Four Things You Can Do to Reduce Stress and Improve Happiness

SEP 26, 2018
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By Dr. Suzanne Deschamps, a family medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Salem, Ore.


Nobody likes being stressed out, but did you know that stress can actually have a negative impact on your health?


Essentially, stress activates the fight-or-flight system in your brain, which dumps stress hormones into your body. These hormones can overwhelm the brain’s pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of our brains that make rational choices. The result? It’s easy to become overwhelmed with stress, and more difficult to make important decisions and feel happy.


But, there are a few lifestyle changes that can help you reduce your stress and ultimately increase your happiness – no prescription required.


1. Send fewer texts, give more hugs


We are a society that increasingly relies on technology to communicate, but electronic communication may make us less connected than before. A nice, long hug releases oxytocin (a.k.a. the “love/bonding hormone”), which goes a long way towards reducing the activity of the parts of the brain that like to flood our bodies with stress hormones.


2. Minimize worrying by making decisions


Decision-making engages the rational thinking brain and lessens the involvement of the more reactive emotional brain. Making a decision, even a small one, that is ‘good enough’ (not ‘the best decision ever’) will allow your brain to enter a calmer pattern, which will allow you to come up with further long-term plans and move forward with intention.


3. Focus on gratitude


Sure, it might be hard to focus on what you’re grateful for when you’re feeling upset and stressed out. But, gratitude boosts the production of dopamine and serotonin, which contribute to our feelings of happiness. Consider keeping a gratitude journal – each day, write down three things you’re grateful for.


4. Practice mindfulness


For years I’ve been recommending meditation to my patients who have chronic pain or anxiety because the evidence shows that it’s helpful. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine does not have to be time-consuming. Carving out 10-15 minutes daily of quiet, focused breathing and time to yourself is ideal. There are phone apps that can help you get started, like “Calm,” “Stop, Breathe, and Think,” and “Headspace.”


We hope these self-care tips help curb your stress while increasing your happiness.