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Top Tips to Reduce Stress

After your night of hopefully great sleep, how do you wake up? And how do you start your day?

At An Oasis of Healing, we believe that the dawn allows us to set the tone for the day ahead. Waking up naturally, just before or with the sunrise, without an alarm or sound that will leave you automatically in a high alert state, can be one of the best ways to start the morning. But once you are up, what is the first thing you do?

Most people wake up with little time left to dedicate to their mornings, already in a rush and with their stress levels rising. This will set up the mood for the day, and that stress will probably keep increasing, sometimes to exhaustion or breakdown.

A 2004 meta-analysis reviewing more than 300 empirical articles examined the relationship between psychological stress and parameters of the immune system in humans, revealing how chronic stress can have a negative impact on immunity. The report refers that short-term stressors may have some upregulating effects on immunity, while chronic stressors were associated with overall suppression and down-regulation of the immune system1. Another 2014 study discusses the “bad” versus the “good” effects of stress on health, referring that short-term stress can enhance the acquisition and/or expression of immunoprotective or immuno-pathological responses. In contrast, chronic stress can suppress protective immune responses and/or exacerbate pathological immune responses”2. Chronic stress is also associated with high levels of inflammation, which, combined with impaired immune cell function, increases the risk of illness2,3.

What is the alternative? How can we counteract or prevent the effects of chronic stress?

Start your day with some meditation and gratitude. Two completely free resources that will not only help set the right tone for your day, but also serve as tools that you can use to manage your stress levels throughout the day.

The research on meditation has been skyrocketing in the past decades. Its benefits are widely known, but the underlying neural mechanisms remain unclear and are often frowned upon by many scientists.  However, many studies done on meditation show that “mindfulness meditation” reduces the inflammatory response caused by stress and can be used to address psychological stress and promote well-being4,5. Another study evaluating nearly 1,300 adults demonstrated that meditation might decrease stress and even be more effective than usual treatment, especially for those with higher stress levels6.

In 2019 Basso et al. reported that daily meditation decreased negative mood states and enhanced attention, working memory, and recognition memory, as well as reduced anxiety. And that meditation-induced changes in emotional regulation are more strongly linked to improved affective state than improved cognition7.

After your meditation, you have set the right headspace for another excellent immune-boosting technique. Gratitude! Gratitude can be defined as the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself, a general state of thankfulness and appreciation.

At an anatomical level, it is related consistently to the medial prefrontal cortex and, at the molecular level, with the neuropeptide oxytocin. It has been associated with better physical and mental health parameters, both in healthy and sick populations. Practicing gratitude is simple, free, profoundly affects your health, and strongly correlates with your well-being.

Most importantly, it works! Being grateful for the things you are, have, and experience has the power to improve your life and health, and it’s a potent catalyzing and relational healing force. 

One study on gratitude showed that “conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits,” as participants who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. They also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor8.

A 2017 study indicated that gratitude might improve emotion regulation and self-motivation9. From a clinical psychology perspective, gratitude is relevant for its “strong explanatory power in understanding well-being” and “potential of improving well-being through fostering gratitude with simple exercises” 10.

The key is consistency. Practice your gratitude daily. It doesn’t have to take much time. Write down or tell a loved one five things you are grateful for every day! It will soon become a joyous part of your daily routine!

As concluded by Álvaro Tala in his 2019 article, “Given the current state of knowledge about gratitude, and considering its potential benefits, low risks, ability to complement other treatments, the simple and cost-effectiveness of gratitude interventions… its practical implementation is warranted” 11.

What are you waiting for to reflect upon what you are grateful for?

Besides meditation and gratitude, there are other techniques we would recommend you implement, not just to start your days but to better deal with stress throughout the day.

Tips to reduce stress:

  • Meditation. Start small, with 5 min, and work your way up to 10, then 15, and eventually 20 minutes daily. Then try to increase it to two times a day. This may take weeks or months. Make your meditation a priority. You can meditate anytime. Try to meditate at the same time every day – make it part of your routine. Daily practice is essential. There are also many apps, like Headspace and Calm, that can help you start.
  • Write it down, have a journal, write a letter, or say it out loud. You can choose the delivery method, the number of things you are grateful for, and how often you do it. Just try, once again, to make it a daily commitment to yourself.
  • Just breathe. Deep breathing, pranayama, or breathwork are fantastic techniques to bring calmness and reduce stress. You only need 5 minutes for noticeable results.
  • Yoga, tai-chi, or other stress-reducing, relaxation-inducing physical activity.
  • Use relaxation techniques, like massage and acupressure.
  • Laugh your troubles out – watch funny movies, TV shows, or stand-up comedy. As we have always heard, laughing is the best remedy.
  • Try journaling.
  • Talk to someone and share your feelings, concerns, and emotions.
  • Take control of the situations that are causing you stress. Try to find solutions or just let go.
  • Time management is simple yet super effective; learn to prioritize. Make lists or pyramids of priorities and tackle them one by one.
  • Sometimes you just need to allow yourself to recover.
  • Practice any activity you enjoy (such as sports, fishing, or painting).
  • Move more. Be in nature more. Sleep more.

More important than what, when, or how you do it is just trying to do at least one stress-reducing activity every day. It will significantly improve your life and well-being.

  1. Segerstrom, S. C., & Miller, G. E. (2004). Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 601–630. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601
  2. Dhabhar FS. Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunol Res. 2014;58(2-3):193-210. doi:10.1007/s12026-014-8517-0
  3. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, et al. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(16):5995-5999. doi:10.1073/pnas.1118355109
  4. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
  5. Melissa A. Rosenkranz, Richard J. Davidson, Donal G. MacCoon, John F. Sheridan, Ned H. Kalin, Antoine Lutz. A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2013; 27: 174-184. doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2012.10.013
  6. Orme-Johnson DW, Barnes VA. Effects of the transcendental meditation technique on trait anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Altern Complement Med. 2014;20(5):330-341. doi:10.1089/acm.2013.0204
  7. Basso JC, McHale A, Ende V, Oberlin DJ, Suzuki WA. Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. Behav Brain Res. 2019;356:208-220. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2018.08.023
  8. Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003;84(2):377-389. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.84.2.377
  9. Kyeong S, Kim J, Kim DJ, Kim HE, Kim JJ. Effects of gratitude meditation on neural network functional connectivity and brain-heart coupling. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):5058. Published 2017 Jul 11. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05520-9
  10. Wood AM, Froh JJ, Geraghty AW. Gratitude and well-being: a review and theoretical integration. Clin Psychol Rev. 2010;30(7):890-905. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005
  11. Tala Á. Gracias por todo: Una revisión sobre la gratitud desde la neurobiología a la clínica [Thanks for everything: a review on gratitude from neurobiology to clinic]. Rev Med Chil. 2019;147(6):755-761. doi:10.4067/S0034-98872019000600755

Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica.  Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.

Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection.  She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.

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