We all deal with stress. It’s common to hear or read advice about how to “eliminate” it. Right. Good luck. Look, we can’t necessarily eliminate the actual source of stress, but we can alter how to respond and balance the things that are stressful. Here are three actions you can take today that may help.
1. Reconnect with Nature
Don’t worry about finding the most perfect, serine location. A patch of woods, a hiking trail or a small park are all you need. A recent study in Environment and Behavior concluded that even in urban areas or cities, all you need are a few tress to relive stress. Although, the greater density of tree did garner better results. 
“We close by noting the importance of helping people recover from stress by viewing, or being in, nature even within urban environments. The findings here suggest a community street scene with a higher density of street trees would elicit greater stress reduction than that of a similar scene with fewer trees.”
So make it a point to get back into nature a hug a tree or two at least once a day. If time allows, go for a longer walk in nature or try having lunch outside under a tree.
You’ll also receive the added benefits of getting some exercise, soaking up some vitamin D (technically the sun allows your body to create vitamin D from cholesterol but I digress) and perhaps even interacting with people IRL. What a concept!
2. Breathe. Really Breathe.
It should come as no surprise that breathing exercises can help lower stress. There are numerous studies to back this up. Deep, controlled and slow breathing has been shown to lower cortisol  and even lower blood pressure. It’s important to become aware of your breath and breath from your abdomen rather than your chest. One study concluded:
“The result indicated that slow pace Bhramari pranayama for 5 minutes, induced parasympathetic dominance on cardiovascular system.” 
This is essentially what it is to meditate, but if the thought of meditating conjures up thoughts of sitting criss cross apple sauce for 7 hours a day, don’t worry (or stress) about it. Meditation can happen in an instant and can last hours or just a few second.
Ready? Do this…
- Just close your eyes right now (wait, read this first, then close your eyes).
- Take a deep breathe in through your nose expanding your belly
- Breath out.
Congratulations, you just meditated!
3. Shenpa. Shen-what?
Controlling how you react to certain external influences sounds like an impossible task at times (maybe all the time). Once you catch yourself “getting hooked” the first few times, however, you may even start looking forward to opportunities to practice this technique.
Yes, really. Someone cuts you off in traffic? Shenpa! Boss acts like an asshole? Shenpa! Catch yourself in that tiny moment between when something happens and you physically, emotionally and even physiologically (cortisol rises, etc), respond. You don’t have to react with road rage. You don’t have to spend half the day being pissed off and angry at some random person on the street, or your boss, or even your significant other.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” -Fake Buddha Quote
The actual quote is, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
The more you become aware of that tiny moment, the larger the window of opportunity seems to become for you to change how to react.
Another tool you can use to sort of expand that moment is to always lead with empathy. Perhaps that person who cut you off has an emergency. Perhaps your boss is feeling the pressure of his superior, or is having a personal crisis.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Author and Buddhist Monk, Pema Chodron, explains Shenpa much better than I can. I can’t recommend her books and lectures enough.
I know what you might be thinking: “Breathing exercises, meditating, talking to trees (or whatever) and practicing shen-something? These things take time! I have to work. I don’t have time to take breaks to do these things.”
Well, consider this: Studies have also found that taking breaks throughout the day, as much as once per hour, actually increases productivity so you get more done, not less.
One study, from the University of Toronto, even discovered the ideal work to break ratio and it’s this: Work for 52 minutes. Take a break for 17.
“All efforts to control behavior, to perform and to focus draw on that pool of psychological energy. Once that energy source is depleted, we become less effective at everything that we do,” say co-author of the study, John Trougakos.
So, you now have no excuses. Get outside. Move more. Breathe better. Change how you react to certain situations. Reconnect with nature.
All of these are simple actions you can take right now to help relieve stress. They’re free and they’re backed by solid research.
Comment below and let me know what you do to relive stress.