Hugs are always my go-to to relieve some stress and, from one stressed out human being to another, it’s almost always effective. Unfortunately, there isn’t always someone around to hug. That feeling of loneliness can actually contribute to your stress and that’s never good. Luckily, there are ways to relieve stress when you find yourself alone that I, myself, have found very helpful.
1. PRACTICE 4-7-8 BREATHING.
Often times, when we become stressed, our breathing rate increases without us noticing. An increase in breathing rate increases our heart rate making us feel fidgety and full of energy, which only acts as gasoline on the fire of stress burning within us. Scientists have found that just being aware of your breathing can help center you. But that’s only half of it. In order to relax and let go of the pangs of anxiety, you need to slow your breathing.
One way to due that is using the 4-7-8 technique. I learned this technique in college when I was going through a really rough patch of anxiety and helped me get through many hard days. Start by breathing all the way out. Then, breathe in for four seconds. Hold that breath for seven seconds and then exhale for eight seconds. Doing this for five minutes straight will return your breathing rate and heart rate to normal allowing you to pick back up where you left off with a clear mind.
2. CHEW SOME GUM.
Yup. You read that correctly. Chewing gum has all kinds of health benefits including protecting your teeth and reducing heartburn. One health benefit you don’t often hear about, though, is the ability chewing gum has to relieve stress.
In a study done at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, participants were asked to chew gum twice a day for two weeks and then rate their anxiety. Participants in the study who chewed gum rated their anxiety significantly lower than the participants that did not chew gum. Scientists claim this is because chewing gum, both in short-term and long-term, reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone your body releases when it is under stress.
So, in short, if you’re looking for an inexpensive and tasty way to reduce your stress, this is the ticket!
3. SET POSITIVE “IF… THEN” GOALS.
About a year ago, when I was researching alternative ways to relieve stress, I stumbled upon the method of setting “if…then” goals. The way the original post explained it was that setting “if…then” goals was meant to put your brain on autopilot by making a habit out of things. One example given was “if it’s Monday morning, then I’m going to the gym.” This is a solid method but it doesn’t offer much positivity.
The way I set “if… then” goals is by reminding myself that if I do something, then I get something positive out of it. For example, I have a hard time motivating myself to go to class because class settings cause anxiety for me. So, one “if…then” goal that I have for every Monday and Wednesday is “if I go to my morning class, then I can get sushi on my way home after.” Coupling a reward with overcoming something stressful is a great way to remember that though something might cause stress, it’s not all for nothing.
4. BREAK OUT YOUR COLORING SUPPLIES!
Seriously. Take it from someone who comes from a long line of adult colorers; taking out coloring book and some crayons, even if only for five minutes, can do wonders on your stress level. You might think this is because coloring is such a mindless activity. This is actually false, according to psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala, who says many different areas of both of our cerebral hemispheres are activated when coloring.
“The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in vision and fine motor skills. The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.”
If you’ve always been more of an artsy person, I’d highly suggest this method of stress relief. Plus, they’re enjoyable to look back on once you’ve finished them and you can find them as cheap as $3.
5. DO A BRAIN DUMP.
Find a piece of paper, open a word document, even create a new note on your phone. Then, just rant for five minutes. Just let it all out: every grudge you’re currently holding onto, every worst-case scenario you’ve been concocting in your head, and especially every thing you think you need to get done all right this second. Seeing all of this nonsense down on paper rather than running a muck in your brain is more of a relief than you may realize. It’s also way easier to sort out an issue when it’s sprawled out in front of you.
If one long stream of consciousness would just add to your stress, consider making a table with two columns. I usually label one column “Things that thinking won’t help” and “Things that I can do something about” but there’s at least a thousand ways to do it.
Stress isn’t always easy to cope with. If you’re really struggling with daily activities and little tricks like these, know that there is absolutely zero shame in reaching out for help!