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With trendy mindful studios opening all over the country and CEOs and celebrities alike touting daily meditation as the key to success, the act of sitting still and clearing your mind is no longer reserved for the hardcore wellness set. But what happens if you simply hate meditating? Relax—it’s okay. Sitting alone with your thoughts isn’t for everyone, no matter how life-changing Madonna claims it is. The important thing is that you find another way to unwind.
"We are a culture that likes to be busy, that overbooks ourselves, and that is always on the go, which can lead to stress and feelings of overwhelm,” says Melissa Eisler, founder of Mindful Minutes. "Our minds and bodies are constantly moving from one responsibility and to-do item to the next. To avoid burnout, exhaustion—physical, psychological, emotional—and to show up as our best selves in the various roles we play in life, it’s important to take time to calm the mind.”
With that in mind, here are simple ways to ease stress if you aren't into meditation. And FYI: Dark chocolate helps, too.
Strike a (yoga) pose
If you’re someone who dreads lying in Savasana at the end of class, fear not—there are a number of other yoga poses that can calm a racing mind. Simply getting on the mat (sans cell phone) is OM-inducing in itself. "Focusing on your breath and getting your endorphins going often helps with stress management,” says Eisler. She suggests trying forward folds, child’s pose, bridge pose, or laying on your back with your feet on a wall to help you get your zen on.
Grab a box of Crayolas and a Lisa Frank Adult Coloring Book and get to work. "Activities like coloring can help you practice mindfulness, which is a known stress reliever,” says Sonya LeClair, founder of The Reluctant Enthusiast. “By providing a focal point for your attention, it allows you to concentrate on what's happening in the moment rather than on your worries.” In addition to unleashing your inner artist, these types of activities also help unleash your inner kid, which, for most people, was a time of more creativity and imagination—and less stress.
Talk to yourself
Yes, really. According to a study recently published in Scientific Reports, third-person self-talk is an easy way to quell strong negative emotions like stress and anxiety. Talking to yourself “could prove useful for promoting emotion regulation in daily life,” the study’s authors write. So, next time you are going through something particularly demanding, try speaking out loud as if you were advising a friend.
Hit the gym
A hardcore workout may seem like the opposite of meditating, but it can have the same sort of de-stressing effects on your brain. “Getting regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to refresh, recharge, and reconnect amidst the chaos of our daily lives,” says LeClair. “Studies show that exercise improves your mood, boosts creativity, and is associated with lower risk of disease and improved longevity.” It is also an important and often overlooked intervention in improving mental health.
In case you needed an excuse to leave the office on a particularly stressful day, consider this: Researchers in Japan found that being in a green environment helps promote lower cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure, as well as greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity. In other words, it cools off your “fight or flight” reactions. “Time in nature also helps reduce rumination, which is the incessant replay of all that is wrong with ourselves and our lives,” says LeClair. “It is neither helpful nor healthy, and it is a known risk factor for mental illness.”
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Listen to music
It’s pretty much physically impossible to be stressed when you’re jamming out to Beyoncé. Seriously, there’s science to back it up. According to a 2013 study, listening to music helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is why you tend to be more relaxed when drowning out the rest of the world with a set of headphones in. Hit up Spotify’s “Mood Boosters” playlist for some serious tune-spiration.
Take a hike
If the idea of sitting still with your thoughts makes you feel a little bit itchy, grab your dog (or your friends) and take a stroll around the neighborhood. “Walking in nature is also associated with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress, and improved sense of well-being,” says LeClair. “In fact, people who had recently experienced stressful life events, such as
the death of a loved one, marital separation, or unemployment, reported an especially improved boost in mood after outdoor group walks.”
Make time for sexy time
An orgasm a day keeps the stress away. According to Simon Rego, PSYD, a cognitive behavioral psychologist, the combination of the different physical sensations your body experiences during sex can help you relax. “It actually seems to be a combination of other factors that we use to create stress relief in general,” he told ABC News. “Things like deeper breathing, physical exertion, touch, the release of endorphins, social connectedness. All of which can be found in other arenas, but all of which seem to come together in a sexual encounter." Sure beats sitting silently for 20 minutes.
Start a journal
Get your stress out of your head and into a journal. The act of writing helps stimulate the analytical parts of your left brain, which can help spawn creativity. Plus, putting your stressful thoughts onto a piece of paper allows you to acknowledge and clarify them, which will help relieve some of the emotional intensity.
Do something nice
Holding the door for someone or paying for a stranger’s coffee may feel like a selfless act, but as it turns out, being kind to others can benefit you, too. Forging social connections can help reduce stress, and focusing on someone else’s well-being will help you get out of your own head.
Laugh out loud
When all else fails, throw on an old episode of Modern Family and let yourself LOL. There is extensive research to support laughter as a stress reliever, because it increases cortisol in the brain and can help reduce the physical effects of stress. Plus, is there any better way to chill out than to literally Netflix and chill?