How to reduce stress, and why?
Too much stress can negatively affect your health. However, it is not necessary to completely banish stress either. A little stress now and then has its advantages.
As a whole, experiencing intense stress for a long time can lead to chronic stress. This is often a precursor for major health problems. Try to think positively, practice forgiveness, be kind to yourself and try various stress busters to help with the physical and mental symptoms of stress.
Therefore, it is vital to curb our stress levels and ensure that they do not run wild.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to reduce stress: Introduction
- 2 Watch over your thoughts
- 3 Free your emotions
- 4 Meditate to reduce stress
- 5 How to reduce stress: Conclusion
How to reduce stress: Introduction
We do not control all the factors that contribute to us experiencing stress. Some things we simply have no influence over and cannot control.
Fortunately, there are also internal factors that cause us stress that we can do something about.
Read on to look at what tools are available to act on these internal factors and how to reduce stress.
Watch over your thoughts
When it comes to healthier living, no one says it better than American physician Daniel Amen: “A thought can destroy a life.”
Indeed, many negative thoughts stem from a kind of inferiority feeling. This feeling is often the result of our mental programming in childhood.
This causes us to view the world through a particular lens, such as feeling ugly, fat, or stupid and threatened by things others do not perceive as a threat.
The result is that certain parts of the brain are constantly overstimulated.
Positive thinking has a healing effect
The cognitive approach to stress involves consciously choosing specific thoughts to feed your mind and, conversely, trying to limit negative thoughts.
That doesn’t mean you should bury your head in the sand or deny an inconvenient truth. What matters is that you don’t let negative things like fretting overwhelm you.
These so-called ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) lead to many chemical changes in your brain every time, harming your judgment and impulse control.
The good news is that this mechanism also works in the opposite direction.
By consciously choosing positive thoughts, you bring about biochemical and neurophysiological changes that make you feel good and effectively make you healthier as well.
So thoughts can be toxic or healing.
Positive action makes you happy
Research shows that selflessly doing something for someone else is a powerful way to feel positive.
These then result in so-called ‘micro-moments of positivity.’
Doing something positive every day without having to get anything in return makes people happy.
(Sources: Dr. D. Amen and Dr. B. Fredrickson)
Free your emotions
A strong source of stress is emotions, especially unprocessed emotions.
Forgiveness, gratitude, and kindness are attitudes that can be very positive in this regard.
That way, your body no longer holds on to the unprocessed emotions, and you can vent them in a positive way.
Being able to forgive is, therefore, an essential skill.
This may involve dramatic events, which makes forgiveness anything but evident in such cases. Still, an outstretched hand can also help with minor annoyances.
Numerous studies show that attitudes such as forgiveness, gratitude, and empathy not only help others feel good but that they also:
- cause you to feel better,
- are good for your resistance,
- are good for your heart, etc.
Gratitude can be practiced in a variety of ways. For example, you can jot down in a notebook each day a few things for which you are grateful.
It also helps to open up to things we often stop thinking about:
- the power that charges our mobile devices,
- the water that comes out of the tap
- the light that comes on when we push a button,
- the refrigerator that keeps food fresh, etc.
People used to pray before eating. Many still do. However, this religious custom has disappeared in many dining rooms, along with the aspect of gratitude.
Perhaps we should get back into the habit of pausing before dinner and being grateful for all that is on the table.
You can also sincerely thank someone for something you have never thanked them for:
- Think of a friend or acquaintance who once did something extraordinary for you.
- A teacher in school who led you in the right direction at the right time.
- Your neighbor who kept an eye on you when you were traveling.
- Something very inconspicuous and ordinary that helped you or made you happy.
- You can also just thank them for the person they are and how they positively impact the lives of others.
This can be with an old-fashioned letter or a digital message out of the blue. The way is less important.
What matters is that this is one of the most effective ways to make yourself (and the recipient, of course) feel good.
- Suppose the thought of thanking a particular person feels uncomfortable. In that case, this may precisely be why this is the ideal person to approach.
- It doesn’t matter that the thing for which you show gratitude was a long time ago. On the contrary, that may just make it more powerful, that they still have a positive impact on your life after all this time.
Be kind to others and yourself
Research also shows that being nice can help you live longer.
Finally, it is also important to be kind to yourself.
This implies, among other things, not being overcritical, doing your best but allowing yourself to make mistakes, and listening to your body’s signals to rest in time.
An experiment you can easily try yourself is to be nice for 3 weeks:
- For three weeks, do one act of kindness each day.
- This can be directed to someone close to you, but it can also be directed to an unknown person or even anonymous so that the person does not know that you are the one who made them feel good.
- Each day, write down what deed you did and how it made you feel in a notebook.
- After three weeks, evaluate the effect.
Perhaps being nice will prove so beneficial that you decide to continue doing so for the rest of your life.
Furthermore, you may also note that being nice is exceptionally contagious and contagious, so it spreads further by itself.
(Source: Dr. D. Hamilton, Why Kindness is Good for You)
The opposite of gratitude is envy or, even stronger, resentment.
It is perfectly normal to be very angry or even hateful in some circumstances.
But resentment, when it drags on for months or years, can also make people sick.
This is because the vagus nerve, also known as the compassion nerve, is then constantly in a “ready to fight” mode.
Meditate to reduce stress
Meditation is an ancient technique for achieving a clear mental state and emotional peace. The body also comes to relax in the process.
There are dozens of variants, but generally, they all have one thing in common: they focus on the “here and now.”
Meditation is an excellent way to deal with stressful thoughts differently.
Origin of meditation
The technique has its roots in the East, where people have been convinced of its beneficial effect for centuries.
However, due to its negative connotations with hippie culture, drugs, and religion, medical science has long been skeptical of transcendental meditation.
One of the pioneers who provided a breakthrough was American Jon Kabat-Zinn.
This professor and physician himself apprenticed with Zen Buddhists and succeeded in introducing meditation, and in particular mindfulness meditation, into medicine.
Today, mindfulness meditation is in high demand, both among people with certain conditions and the general public.
Proven benefits of meditation
Moreover, the effect of meditation appears to be dose-sensitive, meaning that the more you meditate, the stronger the effect.
However, you certainly don’t have to sit on a meditation cushion for hours: research also shows that even a few minutes a day of meditation has a demonstrable beneficial effect.
Based on the many hundreds of studies on the effect of meditation, the following positive effects were reported:
- increased self-insight
- better coping with pain
- less stress
- fewer mood swings
- more energy and vitality
- improvement of cognitive functions
- increase in social skills
- stronger immune system
- increased well-being
- lowering blood pressure (in hypertension) and heart rate
- better concentration
- sleep better
- beneficial effect on gastrointestinal function
- increased resilience
Meditating keeps us young
In a remarkable study, people who are not used to meditating were divided into two groups:
- one group received a week of “regular vacation,” while
- the other group received a week of “vacation with meditation.”
After this week, both groups felt better (who doesn’t after a vacation), and blood tests also indicated some beneficial changes.
It was striking, however, that in the group that had meditated, this effect continued long afterward:
- After just six days of intense meditation, telomerase had a long-term effect. This enzyme maintains telomeres and limits cellular aging.
- In addition, they saw that the meditators were less likely to have depression and had lower beta-amyloid, a substance associated with dementia.
- There were also epigenetic effects and improved wound healing.
Meditation also has a healing effect
Hundreds of studies have now been conducted on the beneficial effects of meditation, providing a solid scientific basis for using the technique for several conditions.
An obvious application is stress reduction, but the effects go well beyond a subjective feeling of relaxation.
Meanwhile, beneficial effects were demonstrated in a range of conditions and complaints, including how to reduce stress:
- anxiety disorders
- sleep disorders
- high blood pressure, etc.
Contraindications or negative effects are few and far between. Of course, meditation is not a panacea. Anyone in an acute crisis should consult a physician anyway.
Today, there are also increasingly sophisticated studies with brain scans and biomarkers that convincingly demonstrate the beneficial effects of meditation.
How to reduce stress: Conclusion
Too long and too intense exposure to stress can lead to chronic stress, which is detrimental to our health. How to reduce stress is therefore essential, if not always easy.
External and internal factors cause us to feel stressed. However, only the internal factors are within our control. The rest are beyond our control.
Positive thinking has a healing effect, and positive action makes us and the people around us happy. Watching over what goes on in our minds is therefore important.
By definition, our emotions also influence how we feel. Positive emotions can be enhanced by practicing forgiveness, gratitude, and kindness. Envy should be avoided.
Meditation also has a range of scientifically proven positive effects and can help with certain conditions and ailments. It also keeps us young and also has a healing effect.
Even though not all factors are in our control, we can do quite a bit ourselves to keep our stress levels in check.
However, if you find it very difficult, it is best to consult a doctor who can help you further.
Tip: Knowing how to reduce stress is one thing. Actually implementing these steps is quite another. Check our other article for tips on how to stick to your guns when the going gets tough: How to Stick to a Healthy Lifestyle? Tips to Stay on Track