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How to reduce stress

heeral-patel-bio

Reviewed byHeeral Patel

male getting backpack from car in active wear
Unlock the secrets to reducing stress with effective stress relief and management tools. Advice on how to find quick stress relief and balance.
In a world that's constantly racing, where juggling work deadlines and chaotic family life has become the norm, the toll on our well-being is undeniable. It’s no wonder nearly 75% of us admit to feeling overwhelmed by stress.1

But here's the good news: you have the power to reduce stress, reclaim your peace of mind, and regain balance. So, take a deep breath, relax, and let us show you the way to a stress-free you.

5 ways to de-stress

Let’s explore five practical techniques that can help you reduce stress, relax, and restore balance in your everyday life.

1. Deep breathing

Take slow, deliberate breaths, focusing on inhaling and exhaling deeply from your abdomen rather than shallow breathing from your chest. 

When we ‘belly breathe’ instead of breathing from the chest, we stimulate the vagus nerve, which activates your relaxation response.2 This is a very popular breathing practice in yoga.

If you’re not sure you’re ‘doing it right’, it can help if you place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest, and as you breathe in, you should feel your chest stay still, while your belly expands like a balloon.3

Research has shown that you’re able to lower cortisol levels (stress hormone) by taking deep breaths from your abdomen.4,5

2. Sit up straight

When we’re stressed, it can be easy to want to curl up into a ball on the sofa or slump over your desk. In fact, multiple studies have established a link between posture and our mental health, including anxiety and depression.6

A randomised 2015 trial with 74 participants concluded that maintaining an upright posture during stressful situations promoted positivity, higher self-esteem, and resilience to stressors.7

The next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and slouchy, try to straighten yourself out and assume your power pose!

3. Mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness is much more than colouring (although we do love a bit of mindful art), its actually about living in the present moment and not thinking too much about the future or the past. It’s recognised by the NHS, NICE and the mental health charity Mind as an effective way to alleviate stress, feelings of anxiety, and depressive moods.9,10

Here are a few proven mindfulness techniques to try if you’re feeling stressed: 
  • mindful eating: paying particular attention to the taste, appearance, and textures of what you eat.11
  • meditation: quietly sitting with your thoughts, focussing on the sensations you feel in your body or around you.11 
  • body scan: with your eyes closed, start at the top of your head, and mentally acknowledge and check in with each part of body. One by one, bring your awareness to your head, your eyes, your mouth and so forth, and pay attention to any feelings, sensations, or discomfort, taking about 20-30 seconds to focus on each body part.
Multiple studies have shown that regular meditation (mindfulness-based) can lower cortisol levels.12

4. Frequent exercise

We know that there will be a collective groan at this suggestion, but time and time again, exercise has shown itself to be a powerful and proven method for reducing stress.15

Regular physical activity has been shown to relieve stress through: 
  • supressing the release of cortisol in response to a psychosocial stressor. When you exercise, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol as part of its stress response. These stress hormones prepare your body for action. Over time, your body becomes better at managing stress, and the adrenaline and cortisol responses to stressors can become less intense.16 
  • releasing endorphins. These are often referred to as "feel-good" chemicals because they create a sense of euphoria and reduce pain perception.17 Endorphins serve as natural mood lifters and can significantly improve your emotional state. 
  • enhancing sleep quality. Regular exercise can help extend the duration of your deep or slow-wave sleep, which is the most restful and restorative stage of sleep. Not only that, after exercise, your body temperature tends to rise. However, as your body cools down post-exercise, it signals to your brain that it's time to sleep.21 Studies have shown that this natural drop in body temperature can help you fall asleep faster.22
Time to dust off those trainers!

5. Vitamins & minerals

Various vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in regulating mood, reducing stress, and promoting overall mental well-being. Studies have revealed that being ‘low’ on certain vitamins can affect your mood and perceived stress.23 Here are some of the most common culprits: 
  • vitamin B6: B vitamins contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system.24, 25 
  • magnesium: magnesium is a mineral that contributes to normal psychological function. 26 If you’re low in magnesium, consuming magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, can help. 
  • vitamin D: often referred to as the "sunshine vitamin," vitamin D plays a vital role in mood regulation.27,28

Before you start taking a new product, make sure you check in with a doctor to see if it’s right for you.

Essential oils to combat stress

If you're looking for a non-medical approach for alleviating stress or a quick solution for stress-inducing scenarios like exams or interviews, essential oils could be a great option for you.

There are so many great options, here are our picks to kick that fight-or-flight response to the curb are our picks to kick that fight-or-flight response to the curb:

Lavender oil

Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils. It anecdotally has a diverse range of benefits, including promoting calmness and relaxation.29

It may help soothe and prepare you for a good night’s sleep, or just to help unwind after a difficult day. As a stress reliever, it’s praised as one of the most calming oils to use.

Rose oil

Rose essential oil has an unmistakable scent and comes a close second to lavender in terms of being used by people for stress relief.30

Chamomile oil

Chamomile is a peaceful scent which has been shown to have calming properties. In one study with 183 participants, researchers saw a decrease in depression, anxiety, and stress levels in the older participants.31

Using chamomile oil in a diffuser to disperse the scent into the air, in a bath blend, or as part of a massage oil, can help dispel some of the physical and mental tension caused by a hard day.

Frankincense oil

With its warm, exotic scent, frankincense encourages peaceful feelings for people. In a recent animal study, researchers found frankincense to have stress relieving properties, as well as contributing to more restful sleep.32

This uplifting scent is often used in yoga studios as it encourages a calming and reflective effect.

Orange oil

Sourced from the rind of this zesty fruit, orange, and sweet orange essential oils have been known to uplift moods with their sweet, sunny, and refreshing scents.33

Clary sage

Clary sage originates from the Latin “clarus”, meaning “clear.”We like to think of clary sage as “clearing” away the dark clouds of our mood, as it’s traditionally been known for its uplifting and anti-stress actions.34

Larger clinical studies are needed to determine the efficacy of these oils; however, the anecdotal reviews and small studies are promising!

How essential oils relieve stress

Inhaling the aromas of essential oils stimulates the olfactory nerves within your nose, these nerves then communicate with the limbic system within your brain.36

The limbic system, often known as your “emotional brain”, is directly connected to other parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, and hormone balance.37 This is why our sense of smell is so closely linked to our emotional responses and mood, and why certain smells remind us of past experiences.38

FAQs

What is stress?

Stress is your body’s reaction to pressure, and it all starts when the stress response is triggered.21  The body’s response to stress is actually an important survival mechanism handed down from our ancestors. Although nowadays, it’s more likely to be triggered by psychological threats such as running late for a meeting, rather than a sabre-toothed tiger.

When you sense danger – like a car hurtling towards you – your brain prompts the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.22

These powerful hormones then activate the sympathetic nervous system, which causes rapid physical changes that are designed to help you escape.

That restless, jittery, stomach-churning sensation you experience when you’re stressed is the infamous ‘fight or flight’ response, helping your body get ready to leap into action.40

But a little stress can still be a good thing; it can keep you laser-focussed in a dance battle, and that jittery feeling before a job interview can help you find focus and power through.

What are some common symptoms of stress?

Stress is an everyday part of life, and it affects everyone differently. Symptoms of stress can manifest in various ways and recognising them is the first step in managing stress effectively. Here are some typical signs and symptoms of stress: 
  • feeling very agitated, irritable, angry, or tearful40 
  • physical symptoms include stomach problems and headache40
  • struggling to make decisions or feeling overwhelmed40 
  • feeling dizzy or faint40
You should always speak to your GP if you’re concerned about any of your symptoms as it could be an underlying issue.

The final say

Stress is a common issue in our fast-paced lives, with various factors contributing to its prevalence. To combat stress, consider five practical techniques: deep breathing, maintaining an upright posture, mindfulness practices, and regular exercise.

Essential oils offer a non-medical approach to stress relief, including lavender, rose, chamomile, frankincense, orange, and clary sage. Inhaling these oils could help with mood and emotional responses. Remember that common symptoms of stress vary, ranging from physical symptoms like headaches to emotional responses such as irritability.

Recognising these symptoms is crucial for effective stress management and maintaining a sense of balance in your life.

Sources

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