12 lifestyle habits to reduce stress

Playing an instrument is a great way to relieve stress.

Dr. Caroline Messer, a New York City-based endocrinologist, always talks to her patients about managing stress. “It’s unbelievably important for their sense of wellbeing,” she said.

“Often when patients come in with hair loss, fatigue and insomnia, they assume there’s a direct hormonal underpinning, but these symptoms can actually be stress-mediated with a secondary increase in cortisol levels,” Messer said.

Here’s how to start making healthy changes to reduce your stress levels.

Try meditating

Meditation practice leads to decreased physiological markers of stress in a range of populations, according to a 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis of 45 studies. Specifically, meditation can help to lower cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate.

Take a few minutes once or twice a day to sit quietly and meditate.

A consistent meditation practice also helps us better respond to stressful situations, according to Ellie Burrows Gluck, a Vedic meditation teacher and the co-founder and CEO of MNDFL, a meditation studio in New York City that also offers live-streamed, at-home practices with meditation experts at MNDFL TV.

To meditate, simply bring your full attention to your breath, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. When your mind starts to wander, come back to your breath without judgment.

If you would like some support for your meditation practice, a guided meditation app can help you get started. Martha McKittrick, a New York City-based registered dietitian who provides nutrition counseling and wellness coaching to many stressed-out clients, likes Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer and Buddhify.

Find a hobby you enjoy

That can mean practicing an instrument, painting, cooking or playing with your children.

Enlist your kids in a simple baking project.

Enlist your kids in a simple baking project.

“I think anything that takes you away from day-to-day concerns is helpful for lowering stress levels,” Messer said.

“The key is to focus on what you are doing to block out the rest of what is going on. I play classical piano, and I love to bake with my kids … and (when I engage in these activities), I forget about the pandemic and work stressors.”

Schedule daily movement or exercise breaks

Engaging in regular physical activity is a great way to help manage stress and strengthen your immune system, too.
Aerobic exercise, which increases heart rate and the body’s use of oxygen, boosts levels of endorphins, which work directly on opiate receptors in your brain to reduce pain and boost pleasure, Messer explained. Exercise also reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, specifically adrenaline and cortisol, explained MaryAnn Browning, founder and CEO of Brownings Fitness in a previous CNN interview.

Messer advises patients to engage in aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, three times per week. “Aerobic exercise allows the muscle and liver to remove glucose from the bloodstream, increases metabolism, and can improve sleep patterns.”

Try riding on a stationary bike or simply taking a brisk walk. “As long as you are pushing yourself,” Messer said. And if you don’t want to go outside, you can just walk around in circles in your apartment while you talk to people, according to Browning, who added that she is able to get up to 23,000 steps in a day by walking and conversing at the same time.

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