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The Best Ways to Relieve Mental and Physical Stress

By Genevieve Cunningham

Mental & Physical Stress

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that mental health is a growing concern in today’s world. More than any other time in history, society is taking note and making time for mental wellness. Unfortunately, even with the increase in mental health awareness, people are still suffering. Why? Maybe an even more important question is what -- as in, what can we, as a society, do to help?

The answer is complex, but for the sake of our overall health and happiness, it’s worth exploring.

Who Suffers From Mental Health Issues?

Because mental health problems are often invisible or the symptoms are not obvious, it’s easy to dismiss them. We think these issues can’t touch us, personally. We think that in order for mental health problems to arise, there must be some sort of big event or catalyst. None of that is necessarily true. There might be an obvious catalyst, or it might be far less obvious. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 1 in 8 people suffer from some sort of mental health disorder. Adults in the United States suffer at a rate of 1 in 4, or 25 percent. This might include, but not be limited to, disorders including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders

From the 1 in 8 who suffers from mental health issues, the statistics can be broken down even further. Age, gender, socioeconomic status, and more variables might all play a part. Though mental health can decline in any person of any background or age, it’s most common and most likely to affect the following:

  • Women - Women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from major depression, but men are more likely to turn to self-harm with devastating results.
  • Adolescents - This is a growing problem, and it’s gaining the attention of professionals.
  • Young adults - The average onset of many health issues -- including major depression -- is mid-20s.

In some instances, mental health issues are far out of our control. They arise as a result of genetics or extreme life circumstances. In these instances, the best thing that we can do is reach out for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment -- or all three. In fact, anytime that we feel overwhelmed, we should reach out for help. But other times, we may be able to help ourselves find relief -- or at least balance -- in our quest for the best mental and physical health.

How Is Stress Related to Mental Health?

According to research from the University of California at Berkeley, one of the biggest contributors to mental health issues is something none of us can escape: stress. Stress plays a part in both physical and mental well-being. Symptoms that may plague your body and mind due to excessive stress levels include low energy, headaches, digestive issues, insomnia, chest pain, muscle tension, and more. Interestingly, the American Psychological Association suggests that Gen Z reports the highest levels of stress among any other age group. Why is this of interest? Because Gen Z also has the highest instances of mental health crisis. Coincidence or correlation?

The Best Stress Relievers

In order to remain healthy, we have to learn to reduce stress and anxiety. Stress comes at us from a million different angles. Sometimes we need to reduce stress right now, and other times we need to manage stress on a more long-term scale. Luckily, there are methods for both.

For short-term stress and anxiety management, consider the following techniques:

  • Deep breathing - Taking long, slow breaths can lower heart rate and blood pressure. It helps to create a sense of calm within the body.
  • Nature and fresh air - Getting sunshine (and Vitamin D) and fresh air can ease nerves and bring you back to the present moment.
  • Stretching - Taking a few minutes to stretch the body can literally release tension from the muscles -- and the mind as well.
  • Count backward - Counting backward forces you to stop a racing mind and give it something to do. Count slowly, and make sure that’s your only focus.

For long-term stress and anxiety management, consider these options:

  • Physical activity - Exercise is one of the best ways to minimize stress. It forces the body to use its energy physically, which shifts the focus off of the stress.
  • Plan ahead - Doing things at the last minute is always stressful. By planning ahead, we eliminate many stressors before they begin.
  • Eat a healthy diet - Diet is generally associated with physical health, and it certainly plays a huge role in that area. But eating a healthy diet can also eliminate stress about the body, productivity, and general health.
  • Socialize - Friends or family -- or rather both! -- can be great stress relievers. They give us personal connections, which has been proven beneficial in multiple areas of mental health.

Does Meditation Really Help Relieve Stress?

Many of the methods for both short- and long-term stress relief overlap. What works for one may also work for the other. One of the most commonly suggested stress relieving methods -- whether it’s short or long-term -- is to practice meditation. In the west, most people are not intimately familiar with meditation practices. Does it work? Should we get familiar with it? Research suggests that meditation can bring a multitude of benefits to both body and mind. It has a calming effect on the nerves, meaning it can lower stress and improve mental health as a whole. It has also been shown to boost physical health, meaning this one practice is an all-encompassing, holistic approach to improving health that may help you feel good in both body and mind on a more regular basis. Is it easy? No. Will it take practice and patience? More than you realize. But it’s a highly effective way to reduce stress and improve health.

What are the best ways to relieve physical and mental stress? Take care of your body as a whole. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and meditate. See your friends and family. Make health a priority. Do these things and you’ll find less stress and better health as a happy benefit to your consistent efforts.

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