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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

5 Stress Management Techniques That Are Proven To Work

5 Stress Management Techniques That Are Proven To Work

Do you feel the frustration of being pulled in a million directions?

Scattered energy—the result of scrambling to do all the things, but feeling like you’re failing to be effective at any of them—ignites overwhelm both at work and at home. Maybe you’re struggling more than usual because the lines between professional and personal life have become blurred. Or maybe the extra challenges of this year are simply magnifying this battle you’d already been fighting for awhile.

Although it’s impossible to eliminate all of the stressors that make us want to pull our hair out by the roots or curl up in the cozy comfort of our beds, we can master control of our reactions to them. The key to successful stress management is simple: take a proactive approach.

These science-based stress management techniques will help you stop the hamster wheel so that you can feel more calm, no matter what life throws your way.

Mindful Morning Rituals Set the Tone for a Peaceful Day

Do you ever feel like you’re just slogging through the motions but don’t really enjoy the process of starting your day? It doesn’t have to be that way. Starting our mornings with intention sets in motion a positive ripple effect that touches every aspect of our lives. Simply taking the time to create a sense of calm and self-nurturing in the morning goes a long way toward effective stress management.

1. Focus on Feeling Good First

Instead of feeling defeated from the moment you open your eyes, plan ahead to do something that brings you joy. For this to be most effective, choose something based on what you truly like, rather than what you think you should do.

For example, you may have read that morning workouts relieve stress by increasing serotonin (that wonderful mood-boosting hormone). This is true, and if working out feels good for you, keep it up!

If you dread getting out of bed to exercise, however, it’s time for a different approach. Putting pressure on ourselves to do something we can’t stand actually diminishes our motivation and compounds our stress!

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Strategy: Let go of “shoulds” and do something you know you like.

In case you’re not sure, here are some simple ideas to try:

Indulge in peaceful quiet before everyone else in the house wakes up. Savor the warmth, flavor, and aroma of your coffee. Get outside to soak up the peaceful beauty of the sunrise. Listen to uplifting music or the sounds of birds chirping. Write about what you’re grateful for or what’s going well in your life.

Mindfulness activities like these help us tune into our senses and notice our thoughts and feelings without interruption. They relieve stress by building resilience in the form of improved coping skills and decreased tendencies to take on others’ negative emotions. These abilities mean that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being.[1]

2. Carefully Cultivate Whom/What You Allow Into Your Mind Space

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

This famous Jim Rohn quote was penned long before the advent of modern technologies like the internet and social media. Thanks to these advances, our five-person bubble has expanded exponentially.

We would be wise to not ignore the fact that even a “quick morning check-in” on our phones can have a powerful impact. Our mood and stress levels throughout the day often hinge on this single element.

One efficient method for controlling this impact is to create solid boundaries. Decide which individuals, events, and thoughts are deserving of the precious real estate in your brain. Refuse to allow other people’s urgencies to become your emergencies.

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Strategy: Avoid email, social media, and news until after you have taken time for your morning feel-good activity.

Limit exposure to these outlets throughout the day to minimize stress levels.[2] Identify any people, topics of conversation, or situations that trigger a stress response in you. Avoid these as much as possible, and cut out any extra noise that isn’t supporting you to feel calm.

Avoid Midday Meltdowns and Gain Control of Your Life

Have you ever noticed that many stress relief tips, especially as related to enhancing success and improving our quality of life, focus on morning and evening routines?

Darren Hardy, author of The Compound Effect, calls these habits the “bookends” of our days and states that they are the hallmarks of a successful life. While this practice in itself helps us relieve stress by putting ourselves in control of our daily beginnings and endings, there is an often undervalued merit in creating additional anchor points throughout the day to keep our energy grounded and optimized.

3. Make Space for Fun

Let’s face it– adulting can be a real drag. We have so much pent-up tension due to our focus on “shoulds,” “musts,” and “need-tos.” In all that busyness and resultant worry, we sometimes forget to let go of expectations and tune back into our wants, dreams, and physiological requirements for relief.

Strategy: Resist the urge to scold yourself for being selfish or lazy, or for not “earning” it.

That inner critic is totally normal but it’s not only a fun-killer, it will intensify your feelings of stress. Handling that voice can be a little tricky, but it’s totally doable.

These self-sabotaging thoughts, at their core, come from your subconscious mind trying to protect you from judgement, either by self or others. Simply noticing them is the first step to moving past this. Ask yourself, “Is this really true, or is this my brain speaking out of fear?” Liken it to addressing a small child: would you tell her that she is selfish or lazy for playing, taking a break, or enjoying herself? Of course not! Imagining yourself in her shoes is a simple way to practice self-compassion.

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Also avoid the tendency to save fun for the end of the day after you’ve “earned it.” It’s not about keeping score, and if you try, you’re likely to lose. Happiness and satisfaction with our lives doesn’t have to be earned, no matter what we were taught.

Our brains and bodies react so positively to experiences that evoke joy, comfort, connection, and play that the effects are measurable. In fact, simply engaging in enjoyable activities has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol (stress hormone).[3]

4. Eat to Beat Stress

A fuel-starved brain is a stressed brain. When our stomachs are running on empty our blood sugar levels dip, flatlining our energy. This reduces patience levels, too.

If you have ever experienced a child, or even your spouse or a colleague, fuming at you like a ticking stress bomb, you may have witnessed what some call “the hangries” (hunger + angry). People are more likely to panic or blow up when functioning at this level. The part of our brains that makes educated, logical, insightful decisions is literally shut off in this situation.

It’s common to only notice we’re hungry or remember to eat once we’ve already reached our edge. The problem, as mentioned, is that our decision-making skills at this point are nil. We’re likely to grab whatever will most quickly reassure our brain that it’s not starving to death, and since one of our brain’s top fuel sources is glucose, we naturally crave simple carbs and sweets to get that sugar hit fast. This adds to stress a couple hours later, when our energy crashes. It creates even more stress by causing us to waste a lot of mental energy beating ourselves up over choices that make us feel crappy.

Strategy: Planning ahead is essential, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.

Batch prep staple foods– like pasta, quinoa, and various fruits and veggies– for putting together quick meals and snacks on the fly. Keep nourishing nibbles on standby—in your car, desk, fridge—for convenient and quick recovery from the “hangries.”

Include foods high in magnesium, which are proven to work to manage stress and create a tranquil mood.[4] Magnesium-rich oatmeal and brown rice are easy to prepare in advance. Load salads or sandwiches with leafy greens like romaine, red leaf lettuce, or spinach. Snack on bananas, yogurt, broccoli, or Brazil nuts for a quick dose of this stress relieving mineral.

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Unwind and Decompress to Release Tension and Stress

At the end of a chaotic day, it’s natural to want to set our troubles aside and just tune out for a bit. The hard truth is, many of our nighttime relaxation go-tos don’t actually get us the results we’re trying to achieve. At best, they provide short-lived surface-level relief… and at worst, they actually aggravate the stress we’re attempting to escape.

5. Break Free From the Nightcap Trap

Alcohol is commonly used as a method for winding down at the end of a stressful day. In fact, about one-fifth of all American adults use alcohol to help them relax enough to sleep at night.[5] The effects of adequate quality sleep on stress relief are well documented, so it makes sense that we’d equate the combination of these benefits and alcohol’s sedative effects with lowered stress levels.

Unfortunately the opposite is true, causing this approach to backfire. The sedative effects of alcohol naturally wear off after just a few hours, which leads to what’s called the Metabolic Rebound Effect, a phenomenon which directly interrupts restorative sleep cycles.[6] One proven consequence of sleep disruption is increased stress responsivity, bringing this cycle full-circle.[7]

Strategy: Shift from escapist stress relief methods to more intentional ones that contribute to feeling relaxed, connected, and balanced.

Using alcohol-free stress relievers will help you feel truly nurtured and support your restorative sleep. Here are some ideas to try:

Pull Your Scattered Energy Together!

With these five stress management techniques, you can finally say goodbye to sluggish mornings and frazzled days, and consciously create the life you’ve always known you could live.

Big improvements to our stress and overall well-being are possible with relatively small adjustments to our mindsets and behaviors. Tune into self awareness, commit to releasing the habits that keep you planted in complacency, and shift into actions that support you to live your purpose, on purpose.

More Stress Management Tips

Featured photo credit: Tsunami Green via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leah Borski

Certified NeuroHealth Coach, specializing in Stress Management and Integrative Wellness Lifestyle for Work-Life Balance

7 Natural Sleep Remedies (Backed by Science) 9 Benefits of Napping (Backed by Science) 3 Common Causes Of Stress That Are Depleting Your Energy 5 Stress Management Techniques That Are Proven To Work 21 Simple Pleasures to Enlighten a Gloomy Day

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

You may be wondering how to clear your mind. Maybe you are facing a tough presentation at work and really need to focus, or perhaps you’ve got a lot going on at home and just need to relax for a few minutes. Whatever the reason, having a clear mind can help you find your center.

The only problem is that you can’t completely erase the thousands of thoughts you have each day. The goal is to be able to observe those thoughts without engaging with each one of them.

The good news is that clearing your mind and returning to the present moment comes from a simple act of acknowledging that you’re overwhelmed in the first place. A path to better mental health and overall quality of life starts here.

What Happens When You’re Not Present?

We’ve evolved to keep looking and working towards a future goal. The very nature of our careers is to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up for the future. Our thoughts and, therefore, our habits and actions consistently point in the forward-moving direction, whether it’s in your relationship, career, or goals.

The point at which this becomes harmful is when we become too stuck in this forward motion and can’t reduce stress in the short or long-term. The result of this is burnout.[1] It’s a term that is most often used in the workplace, but burnout can happen in any area of our life where you feel like you’re pushing too hard and too fast.

The idea here is that you’re so engrossed in the forward movement that you take on too much and rest too little. There is no pause in the present because you have this sense that you must keep working.

On a physical plane, the body takes a real hit with burnout. You feel more muscle fatigue, poor concentration, insomnia, anxiety, poor metabolism, and so much more.

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These symptoms are the body’s way of throwing you red flags and warning you that you must slow down. But because your mind is so preoccupied with this forward momentum, it disconnects you from listening to your body’s signals. The only time you really hear them is when the signals are too loud to ignore, such as during serious illness or pain.

As we can see, not being present is something that snowballs over time. Eventually, it can cause serious mental, emotional, and physical ailments. 

To help you deal with this, you can check out Lifehack’s Free Life Assessment to see where you may be off balance. Then, you can check out the points below to keep moving in the right direction.

How Do We Come Back to the Present?

Answering this question will answer the question of how to clear your mind because they go hand in hand. There are many tools you can use to begin a mindfulness practice.

To reiterate, mindfulness is simply defined as the act or practice of being fully present.[2] Tools that allow you to step into this practice include meditation, journaling, a body-centered movement practice such as Qigong, or simple breathing exercises.

Underneath it all, however, is one technique that acts as a universal connector, and that is acknowledgment. This term may not sound like a technique, but its power truly flourishes when put into practice.

For us to come back to the present moment, we have to acknowledge that we have trailed off into the past or the future. Likewise, for us to clear our mind, we have to acknowledge that our mind is overwhelmed, distracted, or scattered.

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This simple act of pausing and catching ourselves in the moment is how we can build our acknowledgment practice. So, the next time you find yourself overwhelmed at work with mental to-do lists, pause. Acknowledge your state of mind and say to yourself that you’re overwhelmed. This sends a signal to your whole being that you’re aware of what’s going on.

It cuts the cords of illusion, denial, and ignorance. You are now building your awareness of yourself, which is an incredibly potent gift.

How to Clear Your Mind

Now that you’ve acknowledged where you are and how you feel, you can take action and learn ways to clear your mind. You can take a few moments away from your desk or to-do list, and practice something to ground yourself back into the present moment.

1. Take a Walk

Grounding yourself can be as simple as taking a walk and admiring the changing of the leaves. This practice is also known as “forest bathing,” and it doesn’t necessarily need to take place in a forest. It can be in your favorite park or even walking around your town or neighborhood.

Bring your attention to the senses as you enjoy your walk. Can you tune in to the sounds of your footsteps on the earth? Can you notice the smells and take in the sights around you while staying present in the moment? Can you touch a leaf or the bark of a tree and allow the texture to teach you something new?

Such a practice does wonders in clearing your mind and bringing you back to the now. It also connects you more deeply to your environment.

2. Box Breathing

As you’re learning how to clear your mind, a mind-clearing practice may look like sitting down and going through a nourishing meditation or breath practice. Breathing is, honestly, the easiest and best way to clear your mind. Even taking a few deep breaths in and out and feeling and noticing the breath will bring you right back to the present moment.[3]

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In yoga, we call this breath Same Vrti, meaning a 1:1 breath ratio. It can also be translated as “box breathing.” The idea is to make the length of your inhales and exhales the same, as this allows you to take in more oxygen and slow down the chatter of the monkey mind. It also kicks on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestion, offering many health benefits in the long run.

This will allow your heart rate to slow down so that you can reduce any anxiety you may be feeling. It also aids in digestion, as the metabolism is back on track, and helps you physically process food and drink properly.

3. Add Meditation

how to meditate and clear your mind is also helpful when you want to clear negative thoughts and relieve stress. In fact, following your breath is a meditation in itself. Adding a visual, like imagining gentle ripples on a lake or clouds passing along a beautiful blue sky, can give the mind something to attach to without running through the train of your thoughts.

On the other hand, if you are mentally overwhelmed and meditation sounds like more stress, tuning in to a guided meditation session can be alleviating. It often helps to hear the voice of a teacher or guide who can walk you into more peace and contentment with their words and energy. If you can’t find such a guide in a local studio, turn to the many meditation apps on your phone, or YouTube.

4. Write Your Thoughts

Alternatively, another powerful practice for when you’re learning how to clear your mind is sitting down and writing out all of the thoughts in your head. We call this a “brain dump,” and it is an effective method for simply releasing your thoughts so that you can mentally breathe and process things better.

Grab a piece of paper and write out all of the thoughts that are pressing for your attention. The idea is not to analyze the thoughts or fix them, but to give those thoughts an exit so that you can move on with your day without fixating on them aggressively. This can look like a laundry list of thoughts, or a diary entry.

Afterward, feel free to close your journal or rip up the paper as part of your stress management. You don’t need to hold on to what you wrote, but it does help to see the expression of what you’re holding on to mentally. Likewise, this practice is very potent to do at night before bedtime. So many of us struggle to sleep soundly with many thoughts bouncing back and forth, and this exercise before bed can allow us to enter a deeper level of rest.

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Regardless of what you do, understand that practicing mindfulness is a lifelong process. With life’s ups and downs, it’s stressful to attach yourself to the practice of being mindful and in the present moment because it’s never guaranteed that you will be present for 100% of your life.

In this practice, what matters more than anything is intention. Our intention of staying present and sticking to our mindfulness practice is what will encourage us to keep coming back to it, even when we forget.

Final Thoughts

With the thousands of thoughts that we have in our head each day, it can sound overwhelming to even tackle this and try to learn how to clear your mind. The technique, however, is powerful, simple, and effective.

It all comes down to first recognizing and acknowledging that we are overwhelmed, stressed, or far away from the present moment. That acknowledgment acts as a wake-up alarm, inviting us to examine our state of mind and take action.

In this way, not only are we clearing our minds in a manner that works for us, but we’re also building our self-awareness, which is a beautiful and powerful way of being in the world.

More Tips on How to Clear Your Mind

Featured photo credit: Elijah Hiett via unsplash.com

Reference

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