Do Away with Stress

Stress reduction is big business—we buy self-help books, massages, scented candles or Caribbean cruises—all in the name of relaxation. But in reality, you don’t have to spend a penny to soothe stress, nor do you need a lot of time. Here are some simple strategies you can implement today.

Focus and Finish

Canadians are obsessed with multi-tasking. Why just talk to a friend on the phone when you can also eat a sandwich and make a shopping list? When you split your attention nothing has your full focus, leaving you frazzled and dissatisfied—and likely someone you know.

Instead of trying to do ten things at once, try doing one at a time. Focus on and finish one job before moving to the next. With your full attention, each task will take less time (and may be more enjoyable), and you’ll feel a greater sense of control and accomplishment.

Have Some Quiet Time

Some forward-thinking companies have “quiet rooms” where employees can escape the whir of printers, telephones, fax machines and pagers, if only for a few minutes. Make sure there is somewhere quiet at home, too, a place that you can go to gather your thoughts when everything gets too much. It’s surprising how effectively just sitting there for 30 seconds can help to ease stress.

Practice Meditation

Classic meditation, which involves sitting silently for 10 to 20 minutes while repeating a word like “Om,” is scientifically proven to reduce stress. But few Canadians actually do it.

A more practical alternative is mindful meditation, which you can do while walking down the road or cleaning the car. Simply focus on what’s happening in the immediate present. For instance, when washing your car, think of nothing but how the cool water bubbles up in the bucket, how the hose sounds as it hits the hood of your car and how the water runs in sheets and beads in the sun. Sense how much calmer you feel when the job is done. Try practicing mindful meditation once a day.

See Yourself Succeed

Before you embark on any stressful project, mentally rehearse it. As top athletes are sometimes told “when you visualize a task, you’re mentally programming yourself to act it through; then when you start, it’s second nature.”

Meanwhile keep positive. Simply telling yourself “I can do this” will make you feel calmer and more confident than will thinking “Oh help! I can’t.”

Breathe Deeply

In a stressful situation, stop and take four or five deep breaths, inhaling so that your stomach rises. A team of European researchers has shown that deep breathing counteracts the physical effects of stress.

When volunteers had to perform a mental math task, blood pressure increased and heart rate variability (hrv) decreased, whereas when they engaged in a paced breathing exercise blood pressure decreased and hrv increased (hrv is an important indicator of heart health: reduced hrv is associated with increased heart attack risk). It is almost impossible not to calm down when you breathe slowly and deeply.

Listen to Music

In one Hong Kong study, patients who listened to their choice of music during minor surgery under local anesthetic were found to have lower anxiety levels, lower heart rates and lower blood pressure than those who did not listen to music.

German researchers also found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which would normally rise during a procedure known as cerebral angiography, remained stable and blood pressure remained lower when the patients listened to music.

Don’t Get Upset

Stress is your reaction to external events, not the events themselves. You may not be able to control what is happening, but you can control your reaction. The next time something makes you angry or tense, pause and ask yourself, “Is this worth getting upset about? Will feeling stressed make anything better?” Often, the answer to both questions is no. This can go a long way toward reducing stressful reactions.

Shed a Few Tears

Have you ever noticed how much better you feel after a good cry? That’s because tears flush out harmful chemicals produced during stress and release pent-up negative energy. If all else fails, let the tears flow. You’ll probably feel much better afterwards.

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