Why is reducing stress so important? Believe it or not, the American Association of Family Physicians reports that two-thirds of all doctor visits are due to stress-related ailments. It’s also believed that 80 to 90 percent of all diseases are stress-related. And if you’re female, stress may be even more damaging to your health. Study after study has found that women suffer from both stress and depression more often than men.
For some of us, our biggest stressors might be weather-related situations such as tornados, earthquakes, floods, fires, and hurricanes. Similarly, for most of us, we get stressed out thinking of deadlines and commitments, but stress has many other causes. It can be triggered by emotions — anger, fear, worry, grief, depression, or even guilt. And stress can actually lead to high blood pressure, heart problems, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headaches, and other illnesses and chronic health conditions. If you want to avoid these problems, here are my favorite seven tips to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and bring a sacred balance back into your body and world.
1. Get moving! That’s right — exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress in your life: it relaxes muscles and eases tension. Want proof? A study at the University of Southern California shows that patients who took a vigorous walk and raised their heart rates to more than 100 beats per minute reduced the tension in their bodies by 20 percent. This effect was greater than the second group of patients who were given a tranquilizer! So go for a walk, hit the gym and do some weight-bearing exercises, or give yoga a try. Studies have shown that those who practice yoga have lower stress hormones than those who don’t.
2. Meditate & Breathe Deeply (really, it’s simple). Don’t worry — you don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to know how to meditate. Here’s how to do it: find a special, quiet space in your home. Spend at least 15 minutes here first thing in the morning and before going to bed. Sit and close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply, focusing on the sound and rhythm of your breathing. Mentally visualize peace and calmness. Your day will start and end on a stress-free note.
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3. Eat a stress-relieving diet. Can what you eat really help relieve stress? You bet. Take the stress off your digestive system by eating at least seven servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are high in water content and, therefore, easily digestible. Especially beneficial are antioxidant-rich leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and collards. Also, choose an array of colors when it comes to your fruits and vegetables to benefit from an array of antioxidants. Here’s a great way to think of nutritious food: Produce is the most important health care money can buy.
4. Keep your body hydrated. Our bodies are 70% water. Our cells are 70% water and our planet Earth is 70% water. That’s no coincidence. Each day we need to drink at least 8 glasses of water. At a cellular level, dehydration makes us as droopy as a neglected violet. Lack of moisture in faces causes wrinkles the way lack of moisture in plums causes prunes. Drinking “liquids” won’t do. Although herbal tea, freshly extracted vegetable juice and diluted fruit juice can count in the water tally, coffee, tea, colas, and alcoholic beverages actually dehydrate the body. They’re wet, but they’re not water; in fact, they’re antiwater.
We need to maintain proper fluid balance for brain and kidney function, to rid the body of waste material and toxins, and to maintain radiant health. Water is also a safe, cheap, and effective appetite suppressant. Often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually thirsty. Get into the habit of carrying a reusable, earth-friendly bottle of water when you walk or drive. If it’s there, you’re more likely to drink it. You can refill them from your filtered or purified water source at home.
5. Catch plenty of Zzzs. Lack of sleep undermines your body’s ability to deal with stress. That’s why it’s important to get eight hours of rest per night. One way to tell if you’re getting enough shut-eye is to see if you wake at a regular time without an alarm. If you require a buzzer to out of bed in the morning, you’re not getting enough sleep.
6. Laugh a lot. Worried about something? Maybe you’re stressed out about your relationship with a loved one, the monthly bills that are stacking up, or the poor grades your son or daughter is suddenly bringing home from school. Whatever it is, one way to mollify this stress is to make sure your life is filled with laughter.
According to researchers, laughter releases endorphins into the body that act as natural stress beaters. In fact, a good belly laugh gives your heart muscles a good workout, improves circulation, fills your lungs with oxygen-rich air, clears your respiratory passages, stimulates alertness hormones, helps relieve pain, and counteracts fear, anger, and depression, all of which are linked to illness and stress. So be sure to schedule time into your busy schedule to be with friends and family who make you smile and laugh, and go to movies or read a book that tickles your funny bone. Just make sure you’re getting plenty of things to giggle about in your life.
7. Be thankful—and reap the health benefits. Each and every day, take a moment and be grateful for all you have in life. Gratitude, after all, is a great stress-buster. What you think about consistently brings more of the same into your life. So focusing on the positive, even during difficult times, is the best way to reduce and alleviate stress and transform your life.