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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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                  5 Powerful Ideas on How to Be Productive at Work

                  5 Powerful Ideas on How to Be Productive at Work

                  Not being able to stay productive at work is a problem that everyone runs into at some point; no matter how much you like your job, there are certain factors that prevent you from staying at maximum proficiency throughout the whole day.

                  A lack of productive focus at work can lead to extra stress on yourself, missed deadlines, passed opportunities, raise denial, demotion and even termination.

                  So, if you are someone who has trouble with your productivity, here are five effective tips on how to be productive at work:

                  1. Take breaks

                  First and foremost, it’s important for you to take regular breaks. Trying to work throughout the whole day will tire your brain, which will then cause you to doze off and think about something else.

                  If you keep working your brain, it will fill up and get jumbled with information—sort of like a computer hard drive. Taking a break would be like resetting your computer so that it can start afresh, or de-fragmenting the data so that all the information is in order.

                  This is a great thing because it allows you to solve problems you were unable to solve previously, by seeing it differently; if you are able to organize your thoughts properly, you will be able to take in new information more easily.

                  There have even been studies about methods of saving time and staying proficient, and taking breaks is one of the leading factors.

                  According to Christine Hohlbaum, the author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World, eating lunch away from your work area every day will greatly increase your productivity. Eating in your work area will give you the illusion that you are working, but whether you like it or not, your brain will begin to wander and think of something else and then you will be working tirelessly with no progress.

                  It’s important to take breaks before and during work too: if you come to work in a rush because you woke up late, your mind will not be mentally prepared for the day ahead, and you will spend the first 10 to 15 minutes trying to get organized and composed before you can actually start working.

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                  Instead, you should try to wake up 20 minutes earlier than the time it would take you to “just get” to work. Take that time to stare off into space and not worry about anything.

                  If you do this, your brain will be empty and ready for all the challenges it has coming for the next few hours.

                  If your employer only allows a set amount of breaks during the workday, that doesn’t mean you can’t just get up and walk around for a quick break every now and then.

                  Even if it’s only 5 minutes, it will refresh your brain and you will gain renewed energy to do your job.

                  Learn more about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

                  2. Pace yourself and balance your workload

                  One problem that most people run into is that they underestimate the amount of work they have to do, and end up doing 50% of the work in the last 20% of the time they have to do it. This is due to an issue of balancing one’s workload.

                  When you receive a project, or are doing a job you normally do, take some time to really plan out your work schedule.

                  Consider how much time it took you to do this last time; determine how you can break the project into smaller parts and which can only be accomplished on certain days, and whether anything might come up that could interfere with your plan.

                  All of these questions are important for starting on a project, and when answered, they will help you stay productive throughout each day.

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                  For example, if you needed to design a project to map out the amount of aid offered in various regions after Hurricane Sandy, you can break it up as follows:

                  You will need to know what organizations are offering help to begin with, how much aid those organizations gave or plan to give, which regions were hit by Sandy, and which regions suffered the greatest losses.

                  You start this project on a Thursday and know you have until Tuesday to gather this information.

                  In order to stay productive, you need to plan out your work week—now you know you can find out which organizations are involved in helping the Hurricane Sandy Victims any day since that information is online, but gathering information on the organizations may require you to call them.

                  Since phone calls can only be done during week days, you have to plan on gathering all of that information before the weekend comes.

                  That is just one example of a situation in which pre-planning your project will help you stay productive; had you researched the affected regions first, you would not have received the info on the organizations until the weekend, and may have missed your chance to call them.

                  That, in turn, would have wasted time you could have spent working on this project to finish it.

                  Knowing what you need to do, when you can do it, and how long it will take you, is important in balancing your workload and being more productive and efficient.

                  3. Put your work first

                  This is an issue that usually occurs with young people who are new to the workforce: they’re often tempted with offers to go out at midday, and then come back lost in thought and unfocused on their work-related tasks.

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                  While it is important to take breaks, your breaks should consist of you clearing your mind, not loading it up with other less important information—like sports.

                  However, that is not the only situation where you need to worry about putting your work first before all else.

                  In a work environment, the senior employees will oftentimes push some of their menial tasks onto the newer employees. If you fall into that category, you need to know that their work is not your work, so if you have tasks that need to be done, you need to do it first.

                  If you are a new employee, you must learn to say no to other people even when it means you may not be in their good graces anymore. You can help others out once your work is done, but you are paid to do your own work, not anyone else’s.

                  4. Don’t open your browser unless you need them

                  In this day and age, everyone is constantly monitoring their social network. This is a major pain point for companies, which is why many don’t allow employees to access their social networks on company workstations.

                  When you are at work, disconnect the internet from your phone and keep your browsers closed so you’re not tempted to log onto your social media accounts or browse any sites that are not work-related.

                  If you keep your browsers closed and phone tucked away, only to be used in an emergency, you will find yourself being a more productive employee right away. 

                  5. Try to be happy and optimistic

                  If you always have a negative outlook on life, you will be more distracted and less motivated to get work done, so it’s important for you to start your day off right.

                  This can be done by having a good breakfast or by taking time in the morning to watch one of your favorite TV shows before work.

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                  If you are happy, you will find yourself able to work much more productively as your mind won’t wander into worrying about something else.

                  Also, if you stay optimistic and keep telling yourself that you can do whatever you set your mind to, the tasks will seem much less daunting and will go by much more quickly.

                  Take a look at more effective ways to stay positive at work:

                  15 Ways To Stay Positive At Work

                  Happiness and optimism are the keys to being a productive and happy employee.

                  All in all, heed the five tips above and you will find yourself being one of the most productive people at your company.

                  While you do not need to master them all, each and every one of them will help you become a better and more efficient employee.

                  Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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