Long-term stress can may actually lead to changes at the gene level, according to a study at Ohio State University. This can lead to inflammation, which causes a number of unhealthy conditions. The stress may be the result of familiar situations, like being a caretaker for a loved one or having a bad work situation. Eventually, the body wears down.
Stress can also be short term, such as anticipating being laid off, a large presentation for an audience, a serious illness or the break-up of a relationship. Fortunately, there are many ways to combat the stress.
- Exercise is the most recognized remedy for stress. It releases endorphins, which are known as the "feel-good" neurotransmitters released by the pituitary gland in the brain. They help lower mild depression, produce energy, enable greater focusing and calm the mind.
- Sitting outside in the sunshine and fresh air can produce a feeling of well-being. Vitamin D from the sun will help, and another "feel-good" neurotransmitter, serotonin, will be released. Enjoying nature helps relieve anxiety, as shown in a study demonstrating that plants in an office lower stress.
- Deep breathing, long and slow, may help stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol, the stress hormone. It may may also temporarily lower blood pressure.
- A nice, warm bath may help. Soaking in a tub has a calming effect. Add the scent of lavender, which has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure. Leaving it by the bedside can help induce sleep.
- A massage is a known relaxer. A Swedish massage uses soothing strokes, and helps improve circulation. A self-massage of the scalp is calming because more "feel-good" chemicals are released. Massage with the fingertips from the hairline over the head to the neck. A foot massage focusing on the ball of the foot and the toes is helpful. Rubbing the big toes can bring out the endorphins.
- A visit to a sauna can cause a drop in muscle tension and anxiety. Research shows that when the body heats up, mood is elevated as well. This explains why exercise is so helpful.
- Engaging in activities that use the hands can take the focus off stressful thoughts. For example, playing a musical instrument, knitting, drawing, gardening, rock climbing and card games.
- Hugs and kisses are great for stress relief. They release the right chemicals and can lower blood pressure. And having positive relationships always helps.
- Meditation focuses the mind. Only a few minutes a day may make the brain more resilient. Sitting up straight with both feet on the floor and with eyes closed, the meditator should synchronize breathing with repeating a calming phrase over and over, such as "I am calm" or "I'm in control."
- Being in the moment means focusing on one aspect of the present, such as savoring the taste and feel of what is being eaten or the warmth of sunlight on the skin. It pulls your senses away from a stressed mindset.
- Sharing anxiety with trusted friends and family is beneficial. Reaching out helps you stay connected.
- Listening to music may cause the body's relaxing chemicals to discharge. It is helpful for those awaiting a medical procedure.
- Mentally scanning the body to find where the most tension is located can lead to focusing relaxation exercises on those areas. Breathe deeply and imagine the air going to them, loosening their grip.
- Guided meditation involves the stressed person focusing on a calm, peaceful scene in his or her imagination. Closing the eyes, breathing deeply and mentally placing yourself in an idyllic scene can lower cortisol levels.
- Pets are stress-busters.
Joining a religious community in times of stress is very common. Spirituality has been shown to increase happiness. College students who are involved in religious activity are less stressed and suffer from fewer mental illnesses.
More helpful stress-lowering activities can be found with some investigation. There are more natural remedies, such as chamomile tea, chewing gum, laughter, yoga, keeping a diary and more. There is something available for everyone.