jumping for joy

Welcome to Stress Awareness Month! In this blog I would love to share with you my best ways to reduce stress – they don’t take long and they are easily achievable.

Firstly, the vagus nerve. This is fundamental to reducing the stress response. This nerve runs from the brain, through the face, and into the stomach, and is responsible for the regulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the autonomic nervous system that is responsible for our ‘rest and digest’ state. As opposed to our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ state. If we have poor vagal tone, we tend not to be able to regulate the stress response. You could go into hospital and have them insert an electrical device into your body to stimulate it OR you could just breathe better! Slowing down the breath has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve, in turn having a stress-relieving effect on the body.

Try this as a super simple breathing technique – inhale through the nose for the count of 4, and exhale through the mouth for the count of six.

As part of the bigger picture, another thing you can do is start to give yourself small achievable goals to focus on. We want to train the brain to have a sense of confidence, efficiency and accomplishment. We often go in hard with new habits that sound impressive but quickly get cast aside as we realise how hard they are to achieve. That compounds our sense of overwhelm, our confidence takes a knock, and before we know it, we’re depressed. You want your goals to be not too small, but not too big either.

Take a yoga class. I would go into 1000 reasons why, but in this context, yoga will give you better posture, and adopting a better posture will give you an instant confidence boost. This is a mind over matter thing. Fake it till you make it!

Another great exercise to do to beat stress is running. This is good for so many reasons. I’ll leave the physical ones aside – this is a blog about the best ways to reduce stress so I’ll limit my reasons to that! Running reduces the stress hormone cortisol, plus increases the biochemicals called endocannabinoids which are known to have a calming effect on the brain. Yes, you really can get a natural high! Not only that, running boots a protein in the brain called galanin which influences our mood regulators.

Get enough sleep. This is one of my fundamental pillars of a happy and healthy life. Just a small amount of sleep deprivation can lead to poor mood, which in turn leads to more bad sleep. A vicious circle! Get your eight hours at least 80% of the time.

For some other tricks for a happy and healthy life, read my blog ‘Daily Tips For Happiness’.

Meditation. Again, there are SO many reasons why I recommend meditating, but for the scope of this ‘best ways to reduce stress’ blog, the reason you need to be meditating is that it has been shown to reduce the levels of cortisol in the brain. Running and meditating – what a combo!

Everyone is talking about journaling these days, and here’s an actual great reason to take it up – writing by hand is a good way to organise the brain. Putting things into perspective is the first step to stopping a common cause of stress – feeling overwhelmed.

And finally, on my 9 best ways to reduce stress….cold water!! You know I was talking about that small, achievable goals thing? Don’t pretend you’re going to take up cold water swimming every morning at 6am! It’s just so unlikely to happen, and will only leave you feeling like you’ve failed. Instead, start small. Try just 10 seconds under the shower in the morning (make it as cold as it will go, and do it after you’ve had your hot shower). Then build from there. The point of this is that that body gets used to having a hit of adrenaline and learns how to cope with it better. Take control of your stress response, rather than letting it control you.

And there we go! Nine of my best ways to reduce stress. Easy, quick, and definitely achievable for everyone.