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5 Practices to Relieve Stress (with a few you may not have thought of)

February 21, 2018

By Jocelyn Weiss, PhD, MPH

We often write about ways to support ourselves through stress on the blog. The truth is, we all encounter stress – it’s our body’s natural response to meet life’s challenges. So frequent reminders on how you can adapt to stress can’t hurt. In this post, we have you consider one or two (or more) practices you might not have considered.


Okay, so maybe you already know that movement helps to manage stress – but most of you are not taking advantage of it. Only 25% of Americans actually get the recommended amount of aerobic activity and strength training. Physical activity not only stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals (endorphins) in your body when you do it, but regular exercise can increase self-confidence and reduce symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can be viewed as a form of moving meditation, keeping you focused on a single activity for a period of time, with added relaxation and mindfulness benefits. Regular exercise also supports better sleep, which in turn will better equip you to handle stress.


In writing down those things that worry and stress you, it can help keep you from ruminating about them all day. Journaling also allows you to explore and understand your feelings and come up with creative responses and solutions. One structured way to journal is to write down at least three good things that happen each day. In doing so, you will cultivate gratitude and joy that can help to alleviate negative thoughts and emotions you may be feeling.


Taking three slow, deep breaths is one of the easiest and most effective ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and induce the relaxation response. Slowing down the breath, in turn, slows down your heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, taking the time for three deep breaths amidst a stressful situation creates a pause. In this pause, you have the space to choose how you want to respond to any particular situation, which can often lead to a less reactive and less stressful outcome.


Though we often view being stuck with needles as a stressful event rather than one that is stress relieving, acupuncture has been used for centuries for pain and stress relief. Research studies suggest that acupuncture can be helpful in the treatment of tension-type headaches, anxiety, and depression (with consultation of your physician). For everyday stress relief, the insertion of fine needles into identified acupuncture points throughout the body leads to the release of those feel-good endorphins, which also act as natural pain relievers. The generally hour-long sessions spent on a soft table, with dim lights and soft music also contribute to the practice’s relaxing nature.


Reiki, a form of energy healing, is an ancient practice that is used to reduce stress, improve health and quality of life, and support physical and emotional healing. Practitioners use specific hand positions, held for a few minutes on or near the client’s clothed body. Research, though limited, suggests that using Reiki as a complementary therapy attenuates the release of cortisol (a stress hormone) and activates the parasympathetic nervous system to induce the relaxation response.

To learn more about the practice of Reiki for self-treatment and the treatment of others, check out our upcoming Reiki: Level One and Reiki: Level Two programs.


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