11 Best Ways to Lower Stress - Backed by Science Part 1

Whether you are feeling overwhelmed with work, facing difficult circumstances with your relationships, or encountering financial difficulties that are making you sweat, stress can negatively impact your everyday life.

The symptoms of stress are caused by your nervous system's “fight or flight” response, says Amit Sood, M.D. associate director of Complementary and Integrative Medicine and chair of Mayo Mind Body Initiative at Mayo Clinic.

Some individuals might find their heart rate is quickened, while others might experience sweaty palms or have difficulty breathing. These symptoms aren’t just annoying and disruptive, chronic stress can worsen or create long-term medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, insomnia, and mental illness.

The problem with stressful life events is that they are often beyond your control. However, when life is throwing you curveballs, you can take steps to control how you respond by engaging in coping skills to lessen the level of stress in your life. When feeling stressed, give these 10 ways to relieve stress, all backed by research, a try.

1.  Guided Deep Breathing: One of the simplest ways to relieve stress is to participate in guided deep breathing. When you engage in purposeful, deep, and complete breaths, your body takes in more oxygen and releases more carbon dioxide. This exchange, says the Harvard Family Health Guide, can help to slow down your heartbeat and normalize your blood pressure.  

The second effect of guided breathing, besides increasing your oxygen level, is activation of the body's “Rest & Digest” response. It promotes the release of anti-stress enzymes and hormones, such as Acetylcholine, Prolactin, Vasopressin, and Oxytocin.

An innovative new app,  Serenita, enables users to measure their stress level throughout the day, and then guides them through a personalized breathing exercise to quickly lower stress.  

2.   Get physical exercise: Exercise plays a huge role in increasing your mood and reducing your stress level. Exercise causes your body to release neurotransmitters called endorphins, which are known to result in an elated mood, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Additionally, the act of rigorous exercise requires complete focus, enabling you to take a break from ruminating over your stressors. Regular exercise can also help fight insomnia, one of the really troubling side effects of chronic stress.

3.  Participate in Meditation and Yoga: Although meditation and yoga have recently become widely popular again, they are ancient practices that have convincing benefits.

Meditation is a type of mind-training, which allows you to be in control of your thoughts and your response to stressful life events. It does wonders for mood and focus, says a University of WIsconsin-Madison article. The self-awareness and focus required by practicing yoga results in stress relief benefits similar to rigorous exercise, explains a Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter.

4.  Hug Someone: If you are in need of a quick and easy fix for an anxious mood, a 10 to 20 second bear hug might just do the trick. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently found that holding hands and hugging can measurably reduce stress. Pressure on your skin from a hug stimulates nerves endings to tell the brain to slow down its release of a stress related hormone Cortisol; explains Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the University of Miami Medical School's Touch Research Institute.

In addition, Oxytocin, a major "relaxation" hormone, is released when you hug. Besides its stress reducing effects, a 10 second hug can lead to beneficial physiological reactions, such as helping to fight fatigue, ease depression, and boost the body’s immune system.

5.  Kiss Someone: Need another excuse for some spontaneous smooching? Much like hugging, kissing tells the brain to slow done its release of Cortisol, in addition to releasing Oxytocin, causing a lowering of stress levels.

Go to Part 2