7 ways to reduce stress for the long haul

long term stress reduction
CC BY 2.0 Life Mental Health

We can all think of instant-gratification stress relievers that actually make things worse for us in the long run, from "retail therapy" to junk food to binge drinking. But if we truly want to cut down on our overall experience of stress, we need to create habits for ourselves that can be incorporated into our daily lives.

Below you will find a number of ways to reduce stress.

1. Meditation

Meditation, or the practice of observing your thoughts and clearing your mind, is an ancient practice, but its benefits have been confirmed by modern scientific study. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reviewed 47 clinical studies of meditation, and concluded that meditation is an effective tool for reducing stress and anxiety. They also found that meditation has positive results for people suffering from depression.To get the most benefit from meditation, make this practice part of your daily routine or at least several times per week. There are many different ways to practice meditation. You can try these steps to clearing your mind or listen to a guided meditation.

2. Breathing Exercises

For a more immediate response to the symptoms of stress, like a pounding heart and racing thoughts, deep breathing can fight both the physical and psychological symptoms of stress. We say "take a deep breath" to mean "calm down" so often that the two phrases seem synonymous. But it's actually very good advice, as deep breathing has been shown to help reduce stress and fight anxiety.

To get you started, this video will guide you through a breathing exercise.

3. Exercise

Exercise helps reduce stress in a number of ways. The so-called "runners high" comes from the immediate release of endorphins during exercise. Regular exercise has also been shown to improve the brain's resistance to stress, according to research from Princeton University.

4. Garden

There are a number of ecological benefits to growing your own food or planting a butterfly garden, but these activities can benefit your mental wellbeing too. Researchers in the Netherlands found that 30 minutes of gardening could relieve the impacts of a stressful activity. Participants in the study both self-reported improved mood and were found to have lower levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, in their saliva.

5. Be in nature

Similar to gardening, just being out in nature can improve your mood. A study from UC Irvine found that taking a walk in the park proved to be more stress reducing than reading and listening to music or walking in an urban setting. A similar study from the University of Edinburgh reached the same conclusions.

In Japan, Forest Therapy trails are used to reduce stress, fight depression and even lower high blood pressure.

6. Try an herbal remedy

Chamomile tea is one of the oldest folk remedies to aid sleep and cut stress, but there's been plenty of modern research to justify its continued use. This mild sedative has been shown to reduce anxiety and induce sleep.

Lavender is another traditional herbal remedy for stress, although it is less well-studied. However, a small study of 30 healthy participants found that lavender aromatherapy significantly reduced stress levels.

These mild herbal remedies can be aided by creating a relaxing ritual around them. Consider making your cup of chamomile tea only after you've silenced your cell phone and dimmed the lights. Or maybe use lavender essential oils while also trying a breathing exercise like the one mentioned above.

7. Live with less

Living with too much clutter creates stress in a number of different ways. We may have feelings of guilt attached to objects we don't use or tasks we haven't done. Our stress levels spike when we can't find what we need. Clutter can even bombard our brains with too much stimuli.

Downsizing your belongings and organizing clutter may be a daunting task, but it can help you reduce the amount of stress you experience at home. Shopping less helps us tread more lightly on the earth, using up fewer natural resources. So consider donating, recycling or freecycling anything you don't really need.

7 ways to reduce stress for the long haul
We can all think of instant-gratification stress relievers that actually make things worse for us in the long run.