One takeaway from the past 12 months is that stress is a very real problem that can lead to very real burnout. Stress has some of the most damaging effects on your body of all risk factors. It can weaken the immune system, lead to digestive disorders, increase risks for stroke and heart attack, accelerate ageing and can even interfere with reproductive systems.
An estimated 40+ million Americans experience stress or anxiety daily. Globally, that number is closer to 300 million. Below are some simple steps you can take to help curb these overwhelming feelings. Most of the below recommendations are scientifically proven, take little to no time to complete, and are free.
Meditation is one of the most statistically effective methods for reducing stress. The best part? It can be done from anywhere, at any time, without any equipment needed. The key for any newcomer to meditation is to really focus on breathing deep in the diaphragm. Your belly should rise and fall while breathing this way, not your chest. You can sit upright, lie down, be on the ground, in a chair, walking—it’s up to you. The key is to try and get in at least five minutes per day of deep, diaphragmatic breathing. It can be as easy as setting a timer for five minutes or longer, but if you need help getting into the right mindset, wonderful apps like Simple Habit or Headspace exist to help you accomplish just that.
Do you find you have trouble quieting your mind during meditation? That’s okay! Using a technique called noting, you can simply acknowledge your wandering thoughts as they appear and by recognizing them as normal, you are effectively steering your mind back to the point of calm you are trying to achieve.
In situations of heightened stress, you can do box breathing or tactical breathing – a practice used by Navy SEALs, law enforcement, and really any profession that comes across moments of extreme risk. The key is to breathe in through the nostrils to a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, exhale from the mouth for a count of four, and then hold for another count of four—this is one circuit. For each leg of the circuit, you can visualize you are drawing one side of a four-sided box (hence the term). The goal of this practice is to slow the breathing rate and calm the nerves of the body, all the while raising alertness. If it’s good enough for Navy SEALs in combat, it’s good enough for you in your car stuck in traffic.
The best part about this practice? It can be done from anywhere, at any time. Standing in line? Do a few rounds. Dealing with a stressful client on the phone? Practice box breathing (while muted of course). Box breathing ties in very well to meditation as many guided meditations will have the participant practice the same type of techniques in the process.
It cannot be said enough the importance of just simply getting outside. Ask any northerner how they feel in July compared to January and it will confirm the very real adverse effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—the result of a lack of getting enough Vitamin D from the sun. Just simply taking a walk outside for 20 minutes daily will significantly improve your mood, decrease cortisol levels, and improve fitness. To tie into the theme of breathing and meditation, you can practice deep, diaphragmatic breaths while walking. Are there limitations preventing you from going for walks each day? Just simply sitting outside while working or eating a meal can make all the difference for your overall well-being.
Another practice that helps with mindfulness and overall mental wellbeing while outside is similar to noting (as referenced before), but with all five senses. What do you hear? There are birds chirping, brooks babbling, twigs snapping. What do you see? Flashes of green plants, the orange hue of the sun. Do you feel the breeze on your skin? Can you smell the trees? By recognizing each sense while out in nature, you are working toward becoming more mindful. This makes you calmer and more aware of your surroundings, leaving many of the day’s stressors out of your mind’s eye.
This wouldn’t be a Captyn blog post without us reminding you to get in your workout. Exercise achieves many of the mental health benefits of the above recommendations while also having the physical benefits of improving your strength and stamina. Whether it’s running, swimming, biking, walking, lifting weights, using resistance bands, hiking—whatever you do for exercise, keep doing it consistently. Looking for a kickstart to your exercise routine? Be sure to check out our other blog posts for workouts and tips to get the most out of your fitness regimen.
Though the above tips are all proven methods to improve mental well-being and decrease stress and anxiety, we always recommend seeing a professional healthcare provider for any medical condition you may be experiencing—physical or mental. Here is a list of resources available.