5 Scientifically Proven (and joyful!) Ways to Reduce Stress
Several studies, including those by the National Institutes for Health, have shown that practicing meditation can reduce anxiety, depression, and the negative effects of stress.
Sit up tall and comfortably. Set a timer for 5 – 20 minutes depending on how new you are to the practice. Release any expectations of how this should feel. As you sit still, close your eyes. If you would be more comfortable with your eyes open, gaze softly at an object in front of you.
Once you notice thoughts arise, gently separate your awareness from the train of thought and focus instead on the inhale and exhale. Continue to gently focus on the breath or the object, and every time you notice you are thinking then detach from the thought and bring your awareness back to the single point of focus. Repeat again and again to strengthen your ability to focus for longer periods of time, working up to 20 minutes a day.
Aside from health benefits, meditation can help you feel relaxed, blissful, and content. In addition, profound insights can bubble up which support your important life decisions.
Deep belly breathing can boost immunity, improve overall health, and induce the relaxation response. Harvard Health promotes this breathing technique especially for its potential to lower or stabilize blood pressure.
Some people find it is easier to learn this technique while lying down. Whether lying down or sitting up, place one hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through the nose and gently expand the belly into your hand. Exhale slowly through the mouth, and allow the belly to relax into a normal position. Practice this for five breaths at a time, slowing down the breath a little more each time.
Once you feel comfortable with this breath, you can feel the joy that comes from relaxing your body, being present, and using much more of your lung capacity.
3. Forest Bathe
Forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, is a practice of spending time outdoors immersed in nature, mindfully using all of the senses.
Studies have found that practicing Shinrin-Yoku for at least fifteen minutes a day can have positive results for those with depression and anxiety. Studies also show it can reduce stress, decrease heart rate, boost the immune system, relax the mind, and increase feelings of gratitude.
Immerse yourself in nature for at least 15 minutes. Use your eyes to look around: up and down, side to side, at the big picture, and at small details. Use your ears to listen for sounds of the animals, the wind, and your feet as you walk. Use your nose to pick up scents of flowers, trees, and fresh air. Use your hands to feel the bark, the earth, and the leaves. Use your mouth to take in a few breaths and to smile.
The majesty of nature evokes a sense of awe, while the fresh air, scents, and sounds nourish the mind, body, and spirit.
4. Be Part of a Supportive Community
Mark Hyman, MD, often speaks about the importance of community. Studies have shown that those with strong bonds can experience less inflammation and less chronic-disease related mortality.
Finding a community can be as easy as finding someone with a similar interest. According to Nilofer Merchant, ranked by Thinkers50 as one of the world’s leading thinkers, there are 5 ways to find your people: attend an activity you enjoy, find common ground based on the area where you live, seek out those with a common interest, put yourself in places where serendipitous meetings can occur, and/or live into your life’s purpose and inevitably connect with others.
Finding communities where you have something in common can lead to close friendships over time which offer opportunities for shared support, celebration, and growth.
5. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Many experts say that gratitude has numerous health benefits. A study published by University of Southern California (USC) notes that practicing gratitude on a regular basis can lead to general well-being, better sleep, less stress and depression, and more generosity.
Keep a gratitude journal, thank people in person, and write personal thank-you notes. Any of these can be ways to experience the feeling of gratitude on a regular basis. When keeping a gratitude journal, many people choose to list three things they are grateful for at the end of the day. The key is to do it at the same time each day until it becomes a habit.
Gratitude helps you gain perspective and focus on what you already have in abundance, when so often we tend to focus on what’s not working in life.
Instead of feeling like these experiences would be too much to add into your schedule, remind yourself that you will feel much better from these antidotes to the excessive screen time, work, and pressure that so many of us experience.
Heidi Spear is an author and meditation teacher who has been leading workshops and retreats since 2008. She teaches at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, she leads courses for The UltraWellness Center, and she offers online courses and coaching throughout the year. For more information, including a link to her meditation CD, please visit http://www.HeidiSpear.com
To sign up for The UltraWellness Center course that begins August 3, 2021, Meditation and Stress-Reduction Tools for Daily Life, click here: https://bit.ly/3ygLYhR