HOW TO REDUCE STRESS NATURALLY
We live in such a busy world these days that it can be such an easy thing for us to get stressed, one minute were all sweet feeling zen and the next we're stressed out of our minds, brain working overtime and in overdrive and we're not sleeping.
Living under a mountain of stress may be the norm these days, but this doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Unfortunately – far from it!
The hormonal cascade triggered by stress, particularly ongoing or “chronic” stress, puts enormous pressure on our bodies. And as much as we like to think we’re immune, there’s only so much we can handle before we’re spun out of balance. If you’ve ever fallen sick after completing a stressful exam or work deadline, you’ll know this to be true!
Now here’s the real bummer. When it comes to your wellbeing, too much stress – be it mental, emotional or physical, can undo even the very best diet and exercise routine. You could literally have it all dialled in, but come unstuck with unmanaged stress levels.
And while it’s impossible to avoid all stress (and you wouldn’t want to), if you’re prone to feeling overwhelmed, stress management should feature front-and-centre in your daily routine. At first, it may seem much easier said than done. It certainly takes practice! But with the right strategies, it is possible to ease your stress and start living lighter.
If you’re looking for how to reduce stress naturally, read on for my 8 top tips:
Get Out of Your Head & Into Your Body
Often when we’re stressed, we’re deep in thought and mental activity. For me, this looks like going “around the mountain” many times in my mind, re-living a situation and searching for answers.
Now there’s nothing wrong with thinking deeply about things, but in stressful times it’s all too easy to get caught up in analysis-paralysis! There’s a point where analysing becomes ineffective, and it doesn’t feel good physically or emotionally.
Getting out of your head and into your body is about releasing the mind and getting back in touch with your physical body. If you’re an over-thinker, activities like these will do you a world of good:
- Any form of exercise, e.g. weights, running, swimming, boxing, yoga, pilates
- Netball, Basketball
- Kayaking, rowing, rock climbing, karate etc.
See what activity works for you and allows you to cultivate a sense of presence in your body.
To catch stress before it bubbles over, it’s also great to schedule time for physical activity throughout your week. But of course, you can always go for an impromptu exercise session!
Breathe Through Stressful Moments
Regularly moving your body and stepping out of your mind can do a world of good for those stress levels. But what about when you’re in the situation? When hurrying to make a work or uni deadline, there’s no time for doing yoga!
This is where breath work really comes in. It’s the simple practice of reconnecting to the body using the breath. The great thing about this technique is that it can be done anytime, anywhere, for some instant stress relief!
Next time you’re feeling stressed and you’re right in the situation, give this simple breathing exercise a try. Take in a deep breath into your belly, focussing on the sensation of the breath. Hold for 3 seconds, and let it out. If you have an affirmation you’re using, this is also a great time to reconnect with that. Easy!
Whenever I do this exercise, I realise that my shoulders were so tense and I was breathing so shallow, it was really contributing to the feeling of panic. Focussing on the breath for just a few moments is a powerful way to diffuse some of this tension and calm the mind.
Change Your Surroundings
As they say, sometimes a change is as good as a holiday! Often when we’re stressed, our physical surroundings can play into the negative feelings of overwhelm and “stuck-ness”. For example, if you’re working in a small indoor space or under fluorescent lighting, a change of scene may just do you a world of good!
Getting out in nature, whether that’s a local park, outside on your lawn, or simply a walk up and down the street can shift your perspective in a big way. This is an especially good thing to do at night – looking up at the stars in the night’s sky can be quite therapeutic!
I know that for me, living in a small apartment can make me feel like I have tunnel vision. Getting out into the open, with space around me and grass or sand underfoot opens up my awareness and gives me a sense of perspective.
If you live in a very built-up area or getting to the park isn’t your thing, consider stopping by another place you enjoy. One of my favourite things in the world is getting to a beach. It’s always such a relaxed place, full of sunshine, the calming sound of waves that helps my “problems” seem lighter. What’s your favourite place to go?
Do Something You Enjoy
This may seem obvious, but doing something you enjoy – like reeaaally enjoy – is a great way to reduce stress and cultivate wellbeing. My #1 tip here is to do something you enjoy, not something that you feel expected to enjoy, or what the wellness community condones as a “good” activity.
I say this because as adults, we often get so mixed up in expectations and responsibilities that we forget what we truly enjoy. We find it hard to fully engage in an activity for the pure joy of it, as though everything needs to serve some practical purpose or contribute to self improvement. It’s like we’ve forgotten how to have fun!
So consider this your official permission to go ahead and do something you enjoy! That could mean indulging your guilty pleasure, channeling your inner child or really unleashing your creativity. A quick list of things we enjoy:
- Watching TV series (Suits, anyone?)
- Cooking new recipes
- Trying new makeup looks
- Gardening (or attempting to, at least!)
- Learning new things (e.g. singing, dancing, skateboarding!)
- Painting/ drawing
What do you really enjoy doing?
#5 – Develop a Healthy Sleep Ritual
Sometimes, just knowing that you have a blissful pre-bed ritual coming up can make your day a little brighter! It’s also a great way to unwind and unload any stress that built up during the day in preparation for a deep, restorative sleep and a fresh new day.
Now, in order to develop a healthy sleep ritual, you’re going to need to set some boundaries – especially if you’re often tempted to work late (like I am known too) or spend the evening watching YouTube videos! But the peace and centredness that you’ll feel in return is definitely worth the trade.
The key to making this work is creating a routine you really enjoy and making it a daily habit. Make it a beautiful, relaxed time where you can really unwind, reflect and reconnect with yourself. This might look like a hot bath, a half hour of journalling or a luxurious face mask and skincare routine. Do what feels good to you!
#6 – Set Intentions for the Day & Be Kind to Yourself
Setting intentions for the day is all about taking the time to decide how you want to show up and what your priorities (or boundaries!) are.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I often hurtle into the day with a mile-long to-do list and little conscious direction for applying my energy. On days like these, I tend to be more reactive to external pressures. This means I often overburden myself, and say “yes” to things when I really mean “no” I can also be downright harsh on myself!
Contrast this to a day where I’ve spent as little as 5 minutes really checking in and getting clear on my intentions. The impact on my stress levels is like night and day.
When you’re setting intentions for the day ahead, there’s no need for them to be grandiose or huge. Often it’s the subtle shifts that make the most impact! For example, an intention I often set for the day is that I prioritise my emotional and physical wellbeing. But as a bit of a people pleaser, putting my health first doesn’t always come first on its own! Refreshing this intention every day reminds me to act in alignment with my values, and that means less stress.
Getting into the routine of setting intentions daily really is a way to be kind to yourself. You become your own strength and your own best friend. You know how you want to show up in your day, and why. This really takes the stress off!
#7 – Drop the Story
This is a biggie! Dropping the story simply means letting go of what you’re making things mean.
Often times, we become so identified with our own (limited) point of view that we assign meanings to events and situations that simply aren’t true. You’ve probably witnessed this in others more than yourself, as it’s easier to spot when it’s not your drama! For example, have you ever known a friend who’s created emotional drama around their work or dating life, when from the outside it seems like things aren’t really that bad at all?
The crazy thing about our minds is that they’re often on the lookout for the negative. It’s an in-built negativity bias that we have evolved with. In fact, it’s part of what kept our ancestors safe for thousands of years out in the wild! But scanning around our life and looking for things to panic, worry and have fear about is an added stress that we don’t need these days!
Identifying when you’re playing into your own drama and creating a story around events is simpler than it sounds. In fact, it’s an ongoing practice that will never end! Spotting the drama while you’re in the very middle of it can be tough, but if you can do it…it will literally change your emotional life. Identifying and dropping stories can even be quite amusing, and it’s something that Amy and I often discuss and call each other out on!
A great tool you can start using daily to become more aware of your thoughts is meditation. It teaches you how to observe and detach from thoughts + see them for what they really are – just thoughts! All it takes is a few minutes per day, and the results are tremendous!
#8 – Accept Negative Emotion
Sometimes, avoiding or resisting negative emotions is another way we cause our own stress. For example, some days I’ll spend a crazy amount of energy trying to repress, deny and push away a bad mood. I don’t want to feel the emotion, and I judge myself and get even MORE irritated when I can’t seem to turn my mood around.
Accepting negative emotion doesn’t sound like something you’d want to do, but it is in fact a short cut to peace! As they say, what you resists persists – this is especially true for negative emotions.
If you’re wondering what it really means to accept a negative emotion and how this plays out in everyday life, I’d say it’s like this: you stop playing tug-o-war with yourself. Just drop the rope. The way I often like to think about this is “I’m just going to carry this heavy mood with me today, and that’s OK”.
The funny thing is, once you’ve accepted the negative emotion and stopped trying to change it, it often fades away. It’s as though you’ve finally given yourself the validation that what you’re feeling is normal and nothing has gone wrong. This opens up space for negative emotion to lift, and the stress of resistance goes with it!
So There You Have It
Those were my 8 top tips for how to reduce stress naturally! If any of these resonated with you, or you have more tips to share, please leave a comment below!