Stress finds us all, whether we want it to or not. Despite our best intentions and planning, even the most organized person will feel the heat of stress at some point. So if stress is inevitable, how do we work on combating it? What are the best ways to deal with stress in the heat of the moment so it doesn’t overload us later?
April is Stress Awareness Month, so we’re spending the next few weeks chatting about the presence of stress in our lives, and how exactly to deal with it. Luckily, science has our back!
Here are the five best ways to deal with stress, according to science. So sit back, relax, and let the experts help you melt your stress away!
1Take a breath
There’s a reason that you see someone in a panic and automatically tell them to take a breathe. It’s because it really works! When we’re experiencing stress we’re more likely to take shorter, quicker breaths. We might not notice it in the moment, but that cuts off oxygen to our brains. If you’re too stressed to put two and two together, we’ll spell it out for you: you need oxygen for your brain to function properly. Taking slow, deep breaths is scientifically the fastest way to calm down when you’re facing stress.
The American Institute of Stress even recommends deliberate breathing as a useful treatment for stress, nothing that supplying oxygen to your body slows down your heart and relaxes certain muscles. So give it a shot. There. Don’t you feel better already?
2Eat well and exercise regularly
It’s the no-brainer that we all sometimes need a reminder about, but eating well and exercising is the easiest way to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy. Fresh ingredients are especially important. For example fresh fruit, particularly fruits filled with Vitamin C protect your immune system and therefore can help protect you from stress.
Exercise is equally important for one simple reason — endorphins! Endorphins are a natural stress reliever, so if you’re feeling totally swamped and stressed, make sure you’ve eaten something healthy and that you make time for some physical activity. Research even shows that exercise that help your body combat the negative emotions that arise from stress, which allows you to reduce anxiety and respond better to stressful situations.
3Hang out with a cute animal!
Let’s admit it, we’re all pretty addicted to looking at pictures and videos of cute animals on the Internet. Don’t even get us started on hanging out with cute animals in real life! Animals are the best, but we digress. Did you know that spending time with a cuddly companion can also reduce your stress level? Studies show that petting an animal releases lots of chemicals from your brain that will help you chill out in the moment.
According to a study from the University of Missouri-Columbia, all it takes is 15 minutes of cuddle times with a furry animal to get rushed with serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. At the same time, your stress hormone cortisol decreases. So feel free to grab a few minutes and pet that stranger’s cute pet! You deserve it!
4Listen to some nature sounds
According to this study from The US National Library of Medicine, listening to sounds of nature has a proven calming affect on people who are stressed. Of course it’s impossible to beat the real thing, so take a few minutes to get outside if you can! If that isn’t possible, listening to a nature soundtrack will have a similar effect. So if you’re feeling stressed, feel free to sit down and reconnect with nature. Wherever you are.
5Make a to-do list
Do you know the feeling of stress where your mind is shooting in a million directions at once and you feel like you’ll never be okay again? That’s because you’re feeling overwhelmed. According to The Science Explorer, the main reason we feel stress is because we’ve set our expectations too high. The stress comes from realizing that we might not meet our expectations.
By making a list of small manageable tasks, you’ll shrink your stress and be more productive in the long run. If you chunk your day out into small tasks you know you can accomplish, you’ll beat that out-of-control feeling. There are also other health benefits of letting go of high expectations. Studies show that perfectionists have a higher chance of suicide than the rest of the general population, and are almost constantly under some form of stress. So don’t be afraid to take a step back and think small — your brain will thank you.
These are just a few of the amazing things you can do to decrease your stress. It just goes to show even when everything feels totally crazy, science always has your back. Now go take a deep breath and hug a cute puppy!