Healthy Beginnings

Try these easy ways to manage and reduce stress in your life

Smart breathing techniques can help lower your blood pressure and pulse rate. Photo: Getty Images

You’re tossing and turning at night. Your back and neck are in knots. You’re dreading your next deadline.

You’re stressed.

And you’re not alone. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77 percent of people in the United States regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73 percent regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.

Amy Smith, integrative services nurse practitioner for Barton Health in South Lake Tahoe, says there are a variety of ways to manage and reduce your stress.

EXERCISE

Some people may feel they simply don’t have time to squeeze exercise into their day. Smith says all it takes is a few minutes to make a difference.

“Even five minutes of exercise gives a sense of control in stressful times, because they made that active decision and completed it,” she says. “Setting small goals helps.”

Truth is, often times when people are stressed, they are doing things because they feel an obligation, states Smith. Making an active choice to exercise is beneficial not only physically, but mentally as well in having a sense of accomplishment as they move forward in their day.

MEDITATION

Meditation, the act of quieting your conscious awareness, is a stress management technique that can greatly lower your stress and anxiety.

Meditation is a stress management technique that can greatly lower your stress and anxiety. Photo: Getty Images

In fact, according to research done by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, people who meditate develop neuron pathways to the left side of the frontal lobe (known as the left prefrontal cortex).

This, according to Smith, is where we feel contentment and happiness. Essentially, through meditation, you can train your brain to favor feelings of happiness. Smith compared it to training for a marathon.

“You do a little bit (of meditating) everyday,” Smith says. “When you meditate, the whole purpose is to build an awareness of your thought. The more you do that, the more you can rewire your brain and be less reactive.” And so, what are different ways one can meditate?

FOCUSED BREATHING

This practice focuses on consciously observing inhalation and exhalation and the rise and fall of your chest.

Smith suggests a 4-7-8 breath count: Inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds.

This practice lowers your blood pressure and pulse rate.

EXPRESS GRATITUDE

Being thankful, showing appreciation and sharing kindness — all seem to be qualities that should come naturally, though often not. Cultivating gratitude is a skill and takes practice.

The connection between gratitude and stress may not be immediately obvious. Gratitude allows you to detach from a stressful period and savor a positive memory or experience.

This positive focus can create a positive sense of wellbeing. This can distract you from your worries and upsets.

Remember that it’s hard to think of two things at the same time. To incorporate more gratitude, start a gratitude journal — write down at least one thing you are thankful for each day, or while completing daily tasks (i.e. like when brushing your teeth), think about what you are grateful for.

Expressing gratitude to others can create and enhance relationships. You feel better about yourself, and others in turn feel better about you.

The bonus is that you may get a thankful response of gratitude from the person to whom you express gratitude. Most often that can make your day and lower your stress.

TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION

With this form of meditation, you focus on a positive mantra — a sound or phrase. Repeat this mantra over and over, either aloud or silently in your head, which suppresses negative or distracting thoughts from seeping in.

While there are plenty of examples of positive mantras, a simple and effective one you might want to try is, “I don’t sweat the small stuff,” made popular by New York Times best-selling author, motivational speaker and self-proclaimed “spirit junkie” Gabby Bernstein.

Smith said sometimes while repeating your mantra, your mind might start to wander off to stressful thoughts — grocery lists, laundry, work. The key is to pivot away from them.

“The whole idea is to just notice it, but not react to it, and go back to the mantra,” she adds.

PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION

It’s no secret: the more you’re stressed, the less you sleep. Along with nighttime meditation, you can do progressive muscle relaxation while you’re lying in bed.

This can be done with isometric holds of your muscles, working from your toes to your head to bring a kinetic awareness to how your body feels, says Smith.

You should perform the holds for 30 seconds, release, and move to the next muscle group until your body feels fully relaxed.

FOREST BATHING

Originated in Japan, forest bathing is the practice of being outside and taking a mindful walk through nature, and taking notice of things like the way the wind blows in the trees or the sound a bird makes while flying by.

“It’s having an awareness of the surroundings and whatever you happen to notice … being fully present,” Smith says. “The principle behind the practice is to have a sense of gratitude for your surroundings.”

Naturally, there’s no shortage of places to forest bathe in the Lake Tahoe area — whether you’re walking along the impossibly blue Tahoe waters or hiking the trail system that weaves through the region’s forests.

Smith suggests: “Just go outside. Even if you’re limited in mobility, go in your backyard.”

Kaleb M. Roedel is a reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes Healthy Beginnings. This article originally appeared in the magazine, “Orthopedics & Wellness,” which published in July 2018 and was produced by SNMG for Barton Health.