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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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      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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                  Published on September 18, 2018

                  17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

                  17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

                  Have there been instances when you noted a drop in your team’s productivity or observed a behavioral change in someone who used to be an excellent performer?

                  Before you blame the team for not being motivated enough or worse still, choose to ignore these warning signs, look inwards and ask yourself if YOU are doing enough to keep your team motivated in the first place.

                  Motivating employees is extremely crucial. As the leader of the pack, it is your responsibility to ensure each and every member of your team feels valued, driven and motivated.

                  After all, you cannot expect a bunch of disengaged and demotivated people to deliver results and grow your business, can you?

                  Here are 17 surefire tactics for motivating your employees and building a productive team:

                  1. Show your appreciation

                  In the whole race to achieve external business goals, leaders often forget to value their most important assets — their employees.

                  The least you can do to boost performance and morale is to appreciate your employees, recognize their efforts and give them credit when it is due.

                  Whether it’s sending a personalized note, recognizing achievements publicly during team huddles or even rewarding top performers at the end of every month, you will be surprised to see how these small acts of appreciation can go a long way.

                  2. Communicate effectively

                  Effective communication can do wonders in motivating employees. Who is a strong communicator? Someone who knows what they are talking about and are able to convey their message accurately.

                  Communication is a lot more than just language and talking. Factors such as eye contact, active listening, hand gestures and postures also say a lot about a person’s communication skills.

                  3. Be open to dialogue

                  Gone are the days when leading through fear and putting on the tough, distant leader act would work.

                  New age leadership is all about instilling trust by being accessible and encouraging discussions. Your team needs to feel comfortable speaking to you and you need to set the tone for such a camaraderie.

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                  In spite of having a busy schedule, you can still show you care through simple, effective acts.

                  For instance, having an open door policy, showing genuine interest while interacting with your employees or even greeting your team members helps breaking barriers and projects you as an accessible leader.

                  4. Provide constructive criticism

                  Giving negative feedback is always tricky — you don’t want to hurt feelings nor do you want the feedback to be taken lightly.

                  So, what do you do? The idea is to offer criticism such that it inspires change and delivers results.

                  Firstly, take criticism behind closed doors because nothing breaks self esteem the way calling out employees in public does.

                  Have a one-on-one discussion with the concerned person and make your feedback very specific. Be clear about your expectations and offer guidance on how they can improve.

                  Most importantly, give them the chance to explain their side of the story too instead of jumping to conclusions.

                  5. Conduct one-on-ones

                  Yes, you conduct weekly meetings with the team but how well do you know them on a personal level?

                  While you may think this isn’t an important practice to follow, it is one of the best ways to engage with your employees and identify what drives them.

                  Conduct a one-one-one session every month and use it to understand how your employees are doing and if they are facing any roadblocks.

                  More than reviewing performances, consider this as a relationship building tool to ensure you are aligned with your team and are working towards a shared, common goal.

                  6. Build training programs

                  In this ever-changing business landscape, it is important to ensure your employees are updated with the latest, relevant skills that can help boost productivity and performance.

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                  From imparting technical and soft skills to offering mentoring programs – investing in training and development significantly helps in motivating employees and keeps the learning going.

                  While conducting training programs, remember to keep them engaging and interactive. They need to ultimately drive value and reinforce learnings.

                  7. Offer growth opportunities

                  Every employee envisions a different career path for themselves and demotivation strikes the day they feel they have reached stagnation. As a leader, you need to first be aligned with their goals and offer ample growth opportunities that constantly keeps them engaged and motivated.

                  Growth opportunities go beyond just financial growth. While money is a huge driving factor, what makes most people tick is making progress in the company and going up the career ladder.

                  Being faced with new challenges and responsibilities lets them push the envelope and broaden their knowledge and skills.

                  8. Reward them

                  Go beyond verbal recognition and reward employees for their notable work. You can start an incentive program and reward top performers. This ensures increased productivity and brings out the best in them.

                  If you don’t have enough budgets for that, you can also reward top performers with movie tickets, a paid vacation or something as simple as giving them the option to work from home.

                  Rewarding employees promotes healthy competition and motivates them while meeting business goals.

                  9. Encourage team outings

                  Employee motivation also stems from how connected the team is. Invest time in team building because a team that works collaboratively is likely to deliver better results.

                  From bowling nights to hosting team dinners – team outings are a great way to get to know each other and bond. Assign someone from your team to be in charge of organizing these monthly outings and make sure you join them too!

                  10. Involve them

                  Involve your employees in decision making because when they are involved, they feel more valued and part of a larger cause.

                  Seek your team’s opinion and encourage healthy debates within the team. This boosts employee morale and challenges them to work harder as they know they are in a position to make an impact and will be taken seriously.

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                  11. Set meaningful goals

                  In the beginning of the financial year, make sure you sit down with each employee to set meaningful and realistic goals. The goal-setting conversation is an extremely crucial one and needs to be a two-way street.

                  Whether your employee feels burdened or doesn’t feel inspired enough by the assigned goals – this is the time to come to a consensus and assign goals derived from business objectives that foster individual development while keeping in mind their strengths and weaknesses.

                  12. Empower them

                  You cannot expect employees to be motivated for long if you micro manage the team and do all the talking.

                  Trust your employees and empower them to take decisions. Mistakes will happen but that is the only way they will learn.

                  Be open to discussions, delegate effectively, set your expectations and give your team the freedom to do it their way.

                  13. Deal with conflict

                  A conducive work environment is one wherein there is open communication and trust, but every once in a while, you do encounter people in the team who indulge in office politics and spread negativity.

                  How much ever fulfilled an employee feels with their work, gossiping co-workers are bound to ruin it for them. Workplace gossip if not tackled hampers productivity and soils working relations.

                  As a responsible leader, you need to maintain a conducive work environment and act as a mediator in such cases. Don’t be the leader who is locked up in his/her cabin and is unaware of what is brewing within the team.

                  14. Implement a flexible work culture

                  Flexible work cultures are a growing trend and are here to stay.

                  Whether it is offering flexible working hours or allowing employees to work from home once in a month – a flexible work culture promotes work-life balance and aids in employee satisfaction.

                  It shows that the management is sensitive to employees’ schedules and is thereby highly appreciated.

                  15. Host engaging activities

                  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and we cannot agree more! So, why not devote one day of the week to employee engagement activities?

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                  From hosting baking competitions to introducing wellness programs in the office – let your team have some fun beyond work. This keeps the environment engaging, light-hearted and interesting, giving them all the more reason to look forward to coming to work.

                  16. Maintain a positive work space

                  Your employees spend more than half their day at work and in order to keep them energized and motivated, it is important to maintain a positive and inspiring work space.

                  Have a recreation center where employees can unwind after a hard day’s work, offer free snacks and beverages and invest in an open office design that promotes socializing and conversations.

                  These are simple yet effective ways to create a space your employees will love coming to.

                  17. Avoid discrimination

                  Any kind of discrimination, be it due to age, gender, religion or race hugely impacts employee motivation and performance.

                  In order to avoid such cases, you must lay down rules against discrimination and take strict action against accused employees. Lead by example and make sure no one in the team is a victim of bias and discrimination.

                  The bottom line

                  Don’t underestimate the power of motivating employees. Understand that the more engaged and motivated they are, the better their performance will be.

                  It is also a good idea to send out a survey and get feedback from your employees on the company culture, work environment and their motivation levels.

                  This will help you be more aligned with their expectations and further improve your efforts in building a stronger, engaged team.

                  Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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