Stress is terrible for you. It manifests as tension headaches, nausea, hair loss, weight gain, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and … limited muscle gains? Hold up a second. Did we just say, "limited gains"? ?
Yeah. You bet we did.
But what does stress have to do with how much muscle you put on in the gym? As it turns out, everything. See, stress:
- Hurts your body’s ability to recover after a workout
- Impacts the immune system and makes you more prone to getting sick (translating into missed workout sessions)
- Causes emotional exhaustion – and who wants to train hard in such a state?!
So. If you’d like to get the most out of your workouts (and, not forgetting, avoid stress’ many harmful health effects!), finding ways to lower your stress levels will be in your best interest.
Below, find 5 highly effective, science-based techniques you can incorporate into your daily life to reduce stress.
There's a good reason why so many people worldwide rely on meditation to relieve stress: it simply works. It doesn’t only help reduce stress – by lowering your cortisol levels – at the moment, either.
Research shows that regular practice can help with depression, chronic pain, anxiety, and sleep issues.
The only problem? Think of meditation and mental images of burning incense, wood-lined rooms, and yoga mats. What if you don't have those available to you – or can't hold a "lotus position"? Can you still practice meditation?
Yes, you can. Honestly, you don’t have to do anything fancy to get started with meditation. All you truly need is to pick a place in your home that is quiet and makes you feel calm.
From there … all you have to do is close your eyes, stay focused on your breathing, and let your mind do its thing.
It’s normal to get distracted.
Don't panic; return from your distracted thought to your breath. With time and practice, you'll be able to sustain more extended periods of attentiveness to your breath.
Oh, and a tip: if you’re still finding it a challenge to “get into the groove”, working through your first few meditation sessions with some guidance (e.g., with apps like HeadSpace) may help.
2: Spend time with loved ones
One thing’s clear. When you’re feeling beyond stressed, spending time with friends and family can help.
In fact, research shows that not only can social support reduce your stress levels, but it can also improve your health (going so far as to decrease your mortality risk!)
But honestly, you didn’t need a study to tell you that … right?
Anyone who’s spent time connecting with loved ones would be familiar with the therapeutic effect the latter can have – especially when they’re able to provide emotional support (e.g., allowing you to ugly cry as you complain about your boss’ unreasonable demands).
So, here’s a reminder to reach out to your closest and dearest. Schedule for a meet-up as soon as possible. And if that’s not possible?
Well, if there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’d be this: virtual hangouts can be just as good (or if not even better than) physical ones.
3: Choose stress-relieving foods
Have you ever used the excuse of “feeling sad” to justify stuffing your face with dark chocolate?
Well, good news: research shows that dark chocolate, thanks to its rich antioxidants content, reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels in the body.
Although, it's worth noting that this doesn't give you a free pass at eating all the dark chocolate you want.
Be sure to enjoy in moderation – otherwise, your stress levels would skyrocket back up the next time you weigh yourself.
Other “stress-relieving” foods to include in your diet include:
- Green, leafy vegetables: Leafy green vegetables (e.g., spinach) contain folate, also known as vitamin B9, which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical that can help you stay calm.
- Yogurt: A 2013 study found that the consumption of probiotics (i.e., “good” gut bacteria) in yogurt reduced brain activity in areas that handle emotion – including stress.
- Turkey breast: Besides being a super lean source of protein, turkey meat also contains considerable amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce tryptophan. On its own, research finds that tryptophan may exert a calming effect.
- Eggs: One of the lowest-cost, natural sources of protein ever. And another thing eggs have got going for them? Well, it's the fact that they contain acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter that can impact your ability to regulate your mood (i.e., make managing stress easier for you).
4: Practice gratitude
One of the most powerful (and easiest) techniques you can incorporate into your daily life to reduce stress is practicing gratitude. A few key statistics for you to consider:
- Gratitude is related to 23% lower levels of cortisol (i.e., your “stress hormones”)
- Keeping a gratitude diary for 2 weeks produced sustained reductions in perceived stress (28%) and depression (16%) in healthcare practitioners
Convinced? Great. But how do you make time for – and integrate – the practice into your daily life?
Well, the nice thing about gratitude is that it's incredibly low effort. There's no special technique to learn. In fact, you can start cultivating gratitude right in this instance.
Think about the top 3 to 5 things you’re grateful for in your life … then write them down.
Yep. It's as simple as you want. Then, repeat it a couple of times a week or every day (if you're mentally available). You can also keep a journal if you want, although scraps of paper will also suffice.
5: Get some movement in
How could we ever forget about the importance of exercise when it comes to how to reduce and/or lower stress?
This is because physical activity massively ramps up your body's production of endorphins – your brain's "feel-good" transmitters.
Plus, when you think about it, exercise is also basically meditation in motion. After all … who said you had to sit still to reap meditation’s benefits?
Focusing on your body's movements (without thinking of anything else) as you pound the pavement, push out another rep, and stretch out those hip flexors, can help you stay calm, clear, and focused for the rest of the day.
But wait. Are you struggling to stick to a regular workout routine? Or, not even sure where you should start?
Then check out GymStreak. This AI-powered personal trainer app will give you all the guidance you need to – finally – achieve your fitness goals (and become your best, stress-reduced self possible).
Let’s go.Get GymStreak
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