2020 — the Year of… Stress. Losing a job or worrying you might do soon, having restricted access to loved ones, worrying about your health in the face of a global fricking pandemic – COVID’s knock-ons have been wild and blood pressure is through the roof. Put them all together and you’ve got a perfect stress-storm.
Fortunately, there are ways to ease it. Science shows us that even if you can’t change the sources of stress, you can take action to lessen the effects. From micro-exercises you can do in minutes to longer-term programs, here are some of the best:
Practising mindfulness meditation – 2-10 minutes
“Mindfulness meditation affects our ability to focus attention and suppress distracting information,” says psychologist Vinita Sagar.
The good news: it’s easy to start. Simply find a quiet space to sit or lie down, then focus on the rhythm of your breathing and any other sounds you can hear. When thoughts come, try to let them pass rather than ruminating on them. Practise as often as you can.
Playing an instrument – 15-30 minutes
Now could be the perfect moment to reach for the guitar that’s been gathering dust for months. Why?
“Making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression,” says Suzanne Hanser, chair of the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, US.
Better still, you could even take up a new instrument – if you have the patience. And forgiving neighbours.
Working out – 10-45 minutes
Exercising for as little as 10 minutes a day can help regulate levels of stress, studies have found. Says Harvard Men’s Health Watch:
“Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits… Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.” Workouts like this high tabata will serve as a guide and motivator.
Creating art – 45 minutes
No matter your level of creative skill, making art can help significantly reduce levels of cortisol according to a 2016 study. Don’t worry if you don’t have professional paints or a spare easel to hand though, you can use anything from clay to collage materials – the onus being simply on focusing your mind to create something.
Working in the garden – 30 minutes
Being in nature and focusing your mind on a distraction; both are shown to help with stress and depression. Gardening combines the two, with a study revealing that spending half an hour working in the yard can lower the stress hormone cortisol and boost your mood by, according to recent research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “engaging effortless attention and interrupting rumination”.