By Kat Osorio
When was the last time you or someone you know said, “I’m so stressed” or “I don’t know how to relax.” Probably not too long ago, because chronic stress is a given for many people in our modern society. It’s associated with increased inflammation in the body, which can then progress to conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. Managing your stress levels is key to maintaining lower levels of inflammation and an overall healthy state of being.
Meditation comes to mind when thinking about stress management, and for some that may be sufficient. However, in order to effectively manage your stress, you need to choose something that you actually enjoy and that is effective for you personally. Stress management techniques can span from seated meditation, to exercise, spending time outdoors, flexing your creative muscle, or spending time with people you care about. Find several activities like these that leave you feeling better than you did before, and aim to incorporate them into your week. You may want to choose 1-2 that can be done on a daily basis and 1-2 that you can only do several times a week or month. For me, physical activity, nature, and creative pursuits are big stress busters, so I aim to exercise and spend time caring for my houseplants every day and get outside and do something creative (cook an elaborate meal, draw, decorate my apartment) once or twice a week. Remember, stress relief doesn’t look the same for everyone and that’s the beauty of it. Do what makes you happy and the stress will melt away!
Of course, breathing exercises are among the most effective techniques for lowering stress levels and calming acute anxiety (and they’re absolutely free!). In order to reap the full benefits, you’ll first want to make sure you’re breathing properly, from the diaphragm rather than the chest. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, right underneath your chest. Inhale through your nose- the hand on your chest should stay level, while the one on your belly should rise. Then exhale through your mouth- the hand on your belly should drop back to its original position. Congratulations, you just practiced diaphragmatic breathing! Once you have the basics down, you can try some variations like 4-7-8 breathing (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, then exhale for 8 seconds) or counting your breath as a form of meditation.