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25 Simple but Powerful Things You Can Do to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

25 Simple but Powerful Things You Can Do to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Too much stress and anxiety can lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, panic, heart palpations, and can even lead to stroke. These are all the result of what doctors term “bad stress.” Try some of these simple but powerful tips to reduce your stress and anxiety.

25. Rock out. Listen to any kind of music that you find soothing.

24. Call someone you know who will listen to your day.

23. Give yourself a pep talk. Remember that the situation is temporary.

22. Pick up a carrot stick and chew away. In other words, eat something but make sure it’s healthy.

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21. Chew some gum.

20. Have a laugh. Sure the situation you are in isn’t laughable, but it really does help to laugh even at yourself. This is when calling a friend may be particularly useful, to help you find the humor in the situation.

19. Get outside and take a walk. While walking just enjoy the scenery. Decide that later is a real good time to do any worrying.

18. Decide to worry about the problem later. All you have to do is make the decision to make time for worrying later.

17. Fix a hot cup of green tea. Use a natural sweetener, like honey, and sip away. Chamomile is also a natural soother; try some before bed or when you need a good dose of loving kindness for yourself.

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16. Find a mediation exercise. There are many available on YouTube. Take a few minutes, close your eyes and be soothed by the sounds of nature or a chant.

15. Stand up and stretch it out. Take your time and really stretch your muscles. Stand up and stretch your leg and hip muscles.

14. Give yourself a massage. Rub out the stress you may be holding in your neck and shoulders.

13. Tense and relax your muscles, from your toes, to your abdomen, to your arms, and finish with the neck muscles.  Remember to do some deep breathing.

12. Follow a strict sleep routine. Experts still say that a full seven to eight hours are needed for a good night’s sleep. When your sleep pattern is disrupted, it can lead to higher stress levels during the day.

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11. Take a breather. Inhale deeply, hold for five seconds and then breathe out slowly.

10. Use a warm wrap to ease stressed muscles, especially in the neck.

9. Find something to be thankful for. Researchers say that concentrating on something good in your life reduces stress and anxiety tremendously.

7. Relax the neck muscles, right at your desk, with some head rolls and shoulder shrugs. Reach up and stretch your arms, if you are stuck in a cubicle all day.

6. Start a private journal–one that is either electronic or hand-written. Either way, take at least 10 minutes a day to write it out. Some psychologists recommend having more than one journal. Get in the habit of jotting down the good things you see and feel.

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5. Make a point of celebrating your accomplishments. Go ahead and give yourself compliments for a job well done. Save up some money to treat yourself to a special treat. You deserve it.

4. Sing along to your favorite tunes. Belt out your feelings while driving or in the shower.

3. Try looking at your situation from someone else’s perspective. For example, go ahead and talk the situation out with yourself, you might just end up with a smile on your face.

2. Instead of focusing on the future or the past, try to stay in the moment. Doctors call this being “mindful.”

1. Get up and do something besides worrying. Worry does the body and its defenses absolutely no good.

Featured photo credit: Common Kingfisher Relaxing/Vinc3PaulS via commons.wikimedia.org

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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