Your job isn’t the only thing that can cause stress in your life. Relationships, children, housing, money, and many daily hassles contribute to stress. If you can’t always manage it in the office, here’s how you can reduce stress at home with some small changes.
What exactly is stress?
Before we look at how to reduce stress at home, it’s important to know what stress is and how it affects our bodies.
Stress is classified as psychological or emotional strain or tension that is usually the result of challenging circumstances. For example, you might be under a lot of pressure at work for a very important deadline. You feel as though your boss is literally breathing down your neck. Next thing you know, a huge change in direction comes down from the top offices. All of the hard work you’ve done is no longer appropriate. You feel your heart race, your face flush, and your anger rise. That is stress.
Stress is not an unnatural thing. And it isn’t always bad. It is part of our body’s natural flight or fight response, a piece of biological programming left over from our days as nomadic early humans. Stress is also the thrill you feel when you watch a horror movie or ride a roller coaster. Those thrills can be good stress, until they’re not. Stress that comes from outside sources over which you feel you have no control can lead to long-term health problems, and that is what the medical community is most concerned about.
Effects of stress
It’s easy to say that stress can cause tangible medical issues, but how do scientists and doctors recognize this?
The most common, and probably most concerning, effect on the body is on the heart in that it can lead to increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The science behind it is actually pretty simple. The feelings of anger and anxiety that are part of the body’s stress reaction cause the body to release high concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These chemicals can cause long-term damage to the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain and the heart. This process is called atherosclerosis.
There may be more to it than originally understood. This study, published May 2014 in Biological Psychiatry, indicates that brain activity may also play a part. Individuals who have greater brain activation when they are trying to regulate their negative emotional responses also have increased risk of atherosclerosis. The researchers believe that observing this link could have long-term implications on how we treat stress and prevent heart disease.
Who is affected by stress?
No one is immune to stress. At some point, everyone experiences it in their lives. It could be wedding planning, meeting new people, or a car accident. Some stress is unavoidable. But there are people who are more susceptible to stress and some situations which bring it on in higher concentrations. Women are often affected by stress more, especially if they are working mothers or pregnant. Older adults, widowed people, and individuals under financial strain or long-term unemployment are also highly affected. People experiencing discrimination feel more stress and have more negative health effects cause by it. People without a strong network of friends or relatives also have higher stress levels. And people who act as caregivers are impacted disproportionately as well.
In fact, even seeing someone else experiencing stress can create a stress response. Oregon State University released a study indicating that older men experiencing high stress in their lives were more likely to die earlier than average for their age group. The study reviewed acute stress, such as traffic, as well as large stressful events such as the loss of a spouse. Handling small stressors in a constructive way could help people better deal with larger events in their lives.
Risk factors for stress and pain
Stress is a major concern for doctors who treat patients experiencing chronic pain. Increased stress can exacerbate a number of pain conditions. Merely treating pain symptoms ignores and even minimizes the daily stress that pain patients can feel. This, in turn, causes increased pain and more long-term problems. It is a vicious cycle.
Even acute stress, such as being late for work or dealing with an obstinate child, can have a negative effect on the body and it can reduce the body’s ability to withstand physical pain. A study by the American Friends of Tel Aviv University demonstrated that the mishandling of acute stress causes the body to be less effective at modulating pain responses. That is to say that people who have high stress responses to these situations also have increased pain even from unrelated conditions.
While there are a number of risk factors, including working any job or driving in any city, there are some that increase the risk of long-term problems resulting from stress. These include:
- Childhood experience or trauma
- Anxiety or depression
- Genetic factors that impact stress
- Compromised immune systems
- Your current amount of stressors
You can see your own risk for chronic stress by calculating your score in our post “The 10 Most Stressful Life Events.”
How to reduce stress at home
Clearly, reducing stress is important for your ongoing mental and physical health. We’ve compiled some of our favorite ways to drastically reduce your stress at home.
For example, it’s hard to stay mad at the world when you come home to a dog who is excited to see you or when your cat bumps you with her head and purrs. The unconditional love offered by a pet is a surefire stress-fighter. Living with an animal helps reduce tension and improve overall mood. Patients with diagnosed depression and anxiety typically benefit from a pet in the household.
Meditation is another way to drastically change your stress levels and change your outlook. Finally, household plants bring a much-needed dose of the outdoors in.
How pets can help with stress
Pets offer a wide range of benefits to help fight stress in our daily lives, including:
- Love without conditions: Pets don’t have restrictions on their relationships. Because of this, it is easy to seek comfort with them. You don’t have to feel judged or need to be social to interact with them. They just are and give you permission to just be.
- Good responsibility: While depression often convinces people that they are unable to take care of themselves, adding daily responsibility actually helps with recovery. Knowing that you’re needed is a strong push to get you up and active.
- Built in activity: With a pet you have to get moving from time to time. This is most true when you own a dog that will need regular exercise and walks. Cats also need some activity and play during the day.
- A routine: Many people who struggle with depression find that having a daily routine helps them function better. With a pet you have to make sure that you feed them, walk them, and clean up after them. All of this can provide structure.
- Tactile comfort: Petting a cat or a dog can have a comforting effect, too. There have been multiple studies that demonstrate the value of human touch when it comes to stress relief, but animals provide similar benefits.
- Lower blood pressure: And because of all of these things, people who share their home with animals generally display lower blood pressure than their petless counterparts.
Owning a pet isn’t always an option. If you can’t, talk with local shelters and donate items they need or work with adoptable pets. You can find opportunities online at VolunteerMatch.org.
How plants help with stress
You are far less likely to curl up with a ficus on your lap and watch movies but household plants and your outdoor garden are also stress-fighters. Plants release oxygen into the air and a home with house plants will often have better air quality than one that doesn’t.
Outside of your house gardening can also provide a number of stress-fighting benefits. These include:
- Fresh air: Multiple studies have shown that getting outside in the sun and the fresh air is a great boost for our brains. This is why many people go for walks to clear their head. Heading out to the yard to garden offers similar benefits. Don’t be afraid to soak up the sun.
- Hands-on activity: In a similar way to the tactile benefits of pets, there is also a benefit to literally getting your hands dirty. The feeling of the soil in your hands and the activity of planting helps you focus your mind. In many ways it is similar to mindful meditation.
- Exercise: Gardening is a very physical activity. You lift, you bend, you dig, and you move around. Exercise in general helps beat stress and depression so why not focus your activity around something you love, like flowers and plants?
- Mental stimulation: Planting is also a cerebral activity. In studies cited in the above-mentioned article, adults who gardened had a much lower risk of developing dementia as they aged. While this connection might not be completely understood, the combination of the mental and physical activity that gardeners engage in is beneficial to brain health.
- Useful and beautiful plants: There is also a satisfaction that comes with gardening. Whether you’re using colorful flowers to beautify your front lawn or sowing seeds that will eventually feed your family, gardening is a satisfying practice.
How meditation helps with stress
Meditation is an excellent tool for individuals to reduce the stress they feel in their daily lives. Even better, you can do meditation almost anywhere so it’s one of the easiest and inexpensive ways to reduce stress at home!
At its most basic level, meditation is a way for you to take a few moments out of your busy schedule to concentrate only on yourself. This action is just one part of the many reasons that meditation is beneficial to relieving stress. Mindfulness is a practice that helps you ground and center and focus your thoughts and breathing on simply being. This form of meditation has been shown to help people slow down and live in the moment rather than be burdened by life’s most common stress-inducing events.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the studies on the correlation between meditation and stress relief.
Benefits of meditation
A Carnegie Mellon University study indicates that less than a half an hour of meditation just three days a week is enough to reduce stress. The study suggested that mindfulness meditation was most effective when performed on three consecutive days. Participants in the study who were taught mindful meditation techniques reported an overall reduction in their stress levels. The study also acknowledges that initially learning mindful meditation requires significant cognitive thought but over time the meditation becomes easier to perform.
Further, Sweden’s Lund University published a report that mindfulness mediation could be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for patients dealing with depression and anxiety. The study specifically looked at the benefits of group mindfulness as compared with CBT. Head researcher Jan Sundquist said:
“This means that group mindfulness treatment should be considered as an alternative to individual psychotherapy, especially at primary health care centres that can’t offer everyone individual therapy.”
Finally, an article published in The JAMA Network Journals showed that mindful meditation could help patients better deal with insomnia. Insomnia and stress and pain often go hand in hand. Improving sleep could be one important step in reducing the effects of stress on the body. In a clinical trial, older adults who experienced moderate sleep disturbances were taught mindfulness meditation techniques. This process helped them change their poor sleeping habits and create an effective bedtime routine.
How to meditate effectively
Learning to meditate is about understanding how your mind works, allowing distractions to dissipate and embracing silence. Here are some practical tips to start:
- Don’t be afraid to use tools: One form of meditation is known as guided meditation. With this practice you sit quietly and listen to a narrator take you on a journey. Sometimes guided meditation is the best way to get started. It gives you something to focus on so you don’t let your mind wander. There are multiple apps available for both iOS and Android platforms that can get you started. One of the most popular is Headspace.
- Create a quiet, comfortable space: Regardless of the type of meditation you choose, one of the best ways to relax is to create a safe space where you feel comfortable. This could be anything from a room in your house decorated with objects to make you feel like you’re in a shrine or your sofa or bed. As long as you have a quiet place free of distractions, you can learn to meditate.
- Focus your attention: Mindfulness is the key to a meditation practice. The idea is to quiet your mind and keep it from wandering toward thoughts that cause you stress. When you feel your mind start to wander, try to pull it back to the here and now. This can be a powerful tool for you to learn even when you’re not actively meditating.
- Concentrate on breathing: The best way to stop your mind from randomly wandering is to concentrate specifically on your breathing. Deep breath in, short hold, deep breath out. Feel yourself breath from your diaphragm. Learning breathing techniques, like mindfulness, can help you in other stressful situations as well.
What other tips do you have for how to reduce stress at home? Hit the comments to share your favorites.
If chronic pain is causing severe stress in your life, it may be time to talk to a pain specialist. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.