By Szymon Pelechowicz
Whether inside or outside of the yoga studio, there are ways to manage stress in our daily lives—from scientific to spiritual.
It’s a word that has roots in the Middle English word destresse, which means “to draw tight.” In physics, it is strain exerted by an internal force exerted on a material body; and in biology, it means the sudden disruption of physical equilibrium.
While the word didn’t gain its modern connotations until the 20th century, a word doesn’t need to describe how humans have been feeling for, perhaps eons. We all know. We’ve all felt it. The day is planned and everything is going smoothly until the oven breaks down. Or a child has a problem at school. Or the boss suddenly adds one more project to the pile. With our bevy of responsibilities in the modern age, we need to manage stress appropriately more than ever.
Stress is often seen at as an external agent—a quantifiable source with a definable amount that some people handle well and others fail to. However, the physics definition is most interesting.
Here are five stress management techniques that can be applied during day-to-day life.
We all know the importance of breath for practicing meditation and yoga. There is a form of an ancient Indian breathing practice researchers have found to reduce stress, improve cognition and sync up physical and visual actions. They call it the 4-7-8 method. Pranayama, the ancient Indian breathing practice, is a Sanskrit term that means “extension of the prana (life force).” The 4-7-8 method within Pranayama recently came to the attention of Western researchers after it was shown to help people struggling with insomnia:
- Inhale for four seconds through your nose—breathe from your diaphragm rather than your chest.
- Hold for seven seconds—keep the tip of your tongue behind the upper front teeth.
- Exhale for eight seconds—push the air forcefully to make a “whoosh” sound.
Repeat this exercise four to six times and you’ll find yourself in a pleasant state. We can use this method before going to sleep or when we want deep relaxation.
It’s easy to see how music affects our relaxation levels. A charged-up techno beat sends adrenaline through our veins, while sounds of nature gently ease us to sleep. Researchers have discovered the optimal music for stress reduction. The key lies in the tempo:
- The speed or pace of a given song.
- Related to meter, which is the rhythmic structure.
- Measured in “beats per minute”.
The golden number to hit, according to a study by the BMS College of Engineering in Malaysia, is 60 beats per minute. Participants who listened to this tempo experienced a dramatic reduction in stress and a significantly increased sense of well-being. Some suggest that the brain synchronizes to music at this tempo, releasing alpha brain waves, which are present during relaxation.
“Laughter is the best medicine.”
The quote has been around decades, but only recently researchers have discovered the truth behind the truism. Laughter according to studies can stimulate the heart and release endorphins, stimulate circulation and help muscles relax. Oh yeah, it also increases happiness. If a doctor were to give you a prescription for laughter, what would it be? After all, a child may laugh as much as 400 times per day, while adults tend to laugh around 15 times. Here are some nudges in the right direction:
- Join a laughter yoga studio.
- Find the funny—keep on hand funny books, movies, television shows and more.
- Laugh (a little) at your personal situations—we take life too seriously sometimes.
- Spend time with people that make you laugh—even that crazy uncle.
- Gain a sense of humor—learn to tell jokes.
It’s that golden oasis in our mind—an image of a vacation spot that soothes, relaxes and leads to a sense of peace. Guided imagery has been used in meditation within monasteries for centuries to attain higher wisdom. It can be used in personal practice, too.
Researchers call guided imagery today an “evidence-based procedure that reduces stress and promotes health.” The key is to combine the traditional practice of meditation—the awareness of breathing with an altered state of consciousness—and add imagery that reduces stress even further. Examples of imagery tested in studies:
- Imagine a scene, place, or event that you remember being relaxed and peaceful.
- Imagine all the stress in your life being put into a box, then lock the box with a padlock.
- Imagine a peaceful place with sound and feeling (a beach with waves and sand for instance).
As always, be aware of breaths and release thoughts as they come.
It starts from a young age when toddlers are found to be happier when giving to others. It may be hard-wired into our evolution when cooperative behavior allowed our ancestors to survive under harsh conditions. The umbrella term that covers it—altruism—has roots in many cultures and world religions. Helping others increases happiness. The London School of Economics showed those who volunteered were happier than their counterparts, and the amount of happiness rose when participants volunteered more. It can help:
- Live longer.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Reduce chronic pain.
It’s not hard to speculate on the reasons behind the stress reduction effect of volunteering. Through volunteering, we connect with others and build empathy. This connection leads to greater happiness and often a better perspective about our personal problems. Much like humor, volunteering alters our perspective on our sources of stress. This can reduce stress all by itself.
How to Modify Our Responses to Stress
Implementing these habits on a day-to-day basis can relieve the stress we feel, relieve anxiety, allow us to be happier and help us gain perspective while not denying the difficulties we face. The key to these stress management strategies is just you, and time.
Szymon Pelechowicz is the founder of Love Meditating, a meditation-yoga blog dedicated to provide honest advice and information. He aspires to help his readers achieve inner peace and tranquility by sharing personal tips learned through years of experience and thorough research.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak