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7 Practical Tips for Reducing Stress

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Deep Breathing vs. Shallow Breathing
Breathing deeply can help to reduce your stress and provide oxygen to your brain to help you focus. Most people do not know how to "deep breath" and so they end up breathing shallow breaths which can cause hyperventilation.

Place your hand on your stomach and push your tummy out. Then breathe deeply by watching your tummy and your chest rise. As you do it, think of some aspect of the breathing, like your lungs expanding with air or the air itself, passing through your nostrils. Hold it for three seconds then exhale through your mouth. If you do five rounds of the deep breathing three times per day you will greatly reduce your stress level.

Many people take the benefits of deep breathing for granted. It is an integral part of stress reduction that cannot be ignored. And most importantly, it gives the "racing mind" something to focus on other than the stresses of the day. Breathing deeply is the ultimate distraction.

Muscle Relaxation
The process of slowly tensing and then relaxing muscle groups of your choosing is very important also. It accomplishes two goals, it naturally relaxes your muscles since you are probably very tense from stress and it distracts the "racing mind" by helping it focus on something different.

Stretch or tense muscle group for five to 10 seconds, and then release the pressure. You can do this for the same muscle groups multiple times. It's up to you which ones you choose. For example, start with your feet and ankles and work your way up. Stretch and tense your wrists, arms and shoulders. Then neck and face.

For the morning or evening stretch, lay flat on your back and cross your right leg over your body and pivot your hips to follow it so that your knee touches the floor. Do the same with the other leg. You can also pull your knees up to your chest, etc.

Ground Yourself
Sitting and "white-knuckling" through your stress hoping it will go away will only make it worse. The trick is to "ground" yourself in a tangible activity that will bring you back to reality. It will remind you that you are okay! Distract your mind by doing a concrete task around the house like cleaning, washing, organizing a closet, etc. You may read, or do a crossword puzzle or call a friend. Or, try running your fingers along the teeth of your keys, squeezing a stress ball, or holding any object in your hand that you can focus on, etc. Do not sit home alone and do not watch TV.

Thought Replacement
Thought replacement techniques have been around for years and they actually work if you know how to use them. When you experience a negative thought that is causing you stress, say "stop" to yourself. Write it down and then cultivate an alternative thought. Write the alternative thought down even if you don't believe it will help. Alternative thoughts are simple, more rational thoughts that give you peace. They help you see the larger picture.

For example, if you think you will get fired from your job because you were recently late for a very important meeting, stop that thought immediately and replace it with a more rational thought: "I am only human and can't always predict traffic. My self-worth is not dependent on being a perfect employee."

Guided Imagery
Close your eyes and try to think of a safe place that represents peace and calm. It could be your home, a beach, a forest, or being in the presence of a loved one or your favorite pet. Then imagine going there and embracing the experience with open arms. What are the sounds, smells and the particular sights you see? Get specific and keep deepening the details of the imagery until you feel your stress level come down. Try this two times per day.

Accept your Anxiety
Cultivating radical acceptance of your symptoms of stress is the first step towards reducing its power over you. Accept that that you are scared, and scrutinize the negative thoughts you are having. Is it danger or discomfort? Most of the time, our stress is the "anticipatory" kind which is when we panic about things in the future that have not happened yet or about things that will never happen.

Don't assume that just because you are stressed, there must be danger lurking somewhere. Stress skews our thoughts and tricks us into thinking that way.

Exercise
We all know that exercise releases endorphins which are responsible for increasing your minds ability to elevate mood and feel good. Exercise does not only mean heavy cardio activities or going to the gym for three hours every day. It simply means being as active as possible like taking a 15- to 30-minute walk once or twice a day. It can also mean "light" cardio like bike riding, a short hike, playing tennis or golf. It also means taking a yoga or Pilates class. The more you are active the better you will feel. If you are a couch potato, your chances of elevating your mood and reducing stress are slim to none.

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