8 Ways to Relieve Stress

Are you stressed out? This post of 8 ways to reduce stress will give you 8 things you can do today to help you feel less stress, as well as all the info you need as to why these things work.

 

a woman sitting on a rock with her head in her hands

 

My freshman year of college a group of us were chosen to participate in a stress study. There were 15 people in the study. The study consisted of a series of questions about the previous month, 3 months, 6 months and year. We were asked about moves and distance of moves as well as major life stressors like death in the family, illeess, graduation, new school or job, etc.

Most of the participants came back with what would be considered a normal level of stress for college freshman having just left home for the first time.

My roommate and I however were asked to come in to speak to the professor running the study because they were concerned about our scores. Points were give for major moves. We had just moved from Kenya to the States. Points were given for the loss of friendship. We had both just said goodbye to 90% of the people we had ever known and what we knew as our home. Points were given for death in the family and we had both lost grandparents within the previous month. And the list went on and on.

I don’t remember the exact numbers, but it was something like 0-12 was no stress, 12-20 was normal stress for college freshman… and she scored a 183 and me a 187.

I guess we were stressed.

For those of us with Autoimmune conditions, our bodies are already under physical stress, and yet relieving stress and protecting ourselves from stress is one of the key (non-diet) tenants of the AIP… along with sleep and moderate exercise. And, if our bodies attacking themselves wasn’t enough, we also all have to deal with all the ‘normal’ stressors in life… work, money, relationships, etc, etc, etc.

Plus, many of us with autoimmune conditions also suffer from adrenal fatigue which is mitigated by stress and is relieved through diet, supplements and you guessed it…. stress relief.

In this post we’re going to look at some ways to relieve some of the stress in your life.

 

8 Ways to Relieve Stress Now

 

Go For a Walk

Lace on your shoes, grab your dog (if you have one) and hit the trail. Walking is a great way to relieve stress and relax your body. Walks can be 5-10 minutes around the block, an hour on the beach or several hours in a state park. Or, if you’re like me, and need to avoid the heat, walking can even be inside a mall before it opens. The key is to get moving and change your focus. Make sure to take in your surroundings – notice the sights and smells and sounds (this is why outside is best) and focus on what’s around you instead of what’s stressing you out.

The main reason that walking reduces stress is that it boosts your endorphins (happy hormones) which fight off your stress and anxiety.

If you’re still feeling stressed after a walk, try inviting a friend along next time. That way you get the benefits of the physical walk along with the mood boosting benefits of being with a loved one. Just spending time with someone in your support system (friend of family) will increase your resistance to stress. And, if you’re walking with a special someone … try holding hands since the skin to skin contact will lower blood pressure and decrease cortisol.

 

a couple walking holding hands and smiling at each other

 

Spend Time Outside

It may sound strange, but going outside can significantly reduce your stress. There’s just something about nature that soothes the soul. So, get outside…. whether that’s the woods, a beach, the city park or even your own backyard. For city dwellers it can be as simple as finding a patch of grass to sit in, or even sitting on a balcony surrounded by potted plants.

Here are some of the benefits of being outside:

  • you get some exercise (see below)…. this is especially true if you’re outside playing with a kid
  • you’ll see neighbors or other people and socialization reduces stress
  • you’ll get some vitamin D. Almost everyone is deficient in vitamin D, but if you spend 10-15 minutes a day outside in the sunshine with some skin (arms & legs) exposed your body will make all the vitamin D you need. Vitamin D is shown to help fight depression, and being out in the sun helps to regulate your circadian rhythms, which leads to better sleep, which leads to less stress.
  • your concentration will improve – getting away from screens and artificial lights help our brains to focus better, so next time you’re frazzled at work, take a 5 minute stroll outside
  • you heal faster – studies show that post-op patients who are exposed to sunshine and fresh air need fewer pain meds during their healing process

 

 

Take a Bath

I’m not talking about an ‘I’m running late for work and I need to be clean’ kind of bath.

No, to decrease stress, you need to set the mood for your bath and make the most of your soak:

  • dim lights or candles
  • eposom salts (the magnesium in the salts fights anxiety and supports your adrenals (so relieves stress), as well as loosens tight muscles. You may want to add a couple of drops of lavender or eucalyptus oil to your bath (if you know you’re not sensitive to it) to help in the relaxation process.
  • quiet music
  • make sure your water is warm to hot, but not too hot. You don’t want to scald yourself and really hot water can put strain on your body instead of relaxing you.

Plan on spending 25-40 minutes in the bath and consider using the bath as part of your bedtime ritual. After a long soak in epsom salts, you’ll want to rinse off, moisturize and drink and big glass of water to fight dehydration.

 

 

Gentle Stretching

Stretching is an effective way to relieve stress because it lengthens muscles which reduces tension.
It’s also a great way to reduce stress, because it can be done anywhere. You can stretch at home, at your desk, or wherever you may find yourself feeling some stress.

Benefits of Stretching:

  • increase blood flow – stress leads to tight muscles which constrict blood flow, so stretching the muscles increases blood flow and helps you feel less stressed at the same time
  • reduces pain – when your muscles are tight you feel tension and pain. Over time, that pain can affect all areas of life, including sleep, which will lead to more stress.
  • less stress – taking the time to stretch and breathe deeply will reduce stress on their own, on top of the reduction in muscle stress.

We all feel stress in different muscles, so all kind of stretching is beneficial. My favorite stretches when I’m stressed are simple neck rolls, stretches that open up my shoulders and stretches that open my hip or lower back. Here’s a great post with some stress reduction stretches to try at home.

 

 

 

a group of people in an exercise class

 

Exercise

Exercise reduces stress by….

  1. releasing endorphins- the ‘feel good’ hormone
  2. giving you something to focus on – in this way it’s like moving meditation. By focussing on your breathing or your tennis swing or your stride, your mind is cleared of what’s stressing you out
  3. improving your mood. This is sometimes called a runner’s high, but it’s the feeling you get after a workout.
  4. helping you sleep better which will also reduce stress

Those of us with autoimmune conditions might have a hard time with some forms of exercise, but there is always something we can do. Here’s a brief list of exercise you might want to try – walking, jogging, biking, swimming, aerobics, weight lifting, dance, tennis, soccer, basketball, yoga, tai chi, gardening, karate, hiking, jump rope, boxing, cross training, cross fit, volleyball, and many, many, more! The trick is to choose something you enjoy and are able to do and just get out there and do it.

 

 

Laugh

I’m currently recovering from abdominal surgery, so right now a good belly laugh wouldn’t do me much good. In fact it would be horribly painful. BUT, just because I can’t physically handle a hearty laugh, doesn’t mean I don’t feel the benefits of it for stress relief and general well being even now. In fact the other night, someone said something really funny and I had to hold my abdomen and my hubby kept saying to not make me laugh….but it felt really good to laugh.

It reminds me of when I was a kid and we had Reader’s Digest magazines and there was a section called ‘Laughter is the best medicine.’ My brother and I would take turns reading jokes to each other and laughing like crazy people.

Laughter activates the body’s natural relaxation response. It’s like internal jogging, providing a good massage to all internal organs while also toning abdominal muscles,says Dr. Gulshan Sethi, head of cardiothoracic surgery at the Tucson Medical Center and faculty at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine. 

Laughing reduces stress because when you laugh your muscles contract which increases blood flow and oxygenation. This then triggers the release of endorphins to help you feel more relaxed both physically and emotionally. Laughter has also been shown to combat depression. When we’re depressed we tend to spiral into darker thought patterns and even forced laughter releases neuropeptides and dopamine which both increase mood.

How to Get More Laughter in Your Life:

  • read funny books or watch funny TV shows (for me that would always be Friends, especially this clip)
  • spend more time with kids – their laughter is contagious
  • surround yourself with people who know how to have fun
  • play games with friends. One that always makes me laugh is ‘apples to apples’
  • try a new skill (juggling for example) and you’ll be laughing at yourself in no time

 

4 preteen girls laughing

Eat Something You Love

Please read carefully, I am NOT suggesting that you plough face first into the buffet at your favorite pizza joint. Nor am I suggesting that you drown your sorrows in food.

BUT, that doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t enjoy your food. Think about something you’ve made on your AIP journey that really bought a smile to your face (including AIP treats), and make a dinner or a treat that you know you’ll love.

Science actually shows that the reason that comfort food is so comforting is that it brings back happy memories (often of childhood). One study even shows that participants were twice as happy after eating a comforting food.

Here are some AIP Comfort foods to try:

PLUS, here’s a round up of more than 40 AIP comfort food recipes!

 

 

Hug a Loved One

Years ago I was teaching a group of two year olds and I asked one of the little girls as she was leaving if I could have a hug. I’ll never forget her response. ‘No thank you. I only have 1 hug left and I’m saving it for my daddy.’ My co-teacher and I giggled at the thought of running out of hugs, and then I remembered something I had heard in a psychology class…. “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” (quote by Virginia Satir).

The sad truth is that many people in the world are touch deprived and up to 1/3 of people receive no hugs at all in an average day. And, children who aren’t hugged have delays in walking, talking and reading.

So, what are the benefits of hugging:

  • hugs are the best way to trigger your body to release oxytocin which fights stress
  • oxytocin also lowers blood pressure in response to anxiety producing situations
  • oxytocin reduces cravings for drugs, alcohol and sweets PLUS it helps to reduce inflammation and heal wounds more quickly
  • a 10 second hug can …. lower risk of hart disease, fight fatigue, reduce stress, boost immune system, fight infection & ease depression

And, it’s not just hugging that gives all these benefits. You’ll get the same benefits from stroking a pet, holding hands, getting a massage, doing something to nurture others.

 

 

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a woman sitting on a rock with her head in her hands

 

 

 

 

 

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