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Learning to Relax: Quick Techniques to Reduce Stress

You're juggling four projects, three meetings, and endless phone calls in the next two days. You need to buy groceries, pay your credit card bill, do laundry, and find time to squeeze in a doctor's appointment. But the weight of the dance of crafting your days perfectly, each move planned to finish the mundane tasks effectively and efficiently, is weighing on you and slowing you down. Sometimes, a 10-minute refresh is all you need to center yourself and be able to conquer your day. Here are three tips and apps to use for quick stress relief.

How does stress impact you?

Stress is a natural response to physical and emotional events, according to the American Institute of Stress. When you experience stress, the body’s central nervous system releases adrenaline and cortisol, which increases your heart rate. You start breathing faster, your liver produces extra blood sugar, and your muscles tense up.

Chronic stress, however, can negatively impact health. Signs and symptoms of stress include headaches, grinding teeth, stuttering/stammering, light-headedness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, trouble breathing, difficulty making decisions, and reduced productivity.

Regularly practicing stress-reduction techniques, even for as little as 10-minutes per day, can greatly reduce your stress levels and keep you working efficiently.

1. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which practitioners focus on what is happening in the present moment and accept their thoughts and feelings without judgment, according to information from the American Psychological Association (APA). Researchers who reviewed more than 200 mindfulness meditation studies found mindfulness-based therapy helped to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and can help treat people with depression, pain, smoking, and anxiety.

The APA information stated that mindfulness changes brain structure and activity. A study cited by the APA indicated that the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with attention, the limbic networks, which are involved with emotion regulation and stress, among other parts of the brain, are impacted by mindfulness.

Meditation and mindfulness practices can also help you sleep better, manage high blood pressure, and reduce your risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

Try an app like Calm or Headspace or search on YouTube for 10-minute guided meditations. You can also participate in free, weekly online sessions through the UMass Memorial Center for Mindfulness here:

2. Take a Walk

Physical activity is a great natural stress reliever. Exercise reduces stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, and helps produce endorphins, a natural mood elevator, according to an article from Harvard Health Publishing.

Walking outside, or surrounded by nature, can also help relieve stress, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness, according to the American Heart Association.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America stated that even a 10-minute walk can relieve anxiety and depression and can help offer relief for several hours.

3. Practice Positive Self-Talk

Self-talk is your internal monologue or the thoughts that run through your head, according to information from the Mayo Clinic. Speaking positively to yourself can lead to lower rates of depression, better coping skills during hardships and times of stress, better cardiovascular health, and increased lifespan, and greater resistance to the common cold, according to the Mayo Clinic.

To help train yourself to think positively, the Mayo Clinic suggested periodically evaluating your thinking, to look for humor in everyday events, to surround yourself with positive people, and to follow a healthy lifestyle.

When you find yourself with a negative train of thought, teach yourself to reframe that thought into something positive. As an example, instead of thinking that "there is no way this will work," instead, tell yourself, "I can try to make it work."


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