The stats on stress are frightening: According to an American Psychological Association’s report, 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress such as fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, muscle tension, changes in appetite, teeth grinding, and changes in sex drive; while 73% claim to experience psychological symptoms like irritability, anger, nervousness, and lack of energy.
The good news: If you’re looking to reduce your stress levels, but can’t make it to the gym for a yoga class or cardio session, don’t worry. Here are 10 expert-approved tips to help you relax.
Practice these breathing techniques
Taking just a few minutes during your lunch hour to practice one of these three breathing techniques from clinical and sports psychologist Leah Lagos, PsyD, can help calm a busy mind during the most stressful moments.
Take 10 breaths. While inhaling for 4 seconds, focus on feelings of anxiety and stress. While exhaling for 6 seconds, focus on the feeling of releasing and letting it go.
If you find yourself feeling tense, recall two of the best moments of your life and focus on the joy and love you felt during these specific moments as you inhale. Release any negative feelings as you exhale. By pairing a positive emotion with an inhalation, your heart will shift rhythms to improve your mental state.
This practice requires you to take three sets of five breaths with a 4-second inhale and a 6-second exhale. For the first five breaths, focus on your negative emotions and let them all go with each exhale. For the second set of five breaths, allow your mind to clear any other thoughts and simply focus on the feeling of inhaling and exhaling. For the last set of five breaths, focus on embracing the love in your heart during the inhale, whether that be for a family member or friend. Let go of the negative emotion while exhaling.
Listen to music
Music has the power to change the chemistry of our cells in a way that promotes calm, says athletic trainer and physical therapist Scott Adam Weiss, DPT, CSCS. Turn on the radio while you’re getting ready in the morning, or during your morning commute, and listen to classical music or other slower tunes to relax and help reduce stress.
Look at bright colors
Like music, Weiss says that taking just a few minutes to look at bright, vibrant colors can positively affect your body chemistry and reduce stress as well.
Going outside to get some fresh air has been shown to facilitate relaxation and stress reduction, says Weiss. Eat your lunch outside on nice days, walk your dog for a bit in the evening, or go for a jog. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel after connecting with nature, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Give yourself a hand massage
A five-minute hand massage significantly lowers stress levels, according to a 2008 study published by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Although this study focused on stress release for cancer patients, everyone can benefit from stress reduction through the power of touch. In fact, the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine found that massage therapy affects the body’s biochemistry, relieving depression and anxiety.
Spend time around animals
Spending time around animals is a relaxing and therapeutic way to de-stress. Not only does it put a smile on your face, but studies show that it triggers the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which may be one reason spending time with animals reduces blood pressure.
Drink herbal tea
Herbal tea is a great stress reducer, says Eric Yarnell, ND, professor of botanical medicine at Bastyr University. Try catnip, lemon balm, skullcap, passionflower, hops, chamomile, or valerian. If you’re not a fan of herbal tea, try some green tea.
People who held hands for 10 minutes followed by a quick hug before going on stage to deliver a speech had lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who didn’t, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So next time you feel stressed, take a few minutes and hug it out.
Sit in a rocking chair
Research from the University of Rochester shows that the mild exercise of rocking in a rocking chair may release endorphins, improve mood, and even reduce pain.
Sit up straight
A study from Appalachian State University found that participants who had better posture due to Pilates practice reported increased confidence and relaxation. You don’t have to attend a Pilates class every day to reap the same benefits. Taking a few minutes to notice and improve your posture throughout the day can improve your feelings.