Take your stress down a notch

Learn how to control your stress – so it doesn’t control you
Man sitting in a yoga position

Stress is a normal part of life. It can even be healthy at times, such as when you need to study before a test or run away from a dangerous situation. But too much stress over a long period of time overloads your nervous system and can lead to chronic health conditions down the road; not to mention, being stressed takes away a lot of the joy from life. That said, it’s very common to be stressed these days. In the American Psychological Association’s (APA's) Stress in America survey (PDF, 3.6MB), researchers found that millennials and Gen Zers are the most stressed out. With the news, constant social media engagement, increasing social isolation, stressful jobs, and money worries, this really comes as no surprise.

What may be surprising is that you can control your stress. While you may not be able to control some life situations (or other people’s behavior, no matter how much you’d like to), you can learn to control how you respond, which can help reduce stress. Here are six of our favorite ways Californians can beat stress and find calm among the noise of everyday life: 

  1. Use a meditation app. When you think of meditation, you probably picture yourself sitting in total silence for about two seconds before getting distracted with thoughts about work, your finances, or your health. These are, after all, what American adults reported as being some of their top stressors in the APA’s Stress in America survey. But meditation doesn’t have to be so hard. Headspace, an app created to help people learn to meditate, gives users short, guided meditations that help them get in the habit of meditating each day. Researchers have consistently found that meditation can change the brain, help reduce stress, and improve overall wellness. If you want to give it a try but don’t know where to start, use an app like Headspace for help.

  2. Practice deep breathing. When you start to feel the familiar symptoms of stress (according to Healthline, these include: headaches, insomnia, low energy, and even digestive issues), there’s one powerful thing you can do for your health. Take a deep breath. Deep breathing has a physiological effect on the nervous system. When you breathe in slowly and fully, you activate your hypothalamus, the region of your brain that controls your nervous system, among other things, and it triggers a relaxation response in your body. Breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of four, then release your breath through your open mouth. Repeat any time you are starting to feel stress. Use this tool anytime, anywhere, and as much as you need to. 

  3. Stay in the present moment. Also known as mindfulness, staying present in each moment you’re in can help you reduce stress. If you think about it, anxiety and worry come from thinking about something that has already happened or something that is yet to happen. By learning to be mindful, you can train your brain to focus on only what is happening right now. Meditation is a practice that, over time, helps you become more mindful. Taking deep breaths can bring you back into your body when you get overwhelmed. Another helpful mindfulness trick is to engage your senses: What do you smell right now? What objects can you reach out and touch? How do they feel? What sounds do you hear? By actively paying attention to all these external things, you are able to pull yourself into the current moment. 

  4. Meet up with friends. With social isolation worsening as we collectively spend more and more time on social media, it’s more important than ever to spend time with people who just get you. A small study by the APA found that, “having a best friend present during an experience significantly buffered the effect of the negativity of the experience on cortisol and global self-worth.” In other words, your body’s stress response is lowered when you have supportive friends. Invite your pals to a meditation class, followed by tea and conversation for a double dose.

  5. Move your body. Exercise is one of the most well-known and talked about forms of stress reduction. According to an article in Harvard Health Publishing, “Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the ‘runner’s high’ and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts.” You don’t have to hit the gym every day for these benefits – a 30-minute walk is a great place to start. 

  6. Use technology to automate and reduce anxiety. Removing from your mind things that you have to do reduces stress, mental fatigue, anxiety, and can even improve the quality of your sleep. For instance, you can use To-Do lists and digital calendars to remember important dates, commitments, or appointments and stay on top of everything without the stress of thinking about them. Blue Shield offers members online tools (website and mobile app) to help reduce the stress of thinking about health care.

No one wants to be stressed, yet so few of us take active steps toward reducing stress. With these six tips, you should be able to find moments of pause throughout your days. 

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