We’re living in a fast-paced world and it takes a heavy toll on our peace of mind.
Stress and anxiety are common side effects of living in the 21st Century, affecting our work, relationships, happiness, and health.
It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life, but it’s important to make space for self-care.
There are simple things you can do to reduce stress and anxiety naturally.
The self-care practices described below are all backed by science and have been shown to help with managing the stresses of modern life.
1. Take a walk
A brisk walk has been found to boost endorphins and reduce stress hormones.
Even if you only have 15 minutes during your lunch break, a walk outside the office can help to relieve stress that’s built up during the day.
If possible, try to walk in nature. A local park or garden where there are a few trees and flowers will do.
You may not know this, but the natural aromas of trees and plants (terpenes) can also help to relieve stress.
Sunlight encourages the release of serotonin, a hormone that stabilises our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.
A study in Australia found that walking in nature for just 30 minutes once a week can be an effective antidote for depression and blood pressure.
2. Breathing exercises
Simple breathing exercises can help to reduce stress in seconds.
When we feel stressed and anxious, our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our “fight or flight” response kicks in.
By slowing down and deepening our breath, we can activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s “rest and digest” response.
If you want to access instant calm, you simply need to exhale longer than you inhale for a few breaths.
You can do this by using the popular 4-7-8 breathing exercise for relaxation.
- Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hole the breath for 7 seconds
- Exhale slowly out the mouth for 8 seconds
- Repeat up to 4 times
If that timing is too long for you, try doing 3-6-7 or 2-5-6.
The great thing about breathing exercises is you can do them any time, any place. You could be at your office desk, on the train, driving home from work, in bed, or on the couch watching TV.
3. CBD oil
CBD, one of the therapeutic compounds in cannabis, has been found to help relieve stress and anxiety.
Scientists think CBD activates serotonin receptors in the brain, which help to modulate mood.
It may also influence the production of the endocannabinoid anandamide, which is known as “the bliss molecule”.
A New Zealand study, published in 2020, found that CBD has “considerable potential” as a treatment for anxiety.
You can get a prescription for CBD for any health condition in New Zealand, including stress and anxiety issues.
Make sure to talk to your doctor about the potential health benefits and side effects before using CBD.
Meditation has well and truly gone mainstream in recent years — and for good reason.
Meditation or mindfulness helps you to reduce the flow of incoming information and focus on your breath, thoughts, and feelings.
Scientists don’t know exactly how meditation works yet, but research suggests it can actually change the structure of your brain and produce long-term benefits.
A review of more than 200 studies concluded that mindfulness-based therapy is a particularly effective treatment for anxiety, depression and stress.
You don’t need to convert to Buddhism or go on a silent retreat to start meditating.
You can simply use one of the many meditation apps available, like Headspace, Calm, or 10% Happier, and follow along with voice-guided meditations for as little as five minutes a day.
5. Take a bath
We all know how good it feels to treat yourself to a hot, soapy, candlelit bath.
The warmth, the quiet, the dark, and time to yourself is about as indulgent as self-care gets.
For additional stress relief, throw some essential oils in the mix, such as lavender, eucalyptus, or frankincense.
6. Herbal tea
When the pressure is on in the middle of a busy workday, it can be tempting to reach for another coffee for a quick jolt of energy.
While small to moderate amounts of coffee can improve your mood, introducing more caffeine into a stressful situation could make things worse.
Herbal tea is a much better antidote for stress and anxiety.
Some of the best herbal teas for reducing stress are:
- Peppermint tea
- Chamomile tea
- Lemonbalm tea
- Passionflower tea
- Lavender tea
Herbal teas contain much less caffeine than coffee and can have a host of mental and physical health benefits.
You can find various tea blends in the supermarket that are made especially for relaxation or mix up your own concoction of herbs.
Ashwagandha is an ancient medicinal herb and adaptogen that helps your body to manage stress. It’s considered one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda.
A 2012 study found that high-concentration ashwagandha root extract “safely and effectively improves … resistance towards stress” and enhances quality of life.
You can buy the root extract from health food stores and mix it into a hot drink or smoothie.
Lookup a recipe for ayurvedic golden milk if you want to try a delicious alternative to an evening hot chocolate.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before incorporating ashwagandha into your wellness routine, just to make sure it’s compatible with any other medications or preexisting conditions.
8. Light exercise
We all know that exercise makes us feel good.
You may have already discovered the stress-busting benefits of an after-work gym session, jog, or yoga glass.
This is one of the most effective, reliable, and proven ways to stay on top of stress and anxiety.
Exercise has been shown to promote the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids in the body, which helps to relieve stress and improve mood, amongst a host of other benefits.
If you haven’t got a regular exercise routine, you could start with a simple 15-minute YouTube “class” in the evening, lace up your running shoes for a jog around the block, or head along to a beginner’s class at your local gym or community centre.
You know what they say: Laughter is the best medicine.
Laughter has been found to promote the release of endorphins (“feel good” hormones) and reduce levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body.
A 2014 study looking at the effects of a “therapeutic laughter program” in breast cancer patients found it is effective in reducing anxiety, depression and stress.
But we don’t need science to tell us the laughter makes us feel good.
If you’re feeling the effects of stress in your life, try and make an effort to hang out with friends or family members who make you laugh.
Failing that, book tickets to a comedy show or watch a funny movie or your favourite stand-up comedian on Netflix for a natural dose of stress relief.
Choose your medicine
You could say that we’re experiencing a stress epidemic exacerbated by the unique pressures of our digital world.
The drugs of choice seem to be sedatives like alcohol and distractions like smartphones and on-demand TV services.
Thankfully, there are many natural ways to manage stress and anxiety – small things we can use to help us keep calm and carry on.
You don’t have to do everything listed above. But if you’re feeling stressed at the moment, try choosing one and see where it leads you.