10 natural practices to reduce stress and boost a calm mindset

10 natural practices to reduce stress and boost a calm mindset

1. Take slower, deeper breaths 

People have understood the breath connects to emotions since ancient times. Yogis expounded the benefits of deep breathing in early literature and passed on lessons about how to use the breath to achieve altered states of consciousness and calm the mind/body.
When you are anxious and want to feel calm, take slow, deep, comfortable breaths in and out through your nose. Nose breathing, as opposed to breathing through the mouth, is associated with increased oxygen in the body and brain. Air travels farther down into the body rather than just the upper chest, which causes breathing patterns related to fight or flight, aka the stress response.
As you inhale via your nose, you produce nitric oxide that helps to regulate the nervous system. Your parasympathetic response that supports increased calm will switch on too, eliciting the Relaxation Response. This is especially so if you exhale to a longer count than you inhale. So, you might breathe in to the count of four and out to the count of five or six, for instance.

2. Spend time amid nature

People are wired to respond to nature with calmness and nature is very regulating for our nervous systems. Just listening to birdsong increases inner peace because you instinctively know birds don't chirp tunefully when there's danger in their surroundings. Hearing them sing feeds your subconscious with the message "be calm."
Likewise, green spaces, like meadows, fields, forests and gardens also stimulate the Relaxation Response. They make you relax and reduce stress. Other natural places, such as the beach or a waterfall calms the emotions and nervous system too. In fact, plenty of people swear forest bathing reduces stress and helps them feel balanced and tranquil.
Aim to be amid nature at least once a day, even if it's just your garden, the local park, a walk around the block or a few moments spent with a window open so you can hear the birds and it's likely that a sense of calm will increase.

3. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness has many mental health benefits, stress reduction among them. When your mind operates usually, it wanders. It flits from problem to problem, increasing stress and promoting anxiousness and overwhelm. When you are mindful, you focus on a chosen subject, action, or object. It might be your breath, your body, sounds in the environment or an emotion like love. Or the act of walking or gazing at the sky or a crystal.
Concentrate, in a relaxed way, on whatever you choose and become immersed in the experience. Use your senses to engage fully. If you practice walking mindfully, for example, note the way you move and feel the sensations associated with your footsteps. Be aware of your muscles working and the weight of your body as you take steps. If your mind strays, gently bring it back to what you're doing and you'll reduce anxiety and increase calm. It can feel relieving to move attention away from stressful thoughts related to the past or future, and bring it back to direct experience in the present moment.

4. Create a positive intention each morning

First thing in the morning, when you awaken, is a terrific time to set an intention. You program your mind by showing it what you want to focus on during the day. People often concentrate on problems and to-dos as soon as they wake, and guess what? Their minds continue along a negative track.
Each morning, create a positive intention to reduce anxiety and increase calm. Perhaps you'll intend to come up with two positive thoughts every time a negative one arises. That way, you will generate a new neural network to support positive thinking. Or you might intend to carry out a breathing exercise when you feel anxious, inhaling and exhaling at a slow pace through your nose. You might want to think of a word to pair with your inhalation such as, "Breathing in confidence/strength/focus/presence/compassion", "Breathing out negativity".  

5. Meditate

Meditation offers amazing mental health benefits, including a reduction in anxiety, muscle tension, mental scatteredness and increased calmness. As so often with mindful practices, the more you meditate, the easier it becomes to practice. Your brain gets accustomed to meditating and looks forward to the feel-good surge in chemicals provided via its reward center. As Dr. Dan Siegel says, when you meditate, you're creating a state, that over time becomes a trait. You can engage in meditation in several ways. Pick the one that feels right for you. One method is to sit comfortably in a quiet place, close your eyes, and follow your breathing pattern. When your mind wanders, return it to your breath. Don't beat yourself up when your mind strays. It's normal for the most accomplished of meditators to encounter intrusive thoughts much of the time. Practice patience when this happens and tell yourself it's not a problem whatsoever.
Benefits come from learning how to train and stabilize your attention by returning your thoughts to your object of attention again and again. It will get easier, and your anxiety will decline and calmness will increase. Apps like Ten Percent Happier, Insight Timer or Calm can help as they have so many guided meditations that can structure your meditation and remind you to guide your attention back.

6. Check your mindset often throughout the day

It's helpful to monitor your mindset often. Otherwise, you may slip into anxiety mode without recognizing your mood has dipped. If you catch your disposition at the start of a downward spiral, you can stop it from plummeting.
Check in with your thoughts now and then. Are they negative? If so, take steps to ease them. Ask yourself if you have exaggerated a problem, and if so, consider a more accurate, balanced and/or kind thought. Or shift your point of focus entirely to a practical task or preferable topic, a type of attention regulation.

7. Practice gratitude

Gratitude wires your brain for joy. It gets you used to spotting what's great about life, as opposed to what's wrong. Keep a gratitude journal and write in it once a day. Or make a mental list of things to be thankful about whenever you've a spare moment. First thing when you wake up and/or right before bed can be skillful times to practice gratitude.
When an ad comes on, when you're standing in line, for instance, or while you wait for the kettle to boil, bring to mind what makes your life happier, more comfortable, or more wonderful.

8. Keep an anxiety insight journal

Self-awareness can empower you to overcome nervousness. Note events that frequently trigger your anxiety. When you understand what they are, take steps to ameliorate your reaction. If you recognize long car journeys worry you, for instance, think of ways to induce calm while you travel. Light music that uplifts might help. Or sniffing an essential oil that calms the mind, like lavender oil, may do the trick.
Acknowledge anxiety-triggering events and work to lessen their impact on your mental health. You'll learn to associate them with more ease and they'll stop activating fight or flight.

9. Adopt a wind down routine in the evening

Reduce evening and nighttime anxiety by engaging in a wind down routine. The brain associates pleasant routines with stability. They make you feel more secure and can reduce anxiety. As a bonus, winding down every evening will prepare you to sleep well.
It's a good idea to dim the lights and lessen activity that stimulates your brain as the evening progresses. Calming practices, like bathing, listening to gentle music, sleep meditations and reading will help you relax.

10. Relax with guided imagery before you sleep

People with anxiety often worry at night and find it hard to sleep. If you are prone to going over problems when you go to bed, adopt a fresh habit that encourages restful sleep. Picture a beautiful place you would like to visit, or somewhere you've already been and love.
Use your senses to make the imagery seem real. Focus on the sounds you would hear if you were there and the things you would see. If you picture a beach, for example, imagine what warm sand feels like between your toes and feel the sun's warmth on your skin. Hear seabirds call and the waves lap.

Use the practices described and your self-awareness and emotional intelligence will increase. Most importantly, you'll reduce your anxiety and be calmer.