5 Ways you Can Lower your Stress Levels Right Now

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Stress is an inevitable part of life. When we have interactions with people, places and things that don't meet our needs, stress is part of a valid reaction that tells us something isn't right. Sometimes, dealing with the source of stress is a long-term job, but it's still helpful to do what you can to lower your stress levels right now. Here are some steps that I've found really helpful. If you have any additional suggestions, feel free to share by leaving a comment.

1. Breathe

This one might sound too simple to be true, but breathing has a huge influence over our feelings, especially when we feel overwhelmed. When we feel intense emotions, quite often we can forget to breathe, not realising until afterwards when our heart rate is raised and our breaths are shallow.Next time you find yourself in a tense situation, simply notice your breath. You don't have to try and change it (although consciously slowing your breathing and making each inhale and exhale deeper can help calm feelings of panic). Pay attention to what's happening on your breath, and spend about 20 seconds just focusing on that.In prolonged times of stress, you can return to your breath as many times as you want or need: focusing on ourselves helps put outside events in perspective.

2. Stretch

When we're stressed, we store tension in different parts of our body. Sometimes, this happens so frequently, that we stop being aware of these tension areas - they start to feel normal. For me, it's my shoulders, particularly the right one. I spend all day hunched over a computer typing, and any tension I feel goes straight to the top of my back. I never used to pay much attention to this, until the tendon between my neck and my shoulder seized up - that got my attention alright.Physical discomfort is telling us something. When we think of life as an endurance test, we do ourselves a disservice. Those parts that are tensing up and holding on to stress will let us know, and the more we ignore them, the more they will try to get through to us. It's more important than ever in times of stress to stretch out, identify your tense areas, and work to release them.

3. Move

Exercise is great for relieving stress and tension, and getting up and moving around can help alleviate stress in the short-term. Whether you get up and stretch, go for a walk, have a change of scene, conquer a climbing wall, or beat your 5KM personal best, moving acts like breathing. It helps us reconnect with ourselves, rather than focusing on external events.When we feel stressed, we split into two groups: the first group reacts to the stress by feeling like they just have to get up and go do something physically strenuous now, or they're going to go crazy. The second group feel paralysed, wishing they could retreat into a shell. The idea of moving for this second group is hard - going out and being physically active seems impossible - however, shifting the body often shifts something in the mind too.

4. Meditate

Meditation is an extension of step one - breathe. A basic meditation consists of focusing on our breath and letting go of all thoughts and stories that enter our minds. Meditation has many purposes: it helps us centre with ourselves, like the first three steps, and it can also be a way of clearing our minds, letting a solution to a problem come to us naturally. You can meditate with your eyes open or closed.To begin with a basic meditation, sit cross-legged on the floor, or in a chair with your feet on the ground. Set a timer for however long you want (5 to 10 minutes is a good starting point). Either close your eyes or focus on one spot about three feet in front of you. Bring your attention to your breath, and leave your focus there. Thoughts will come and go, but try not to get attached to them. When you notice yourself following a thought it's OK, simply return your attention to the breath.

5. Comfort

Self-care is one of the biggest antidotes to stress, and one of the first things to go out of the window when we feel stressed (that's certainly my experience). It's incredibly powerful, as when we show ourselves self-care, we show ourselves that we are worthy of love and attention, and meet a very basic and crucial need.Self-care can take on many forms. You might have already developed your own self-care routine, filled with activities you know are enjoyable and nourishing. It's important to note that self-care isn't exactly the same as relaxing - we might find having a drink relaxing, but relying on alcohol or drugs to relax during stressful times isn't the same as self-care.If you're looking for ideas for your own self-care routine, you could include things like a hot bath, going to bed early and reading your favourite book, going for a walk in the countryside, and so on. The Woman's Comfort Book by Jennifer Loudon is full of self-care ideas and suggestions, and I highly recommend it for both women and men who want to be more conscious about taking the time for self-care.What do you do to de-stress? I'd love to hear your tips, so leave a comment and let me know. 

Photo Credit: Juliana Coutinho via Compfight cc