Stress can be both a good thing and a bad thing, depending on the nature and course of its duration. In the short term, stress activates a fight-or-flight response that signals the adrenal glands to release hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which help the body protect itself against harm. However, when stress levels continuously remain high on a long term basis, these same defense mechanisms that prove helpful during situations of acute stress can wreak havoc on the body by lowering the immune system, impairing the cardiovascular system, causing blood pressure problems, and more. In short, chronic stress basically diminishes your quality of life to some degree in virtually every aspect possible. Learning to manage stress is essential to achieving an optimal quality of life. Thankfully, there are methods that can help you do just that. The following techniques for combatting stress are packed with the potential to positively impact various aspects of your life:
4 Stress Relieving Methods With Numerous Benefits
1. Exercise: Exercise, which reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increases gray matter in areas of the brain related to cognitive function. Studies show that lowering cortisol levels via exercise significantly aids in cognitive functions, such as problem solving and concentration, by activating the prefrontal and parietal regions of the brain. The director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, Ronald Petersen MD, suggests being physically active for 20 to 30 minutes every day in order to reap the stress relieving benefits of exercise. 
Exercising also helps clear the mind, especially when its in the form of outdoor activities such as walking or jogging. Exercising in the vast openness of nature has a way of shifting you into a state of stillness in which heart based perception and consciousness can surface, reminding us that many of the problems we are stressing over are not nearly, or at least do not have to be nearly, as significant as we make them out to be. This realization allows more space in the brain for creativity and inspiration to arise. Also, it helps us feel more grounded in our bodies and rooted in the earth.
2. Meditation: Meditating for 20-30 minutes a day decreases activity in the amygdala – the area in the brain where fear and anxiety originate – a mechanism which directly and drastically reduces levels of stress.
Furthermore, meditation increases the expression of genes in areas of the body related to energy metabolism, the rate at which cells age, and inflammation levels by shifting the body and mind into a deeply restful state that facilitates lower cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. To learn more about the plethora of benefits of meditation, check out the following TED talk by Sara Lazar, PHD:
3. Music: Music has a powerful effect on the brain, and mellow music in particular promotes the release of calming hormones. Unlike with other activities, one hemisphere of the brain is not more dominant than the other when you listen to music. Both hemispheres – the analytical left brain and the artistic right brain – become activated and work in synergy. Engaging the whole brain at once allows you to assess your life situations from a more logical standpoint in which your perspective on life in general originates from a more balanced ratio of feeling sense and thinking, as opposed to having your thoughts and/or actions dominated predominantly by your mind or your heart.
When you train both hemispheres of the brain to work together, you are less likely to respond to events in your life in ways that are out of proportion with what is actually happening. In short, you become more accustomed to moving through life in a more stable manner, letting a synergetic blend of logic, reasoning, and feeling guide you rather than inner turmoil that promotes external chaos and drama.
To achieve this, don’t focus on listening to music that is “supposed” to make you feel good, and instead just listen to the type of music you know makes you feel good, the type that transmutes you into a state of heightened awareness in which you feel more alive. You can explore 12 different, distinct ways you can use music to relieve stress here.
4. Laughter: Engaging in an activity you find humorous – whether it be thoughts, a TV show, a conversation, a book, or any other activity – significantly reduces stress by deactivating stress hormones. Laughter also diminishes pain, boosts immune function, increases blood flow, relaxes muscles, enhances creativity, and improves sleep quality, memory, oxygen levels, blood pressure, and more. Check out Dr. Mercola’s list of surprising other facts about laughter, including benefits such as increased intimacy in relationships, among numerous others.
Of course, these are only a few of numerous tips and methods for relieving stress. Ultimately, choose the techniques that make the air around you seem a little less dense, your day to day worries a little more trivial, and every step of life a little more effortless. Over time, each “little” bit that you relieve the load of accumulated stress in your life will in itself accumulate to outweigh the stress. It’s okay to feel stressed, to accept it in this moment. What matters is that you don’t give up and accept it as your forever. As author David Mitchell so eloquently states in Cloud Atlas, “you are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective, it just means you’re human.” So, accept where you are at, but also accept that where you are at now does not have to be where you are at forever.
1. “Calm Your Mind,” Neurology Now Magazine (April/May 2015)
3. “The Power of Music,” The Best of Law of Attraction Magazine (Annual 2015)
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