Stress: Here’s how to take it down a notch or two

A heavy workload, deadlines, a dreaded meeting: sometimes it can all feel like too much, and your stress levels soar. Here are some strategies to relieve acute stress.

Recognizing that you're stressed is a great way to start managing it.
Recognizing that you're stressed is a great way to start managing it.  © 123RF/dolgachov

Stress is a normal response to the pressures of everyday life. But if you feel it often, it's a sign that your lifestyle isn't healthy, as lengthy exposure to stress gnaws at both your mental health and physical well-being.

What's the best way to unwind when you're feeling all wound up?

"Simply recognizing that you're stressed is a good way to start," said stress management educator Christiane Wettig.

You'll often realize you've got a lot of pent-up negative energy when you're under acute stress. "Then the answer is to release the energy," said Holger Kracke, chairperson of the German Association for Burnout Prophylaxis and Prevention (DBVB).

What works best differs from person to person. "Some people scream, others go jogging or climb stairs," Kracke explained.

There are many ways to blow off steam. Here are three strategies you can use pretty much anywhere, anytime, to help lower your stress.

Stress Tip 1: Give your neck and shoulders some attention

Try stretching your arms overhead and dropping them by your sides to release shoulder tension.
Try stretching your arms overhead and dropping them by your sides to release shoulder tension.  © JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

"You can achieve a lot just by stretching," said Wettig.

Try doing stretching exercises at your workplace or at home to get your negative energy moving.

One example: Stand up, stretch your arms above your head, and then let them drop and swing loosely at your sides while you take a few steps.

Another stretching exercise: Bend your head forward, dropping your chin towards your chest. Clasp your hands behind your head and gently press it forward until you can feel your neck stretch slightly. Hold this position for about 30 seconds before releasing it and relaxing for 20 seconds. Repeat the exercise as often as it makes you feel good.

Exercises like these promote body awareness and mindfulness. And your neck and shoulders will thank you for the attention.

Stress Tip 2: Breathe deeply and picture the flow

Feeling stressed? A breathing exercise could help you relax.
Feeling stressed? A breathing exercise could help you relax.  © 123RF/pheelingsmedia

"Breathing exercises are another way to release energy," Kracke said.

Here's one: Inhale deeply for about five seconds while imagining the oxygen flowing into your heart. Then exhale for about five seconds while imagining it flowing out again. Feel free to close your eyes and take a moment to be in the moment.

Keep breathing in this rhythm and think about something that makes you feel good - a pleasant fragrance, for instance.

Repeat as often as you'd like.

Stress Tip 3: Activate your senses

Imagine your stress flowing out of you like water down a river.
Imagine your stress flowing out of you like water down a river.  © 123RF/alex712

Another good way to unwind is to simply look out the window to see what's going on outside.

"It sounds trivial, but it can be unbelievably effective in reducing stress," Wettig said.

Another tip to help change your perspective is to give your body some comfort. It can be a relaxing exercise to warm your hands by rubbing them together and then placing them over your eyes. Or you can massage your tense neck muscles and feel them loosening up.

If you live near a river, you can walk to the riverbank, concentrate on the movement of the water, and tell yourself, "Like the water, my stress is flowing away," suggested Wettig. Alternatively, you can watch clouds in the sky pass by overhead.

"An anti-stress squeeze ball can be helpful as well," Kracke said. Squeezing a small ball can be relaxing, and you can even do it under your desk at work if you need to, out of others' sight.

Incidentally, strategies to relieve acute stress work best when you're already familiar with them.

Above all, always consult your physician or qualified healthcare provider for personalized medical advice if you're feeling too overwhelmed. Seeking professional help from a therapist, and using these tips to take care of your mental health are also keys to a more relaxed state of mind.

Cover photo: 123RF/dolgachov

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