Stress is the body’s response to a perceived threat.
A flush of hormones directs blood and energy to the muscles so you can fight or flee. While many are familiar with increased tension (hello, tight shoulders) other effects include shortness of breath, increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure, uncomfortable hormonal shifts and stagnant digestion.
While you can’t always get rid of what stresses you out, you can get rid of stress itself and put a stop to the depleting effect it has on your body!
It’s actually pretty simple. To free yourself from stress, you need to complete the stress cycle.
In the book Burnout by sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski, they outline seven evidence-based strategies for completing the body's stress cycle. You’ll find a summary of each step below along with a yin yoga sequence for easing stress.
7 Reduce Stress Techniques
1. Exercising to Reduce Stress
To reason with stress you must speak its language - body language. Intentional movement (exercise) is the most efficient way to complete the stress cycle. It doesn’t have to be running, lifting weights or whatever exercise that gives you an ‘eww, no’ feeling. You could walk, swim, do yoga, dance, make love, etc. Your preferred exercise can be anything that moves your muscles, gets your blood flowing and brings sensory awareness to your body in space.
The recommended amount of time to exercise is 20-60 minutes most days, and especially on stressful days.
Stress leads to shallow breathing. And shortness of breath creates more stress. To break the cycle try some yoga exercises for breathing.
One of the best pranayama practices for relaxing the stress response is 2-1 breath. In this breath pattern you'll intentionally make your exhale last twice as long as your inhale.
Try it now: breathe in for the count of 5 seconds, hold your breath for 5 seconds, then exhale for 10 seconds.
It’s totally fine if you need a shorter or longer inhale. Maybe it’s 3-3-6 or 6-6-12. Just keep the length of your exhale 2x as long.
Do this for only 1-2 minutes and you’ll notice a shift. As your parasympathetic nervous system turns on your heart rate will slow down and tense muscles will relax.
3. Positive Social Interactions
Open yourself up to some friendly chit-chat with the grocery store cashier, greet your neighbors while walking the dog, learn something about the stranger sitting next to you on the airplane.
Casual and kind conversation is an external sign that the world is a safe place. This self-care tactic is great because it not only helps you but it helps the people you engage with as well (even if they don’t realize it at the time).
4. Deep Belly Laughs
I’m talkin’, the kind of laughter that’s uncontrollable and slightly embarrassing but feels sooo good. Laughter releases emotion and stress from the body.
A personal story: In 2020 I got really into watching stand-up comedy. I didn't realize it at the time but now I understand that laughter was helping me cope during a very stressful time.
Laughing is even better when done with a friend because it's known to make and maintain social bonds that feel safe and secure.
5. Physical Affection
Another way to boost safety, trust and belonging is to cuddle a pet or loved one. Physical touch releases the hormone oxytocin which fosters feelings of well-being and calm.
When physical touch isn’t an option, you can self-soothe with soft objects that provide light pressure to the body. Make yourself a cozy nest with things like large pillows, weighted blankets or yoga props that offer comfort and security
A 2008 study reported that customers of weighted blankets had a 33% reduction in stress and a 63% decrease in anxiety.
Check out Bolstered sandbags for a compact and comforting weight that you can use in your yoga practice, when driving, working or watching Netflix!
Crying is one of our body’s mechanisms to release stress. You might remember a time when you felt so much better after letting the tears flow. I do.
As a sensitive child with social anxiety, I’d be so wound up at the end of the school week that Friday’s were known as cry-days at my house. Like clock-work, I’d have a huge release and then I’d get on with being a happy, weekend-jazzed kiddo.
7. Creative Expression
Creativity rises out of emotion. A great way to move big feelings so they don’t get stuck in the body is to express yourself creatively. Whatever your art form, just start dabbling and see where it takes you and how you feel afterwards.
Now it's time to put these tips into practice.
Next time you want to decompress, try these restorative yoga postures for your daily dose of movement, breath, and self-affection.