things for which you are grateful. Adding gratitude to your daily routine can be done in many ways, but whatever you choose will help reduce stress and increase your overall happiness. Research from University College London suggests that gratitude can increase optimism and quality of sleep, and decrease the likelihood of high blood pressure. Try to incorporate this practice into your everyday life by thinking about 5 or 10 things you are grateful for and getting it right when you wake up or before you go to sleep. If you’re a visual person, invest in a journal that invites you to jot down the things you value.