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7 Science-Backed Ways You Can Reduce Stress Today

7 Science-Backed Ways You Can Reduce Stress Today

We all experience stress in our lives. Some of us experience stress once in awhile, while others face it on a daily basis.

Whether you’re one of the few people who perform better under stress or not, the side effects of stress are clear. Stress has been shown to increase the risk of disease or illness, lead to premature aging, and weaken your immune system.

Here’s a helpful diagram of how chronic stress works and how it can act as a negative feedback loop in our brain.

stresschart2

    If you’re worried about the level of stress you experience, you’re not alone. Over 54 percent of Americans feel an urgent need to reduce stress levels on a daily basis.

    The good news is that there are science-backed ways that have been proven to reduce stress, starting today.

    1. Practice Your Power Poses

    One of the most popular TED Talks to date is called Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” by social psychologist Amy Cuddy.

    Cuddy’s research reveals that adopting the body language associated with dominance for just 120 seconds is enough to create a 20-percent increase in testosterone and a 25-percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. In other words, your posture can make a significant difference in your mood, emotions, and more importantly, reduce stress levels.

    “If you feel like you shouldn’t be somewhere: Fake it. Do it not until you make it—but until you become it.” — Amy Cuddy

    Cuddy makes a distinguishable contrast by presenting the difference between a “High Power” pose and a “Low Power” pose. In the image below, notice how relaxed and comfortable the people in the top row look (and feel) versus the bottom.

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    body-language-power-poses

      The reason why we bring up Cuddy’s research is that most of us are stuck in a “Low Power” pose throughout the day (i.e. typing on our computer, in meetings), which inevitably enhances our stress levels and reduces our energy levels.

      Try to take regular breaks during your work, and put yourself in one of the power poses above for 2-3 minutes. You’ll be surprised at the level of impact this has on your mood and stress levels. As we shared in our post on productivity, you can try using the Pomodoro timer to work in 25-minute, intensive segments to force yourself to take breaks.

      What would be even better is to experiment working while standing up. A 2012 study found that if the average American reduced his or her sitting time to three hours per day, life expectancy would climb by two years.

      If you’ve never worked while standing up, you can refer to this photo as a starting guide.

      standing-desk-benefits

        2. Laugh More

        Laughing each day keeps the doctor away.

        According to the Mayo Clinic:

        “Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.”

        This is probably why comedic videos are by far the most popular videos online, because laughter releases dopamine in our brains, encouraging us to seek more of this sensation.

        jimmy-fallon-donald-trump-obama

          What’s even more interesting is that we don’t necessarily have to watch or witness anything funny to gain the benefits of reducing stress, as the anticipation alone can boost endorphins in our brains.

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          3. Practice Gratitude

          Gratitude can sometimes be placed in the same category as spiritualization or positive psychology, which is not often associated with science-backed research. This is probably because throughout history, philosophers and religious leaders have extolled gratitude as a virtue integral to health and well-being without any scientific research backings.

          But this has changed, according to Robert Emmons, a psychologist professor at the University of California Davis, who says that “Research on gratitude is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress.”

          The main reason for this is that it’s very difficult to experience the feelings of fear and gratitude at the same time, since we’re naturally more optimistic when we’re grateful for what we have.

          In another research performed at the University of Utah, researchers compared the immune systems of healthy, first-year law students under stress. By midterm season, students characterized as optimistic (based on survey responses) maintained higher numbers of blood cells that protect the immune system compared with their more pessimistic classmates.

          A helpful tool I’ve been using personally is the five-minute journal, which helps you practice daily gratitude by answering specific questions about your day and the day ahead of you.

          Screen shot 2014-01-23 at 1.54.35 PM

            4. Get Moving (Even For 7 Minutes)

            If you’ve been sitting down all day (like I have), then this is a tip to seriously consider.

            Exercise has been proven to improve our mental health, decrease risk of diseases, and improve our quality of sleep, which is a key factor to reducing stress.

            0228sleepeffects1

              The problem for most of us, which applies to learning a language just as much as exercise, is finding the time in your schedule to do it. Luckily, you can start by spending just seven minutes in your day.

              The science-based 7-minute workout is hard, but short enough to fit it into your schedule. These simple exercises do not require any weights, which makes it possible for you to do at home, at your office, or outside.

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                5. Develop A Growth Mindset

                One of my favorite books on personal development and growth is Mindset by Carol Dweck, a social psychology professor at Stanford University with over twenty years of dedicated research in the field of psychology.

                “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt of yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.” – Carol Dweck

                In her book, Dweck talks about the two different types of mindsets that an individual has, which is the fixed or growth mindset. Which mindset you choose to practice can have a significant impact on your optimism, levels of stress, and how you make important decisions in your life.

                Dweck describes the difference between the two mindsets:

                “A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone – who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed.

                A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

                dweck_mindset

                  The point here is that no matter what situation you face, you can choose to believe that this is the beginning of better days ahead of you, or the start of the worst days ahead of you.

                  6. Use Stress As Fuel

                  The scientific research on the growth mindset shows the level of impact our mindset has on reducing stress levels. To take this on another level, you can shift your entire perspective about what stress means to you.

                  If you think about it, experiencing stress often means you’re pushing yourself to grow out of our comfort zone, because you have a deeper meaning that goes beyond your current emotions. While no one wants to have more stress in their lives, how we perceive the stress that enters our lives is crucial, according to health psychologist Kelly McGonigal.

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                  In the 2012 paper “Improving Acute Stress Responses: The Power of Reappraisal,” published by scientists at Harvard’s department of psychology, research shows that treating common stress responses as a positive might even be good for the heart.

                  7. Learn Something New

                  The last tip we have to reduce stress is to spend your time learning something new that interests you, whether it’s a new skill, a new language, a new industry, etc.

                  Have you ever watched a documentary, read an article, or participated in a fascinating conversation that got your brain fired up, even though you felt stressed or tired just moments before?

                  Recent research shows that finding 20-30 minutes a day to do something you’re interested in can be one of the best ways to reduce stress and increase your levels of happiness. These findings share that “interest” doesn’t just keep you going despite fatigue, it actually replenishes your energy. And then that replenished energy flows into whatever you do next.

                  It also recommends that you keep these two points in mind:

                  First, interesting is not the same thing as pleasant, fun, or relaxing (though they’re not mutually exclusive). Taking a lunch break might be relaxing, and if the food is good it will probably be pleasant, but unless you are eating at the hot new molecular gastronomy restaurant, it probably won’t be interesting. So it won’t replenish your energy.

                  Second, interesting does not have to mean effortless. The same studies that showed that interest replenished energy showed that it did so even when the interesting task was difficult and required effort. So, you actually don’t have to “take it easy” to refill your tank.

                  In conclusion, finding things that interest you while challenging you mentally is the way to go if you want to reduce stress levels.

                  Next Steps

                  Share with us below what you’ve tried or are doing today to reduce stress levels in your life, and let us know which one you resonated with the most!

                  Also, if you enjoyed this post, you’ll want to check out the 17 Best Productivity Apps That Will Boost Your Productivity and Happiness and this Complete Guide to Reprogramming Your Mind to Form Good Habits.

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                  Last Updated on February 20, 2019

                  17 Versatile Work Skills That Will Gain You More Career Opportunities

                  17 Versatile Work Skills That Will Gain You More Career Opportunities

                  When we look at a job advertisement, it can seem as though employers want an exhaustive list of experience and technical skills from their new hire.

                  They list desirable qualities such as ‘initiative’, ‘team player’ and ‘strong work ethic’. Those words can mean a variety of things to different people and it can be quite hard for employers to illustrate fully the combination of technical and soft skills they want their potential employees to have.

                  What they often want is a mix of versatile skills that make it easy for them (and you) to adapt to the changing needs and demands which occur in businesses today.

                  After all, adaptability and innovation are what make businesses thrive.

                  In today’s ever-changing environment, versatility is a mandatory attitude every working person needs to have. With the following seventeen work skills, you will not only make your employer extremely happy and confident that hiring you was their best decision, you will experience greater personal satisfaction and results.

                  1. Know What You Want but More so Why You Want It

                  Employers need to sense you have a solid idea as to why you are a fit for their role and their organization. They need to sense you have your own sense of purpose.

                  However, it can be a double-edged sword to say you know exactly what you want to achieve and gain if you are successful in your application and interview.

                  Some employers can perceive this as arrogance; your needs first, theirs second. What employers are really looking for is your internal sense of knowing that potential to join their organization is a winning combination for both of you.

                  2. Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution Skills Save Money, Lost Productivity and Efficiency

                  Can you agree to disagree? Can you evaluate without passing judgment or at least be self-aware of your own biases? Can you put these aside to find solutions for the betterment of the team?

                  Employers look for versatility in soft work skills that bring peace, lower stress and contribute to creating harmony. If you have ways with words to help heated arguments reduce to a simmer so there is space for compromises, negotiations and reasoning to take place your employers’ respect for you will jump at least tenfold.

                  Peace-making skills are invaluable in changing workplace culture, particularly toxic ones. Any good employer knows a strong in-house negotiator will save them thousands of dollars in engaging an external mediator.

                  3. Know How to Set and Reframe Your Own Goals

                  Much research has documented that when employees have a clear purpose, mission and goals, they are more likely to be highly productive. They are less likely to flounder around in many directions nor be busy and not produce results that matter.

                  Employers know well that employees who develop their own goals and can align these with those of the company are more self-driven, self-sufficient and take greater ownership for performing their role.

                  And the benefit is not only to the employers. You personally will find greater personal satisfaction from achieving targets you have chosen to set yourself. Everyone wins!

                  4. Great Time Management and Organization Skills Make You Highly Productive

                  Being able to exercise versatility with these work skills needs no explanation. Great time management does not mean multi-tasking. It actually uses more brain power and reduces effectiveness.

                  Having great skills to prioritize your activities and demands, being able to assess how long things might take you to address are planning skills which greatly aid effective and better execution.

                  Working in harmony with your colleagues’ timetables makes for better teamwork and workflow plus a less stressed environment.

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                  In today’s working world, any strategies for reducing stress-invoking opportunities are like finding golden nuggets. Your employer will want to hold on to those for dear life!

                  5. Be a Flexible Team Player by Being Able to Change Roles When Required

                  Employers will be looking to see how flexible a team player, a potential employee could be.

                  If you are a natural leader, being a better team player might, in fact, mean you stepping down from the helm and encouraging someone else to exercise and step into their leadership potential.

                  It might be more beneficial to your employer to play the role of Indian as opposed to the Chief in certain situations. Stepping into different positions on your team not only helps you grow but also the rest of your team.

                  Employers relish having a versatile work team which can adapt and is ready and willing to play different roles, even if uncomfortable when crises happen.

                  6. Initiative, Self-Motivated and Driven

                  When you have your own internal reasons for looking to undertake a role your motivation is driven by something sizzling inside of you.

                  There is a personal drive and desire for the satisfaction you will experience when you meet a certain target that no other person will be able to give to you.

                  When you can genuinely identify and demonstrate your own personal connection to the role’s objectives and the greater goals of your employer’s business, they will see you have an internal drive that they don’t need to whip and flog to keep the momentum going.

                  Any employer will be grateful they just need to help navigate you and support you with the right tools and network and off you go.

                  7. Be Confident but Not Arrogant

                  Imagine if you were conducting initial telephone interviews with shortlisted candidates and one of the questions they asked was:

                  “How long would it be until I’ll be eligible for a pay rise or promotion?”

                  There is a significant difference between being confident and arrogant. Employers are not looking for confidence purely in you being able to perform every aspect of your role at gold star level.

                  It comes with being comfortable to say you don’t understand, you have made a mistake, you need support, further training, acknowledging what your limits are and being willing to risk stepping outside your comfort zone.

                  When you’re a new kid on the block, respecting that you may need to learn to walk before you can run is essential. Unless it is your job to start making significant changes from day one, chances are you’re going to create enemies if you’re so confident your new methods and ideas should replace existing processes.

                  8. A Positive Attitude

                  Demonstrating positivity as a work skill that will truly win over your new employer is about being genuine and actively applying strategies which look for the glass half full.

                  Recruiters and employers are not dumb. They can easily see through short-term bright smiles, nervous giggling and general ‘you just need to think positive’ statements.

                  In the face of grueling challenges, employers are going to look much more favorably on that candidate who can acknowledge the negative features of a situation but still encourage another solution-focused perspective to be adopted.

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                  Even better, if you can use language effectively to demonstrate how you have adopted a positive perspective and helped turned around a tough situation.

                  It is one thing to have a positive attitude but your potential employer will see you as a superhero if you can show them how you have successfully applied it.

                  Take a look at these tips to learn more about staying positive:

                  10 Tips To Make Positive Thinking Easy

                  9. You Are Resourceful but Know the Value of Asking for Help

                  There is nothing more unproductive (let alone frustrating) than that person who simply asks out loud a question to their team when they could simply have Googled the answer.

                  Or worse still, they have a manual at their fingertips which has the answer to their question…they were simply too lazy to look for themselves.

                  Be that person with Sherlock Holmes as their middle name who sleuths like a dog after a buried bone. You can research and turn over stones to discover and learn what you need but you also are able to ask for help and assistance when you need to.

                  Any employer will relish that person who looks to discover the answers to their own questions first before reaching out and asking for help.

                  Hesitate to ask for help? This article may just change your mind:

                  Afraid to Ask for Help? Change Your Outlook to Aim High!

                  10. Emotional Intelligence Creates a Harmonious Workflow

                  Despite the level of seniority of your role having a strong ability to handle emotions is fast becoming an essential work skill (and also life skill).

                  It is even more desirable for any employer when your work skill set includes the ability to detect, adapt to and have skills in managing certain emotional patterns of others you need to work with, manage or report to.

                  So much time, energy and productivity is lost due to individuals’ lack of skills in this area. Any manager who can see you possess and can demonstrate such versatile work skills will think they’ve won the managerial lottery!

                  You can learn how to improve your Emotional Intelligence from this article:

                  7 Practical Ways To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

                  11. Be Able to Adapt Your Learning Style

                  There is no real evidence that using preferred learning styles actually increase the rate at which we learn nor the effectiveness of certain styles.

                  However, being able to make changes to what we are given to learn and adapting it to suit our needs and preferences does help us settle into a new work transition sooner.

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                  We also need to recognize that even though we feel uncomfortable learning a new skill a certain way, it might actually be the way we need to receive it to cement the learning. It is also likely that our new employer only knows or has a budget to deliver training in a certain way.

                  Either we can choose to adapt or resist but we know for sure the latter is not going to benefit to anyone.

                  Want to find out what your learning style is? Take this quiz:

                  How This Learning Style Quiz Can Help You Make the Most of Your Life

                  12. Flexible Leadership Style

                  Dan Goleman has conducted extensive research on different leadership styles, emphasizing that being versatile to switch between different styles (e.g. authoritative, coaching, affiliate, coercive, pace-setting) and knowing when to do is a fundamental skill for any leader.

                  Being able to change your style to lead other people is as important as how you lead your own role responsibilities.

                  If you want to be a better leader, these books are great resources:

                  15 Best Leadership Books Every Leader Must Read To Achieve Success

                  13. Incredible Communication Skills That Actively Listen and Give Clear Messages

                  Strong and effective communication across all mediums takes time, life experience and highly developed intuition.

                  Knowing when to use email, a face to face conversation or telephone discussion is one thing. Another is to use words which emotionally connect and influence the receiver to accept, hear and heed your message.

                  Great communicators know that it is their responsibility as much as the receiver for good communication to take place. However, they also know that the receiver may not feel this is the case.

                  When you can listen equally, be sensitive to read between the lines to hear the message of ineffective communicators and can respond kindly with inspiring, equalizing and encouraging words, your influence and general likeability as a new addition to your employer’s team will develop in leaps and bounds.

                  These books are also nice resources to learn effective communication:

                  13 Best Communication Books for Stronger Social Skills & Relationships

                  14. Accountable, Responsible and Dependable

                  We’ve all worked with people or managers at some point who lay external blame the instance something goes wrong.

                  Contrary to popular belief, making mistakes and owning up to it is a highly desirable and versatile work skill that gains loyalty and understanding particularly when mistakes occur.

                  Owning up to errors early allows both yourself and the business to recover quickly and shows you’re willing to take responsibility to continue forward on when you have stumbled.

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                  When you illustrate you can do this, you build your employer’s trust and faith in you.

                  15. Exercise Proactive Self-Awareness

                  Self-reflection is a highly empowering work skill that contributes greatly to becoming better and performing better.

                  When you actively look for the achievement, celebrate your success and look for pockets of where mistakes you have made can be corrected you improve faster, become more effective and make your work easier.

                  When you start to look at your own errors, receiving feedback from your employer about the same errors can feel far less confronting and having corrective conversations is easier, transparent and far less stressful and emotional.

                  You naturally increase your resilience and make life easier for yourself and your employer if you conduct regular self-check-ins and keep your employer updated.

                  Here’s how to practice self-awareness:

                  How to Increase Your Self Awareness to Be Much More Successful

                  16. Apply a Problem-Solving Growth Mindset

                  When faced with a problem or challenge, your ability to activate a growth mindset is a highly versatile work skill employers love. Not only are you able to reduce the pain and anguish that a fixed mindset can sustain but your ability to remain open to possibilities to find different pathways or ideas is refreshing and helpful.

                  If your thought patterns automatically ask: “How can we?” or you often think “there must be a way”, you will only contribute to creating growth opportunities for your organization and inspire others to think the same way.

                  Learn more about developing a growth mindset here:

                  5 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for Self Improvement

                  17. Be Teachable

                  If you have ever tried to teach someone a new skill or technique and they keep reverting back to traditional ways that are familiar to them, you might have become frustrated to the point of giving up.

                  Don’t be that person who’s stuck in tradition which no longer serves the business. Whether you are entering a new environment, learning new software or negotiation skills, know that all employers need people who are open to being taught.

                  Innovation is a core concern of every business. Innovation means change and change means doing something different.

                  Stay Versatile and Keep Learning

                  Technical skills can often be taught. Ray Croc illustrated how well a systemized franchise can dominate the planet. Over 36,000 McDonald’s establishments around the world are run by managers barely in their twenties!

                  Soft work skills, however, take time to develop, learn and confidently apply.

                  There is a key combination of work skills that would make any candidate employer’s dream. However, the essential factor underlying all of these work skills is versatility.

                  Equip yourself with these 17 work skills, stay curious and keep learning; and you’ll always nail the job you want.

                  More Resources About Career Success

                  Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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