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Stressed? How to Chill Fast
Whether you’ve got one minute or half an hour, these exercises can help you find the inner calm you need to prevent stress from wreaking havoc on your wellbeing.
If you’ve ever turned in a big project for work and then come down with a cold a few days later, or experienced financial worries during the day and then had a sleepless night, you know the physical toll stress can take. “Stress can have devastating effects on your physical body and affect virtually every organ either directly or indirectly,” says Dayry Hulkow, a therapist at Vista Pines Health in Pembroke Pines, FL.
While your body is equipped to handle stress in small doses (think of the nerves you might feel before delivering a speech), research shows ongoing stress can have long-term effects on the body when you don’t know how to release that tension. Chronic stress is a serious condition that can impact your mental health, as well as your muscles, cardiovascular health and even your reproductive system.
If you’re wondering just how big a toll stress is taking on your health, these are some signs to look out for.
You Have Headaches
Stress causes muscle tension, which in turn can lead to headaches and migraines as well as back and neck pain, says Hulkow. The more chronic the stress, the more frequent and intense your headaches or migraines may be.
You’re Always Sick
Research shows that psychological stress can suppress your body’s immune system, making you more likely to get sick if you come across germs. It’ll also be more challenging to fight off an infection and heal quickly once you are sick.
Your Hair Is Thinning
Prolonged stress exposure can damage your hair, according to scientific research. If your hair isn’t growing as fast as it usually does, looks duller than usual or is even falling out, it could be a sign that it’s time to de-stress.
Your Back Aches
Constantly carrying tension in your body leads to musculoskeletal pain, particularly in the back and upper extremities. “These chronic aches and pains can, in turn, contribute to more stress,” says Hulkow. “This easily devolves into a self-perpetuating cycle.”
You’re Tired All the Time
Not only do you feel lethargic all day but when you crawl into bed at night, you might have trouble falling asleep. Low energy and sleep problems are indicators that emotional worries are taking their toll on your health.
If these symptoms sound familiar, the good news is that it is possible to reverse course when it comes to the physical fallout from stress. Relaxation practices can work wonders to reduce tension and decrease stress-related health problems. The exercises here can have almost an immediate impact on stress levels, says Hulkow (although practice makes perfection, so try to do them regularly). Here’s how to find your inner calm, whether you have 30 seconds or 30 minutes.
30-Second Stress Buster
Take a deep breath, inhaling for a count of 10. Hold your breath for 10 counts, then exhale slowly counting backwards from 10. Breathwork is a stress relaxation technique that can help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, according to science.
60-Second Stress Buster
Stand tall on a yoga mat with feet hip-width apart. Take a deep breath as you inhale through your nose and raise both arms to the sky. Hold this position for a few seconds, then exhale through your nose as you lower your arms forward and hinge forward at your hips to touch your feet. Hold the position at the bottom for a few seconds, breathing in and out through your nose. Slowly roll up through your spine to stand tall again, pulling your shoulders back and maintaining a soft gaze. Combining controlled movement with breathing practices can lower stress levels and blood pressure.
5-Minute Stress Buster
Listen to a song that has a positive uplifting message. Music can help reduce stress by reducing the levels of stress-related hormones in your body. “I’ve been listening to ‘Good Job’ by Alicia Keys whenever I need to let go of stress while regaining a sense of hope and gratitude,” says Hulkow.
20-Minute Stress Buster
Listen to a guided meditation or try yoga nidra—that sleepy state of consciousness you slip into when you lie prone on your mat at the end of a yoga class. (Research suggests yoga nidra can be effective in reducing anxiety.) In both cases, start by either finding a sample meditation through a mental health app or YouTubing “yoga nidra.” Slip on a comfy sweatshirt, press play on your iPhone, and stretch out flat on the floor as you listen to the calming words.
30-Minute Stress Buster
Take a walk in the park. Or a jog on the beach. Or bike around your neighborhood. It matters less what you do, and more that you lace up some comfortable shoes, get outside and move. Engaging in regular physical exercise can help you manage stress while also helping you sleep better at night, feel energized and stabilize your mood.
Of course, sometimes, despite your efforts to manage stress on your own, it can be overwhelming. “It’s important to seek professional help if stress becomes chronic or unmanageable,” says Hulkow. “Talking to a therapist can help each person look deeper into the root cause of their struggles and explore effective ways of coping.”
Remember, stress is not something you have to live with. Doing these exercises regularly (and anytime you’re feeling anxious) will eventually train your body to head straight for relaxation mode when a stressful situation arises. Until then, just breathe.