Mindpath Health’s Kiana Shelton, LCSW discusses how to relax your mind when stressed.
We look at simple techniques to relieve stress and give your brain a break.
During high stress, we may feel our minds racing with ruminating thoughts. Pressure from work, relationship issues with your partner, financial concerns — it all can feel overwhelming and all-consuming.
More than 80% of people in the United States report experiencing stress from financial concerns and world events, according to a 2022 survey by the American Psychological Association.
These experiences are part of everyday life, and learning to manage stress is an important life skill. Developing healthy coping mechanisms, including ways to relax your mind, is key to your overall well-being.
Writing down what you’re thinking and feeling is an excellent way to calm your mind. You can think of putting your thoughts on paper as a mental cleanse.
“Journaling allows you to visually prioritize your plans, goals, and priorities,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind in New York City.
Seeing what you have written daily or weekly creates a sense of calm, she adds.
The fastest way to get out of your head is to get into your body, whether going for a run or a walk around the neighborhood. Movement can change the way you feel.
“Exercising targets inflammation with a correlation to anti-inflammatory responses,” says Hafeez. “Mood and overall well-being are improved with exercise.”
Research shows meditation is one of the most effective ways to relax your mind and body.
Practicing mindfulness regularly can allow you to manage emotions and negative thoughts, Hafeez explains.
Mindfulness meditation can also teaches you to spot the first signs of stress and early symptoms of depression.
If you find meditation uncomfortable or unsettling, you might consider looking into trauma-informed mindfulness to gain the same benefits.
4. Reduce stress triggers
When it comes to stress, everyone is activated in different ways. By identifying what things activate your stress, you can take steps to avoid them.
“By practicing time management skills, it will allow your mind to free up,” Hafeez says. “Examples of reducing these triggers are asking for help, self-care, setting priorities, and a proper pace.”
5. Eat a nutritious diet
By fueling your body with nutrients, you will feel better on every level: mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Eating unprocessed foods is a great way to relax your mind. It’s proven to stabilize your mood as well, Hafeez explains.
You can learn more about foods that relieve stress here.
6. Practice relaxed breathing
Deep breathing is a powerful tool, especially when we turn it into a mindful practice.
“The 4-7-8 breathing technique involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds and then releasing (pretending like you are blowing out of a straw) for a count of 8,” says Kiana Shelton, a licensed clinical social worker with Mindpath Health.
Try to do this three to four times “to really activate relaxation,” Shelton says.
7. Constrict and release your muscles
Muscle relaxation exercises bring our attention to how often we hold stress in our bodies. To do this, Shelton advises following these steps:
- Tighten your fist and then release.
- Pick another part of your body, and tighten and then release.
- For each area, constrict and release one to two times.
This exercise will bring awareness about the areas of your body that are tight. It’s a great practice for activating our mind-body connection when we’re stressed, Shelton says.
8. Activate your mind-body connection
A grounding exercise called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique can help you connect with your body and surroundings.
“This technique activates the mind-body connection in a fun and scavenger-hunt kind of way,” Shelton says.
To practice this technique, follow these steps:
- Identify five things you see around you.
- Find four things you can touch.
- Listen for three things you hear.
- Notice two things you can smell.
- Identify one thing you can taste.
You can even pick themes, such as the home office edition or the evening walk version. You can even get specific (e.g., touch only green items). Make the exercise fun.
9. Go outside
There are numerous benefits of spending time and grounding yourself in nature.
“The earth has a natural frequency that aligns with ours,” says Keresse Thompson, a licensed clinical social worker.
“This helps us center our alignment, practice mindfulness, and reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol is the main stress hormone that is released that can cause stress and anxiety.”
Spending time in nature can also boost our dopamine levels and our endorphins, according to a 2014 study.
Dopamine and endorphins are neurotransmitters that make us feel good. And that, more importantly, makes us feel happier, Thompson says.
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