Meditation is — without a doubt — one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce stress, calm anxiety, and connect with our inner selves.
Just to name a few of its proven benefits, meditation can increase grey matter (1) — which is associated with emotional regulation and learning — in the brain, reverse patterns in the brain (2) associated with worrying and poor attention span, and improve symptoms of chronic health issues like fibromyalgia (3). It can even make you kinder (4) to yourself (and others!), according to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
The benefits of meditation are impossible to argue with.
And yet, meditation isn’t the only way to calm our minds and get back in touch with ourselves. For those of us that have tried (and failed) many times to establish a regular meditation practice, it’s good to know that there are plenty of other mindfulness tools out there to lean on.
Here are a handful of stress-reducing tips that have nothing to do with meditation:
One great way to give your mind a rest is to quite literally take a rest. Studies have shown that 15-minute naps can help reduce stress and tension (5). Even if you lay down and shut your eyes for 20 minutes, you can ease a racing mind and give yourself a few minutes to breathe.
When it comes to mental health support, exercise is king. Just like meditation, studies have shown that exercise can lead to improvements in anxiety (6) and depression (7). If you’re looking to improve your mental health but can’t seem to get into meditation, taking a barre class, going for a run, or even doing a 10-minute at home HIIT workout is a great practice to adopt.
Writing down your thoughts can be an extremely effective way to reduce stress and support healing. Studies have shown (8) that writing, especially expressive writing, is a therapeutic tool for survivors of trauma. If you’re not sure where to start, grab a notebook and write a list of things in your life that you’re grateful for. Gratitude has also been shown to reduce stress (9) and improve mental health.
Laughing is therapeutic in and of itself, so listening to a comedy special or spending time with your funniest friend is a good way to support a positive mood and calm your mind. According to Mayo Clinic, “Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.” Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?
5. Take a walk
Taking a walk, especially in nature, can be a game changer for your mental state. Research, like one study published in Frontiers in Public Health, showed that walking in a forest environment (10) for 15-minutes significantly lowered cortisol levels. So take a walk on the beach, in the park by your house, or around the neighborhood in honor of your stress levels.
6. Spending an hour without your phone
Constantly getting pings, rings, and dings from your phone can be a huge weight on your shoulders, leading to increases in stress hormones like cortisol. Freeing yourself from this burden, even if it’s only for an hour a day, can bring you some mental clarity and much needed space from emails, social media, and texts.
7. Sing while you drive
Singing is one of the most underrated mindfulness practices. In fact, it’s a type of meditation in and of itself. Studies have shown (11) that singing can modulate stress, mood, and cortisol. So go ahead and blast your favorite playlist to and from the office!
8. Read a novel
Escaping in a book is a great way to ground yourself in the present moment. And it may help reduce stress significantly. According to independent research by the Mindlab International at the University of Sussex, reading for just six minutes a day can significantly reduce stress levels.
Meditation is a wonderful wellness tool, but it’s not the only one we can lean on in times of stress. The next time you’re feeling like you just can’t deal, try calling on one of these eight mindfulness practices and see how they get you back on track.
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- Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry research, 191(1), 36–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
- Sood A, Jones DT. On mind wandering, attention, brain networks, and meditation. Explore (NY) 2013;9(3):136–41. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2013.02.005.
- Kozasa EH, Tanaka LH, Monson C, Little S, Leao FC, Peres MP. The effects of meditation-based interventions on the treatment of fibromyalgia. Curr Pain Headache Rep 2012;16:383–7.
- Galante J, Galante I, Bekkers M-J, Gallacher J. Effect of kindness-based meditation on health and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2014;82:1101–1114. doi: 10.1037/a0037249.
- Oriyama, Sanae et al. “Effects of two 15-min naps on the subjective sleepiness, fatigue and heart rate
- variability of night shift nurses.” Industrial health vol. 52,1 (2014): 25-35. doi:10.2486/indhealth.2013-0043
- Aylett, Elizabeth et al. “Exercise in the treatment of clinical anxiety in general practice – a systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMC health services research vol. 18,1 559. 16 Jul. 2018, doi:10.1186/s12913-018-3313-5
- Cooney G.M., Dwan K., Greig C.A., Lawlor D.A., Rimer J., Waugh F.R., McMurdo M., Mead G.E. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 2013 CD004366.
- Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338
- Wood, Alex M., John Maltby, Raphael Gillett, P. Alex Linley, and Stephen Joseph. “The Role of Gratitude in the Development of Social Support, Stress, and Depression: Two Longitudinal Studies.” Journal of Research in Personality 42, no. 4 (August 1, 2008): 854–71. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2007.11.003.
- Kobayashi, Hiromitsu, Chorong Song, Harumi Ikei, Bum-Jin Park, Takahide Kagawa, and Yoshifumi Miyazaki. “Combined Effect of Walking and Forest Environment on Salivary Cortisol Concentration.” Frontiers in Public Health 7 (2019). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2019.00376.
- Fancourt, Daisy et al. “Singing modulates mood, stress, cortisol, cytokine and neuropeptide activity in cancer patients and carers.” Ecancermedicalscience vol. 10 631. 5 Apr. 2016, doi:10.3332/ecancer.2016.631
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