Even as hope appears on the horizon with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic now that vaccine rollout is ramping up, Americans remain besieged by unprecedented anxiety. As such, your personal threshold for stress is probably lower right now, which means you may find yourself going from zero to panic in mere moments. To combat this overwhelm, it’s helpful to have a number of tools on tap—and you’d be hard-pressed to find one with a better endorsement than box breathing, a calming technique used by elite U.S. Navy SEALs.
The practice itself, which gets its name because there are four equal parts to it, is super simple. It works on the principle that slowing down your breathing helps you to relax, increases your oxygen intake, releases tension, and stimulates the vagus nerve, which is the longest nerve in your body and starts in the brain. One of its main functions is to slow the sympathetic stress response, says Erika Polsinelli, a Kundalini yoga teacher and founder of Evolve by Erika, a virtual wellness center. She points out that some pilot research published in the journal, Brain Stimulation, shows that stimulating it may improve anxiety.
And the more you do box breathing on a regular basis, the more you will notice stress doesn’t affect you the same way, says Rabinowitz. “So absolutely use it when needed, but don’t just wait for a stressful moment,” she suggests. “Find five minutes wherever you can, and watch the way you react to life start to change.”
How to do box breathing
Set a timer for five minutes.
Sit with a straight spine on the floor or in a chair with your feet flat.
When you get a high blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office, it might be tough for you to understand exactly what impact those numbers can make on your overall health. After all, high blood pressure (a.k.a. hypertension) has no unusual day-to-day symptoms.
But the truth is that having high blood pressure is a serious health risk—it boosts the chances of leading killers such as heart attack and stroke, as well as aneurysms, cognitive decline, and kidney failure. What’s more, high blood pressure was a primary or contributing cause of death for nearly 500,000 people in 2018, per the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Even scarier? One in five U.S. adults with high blood pressure don’t know they have it, per the CDC. If you haven’t had your numbers checked in at least two years, see a doctor. Anything above 130/80 mmHg is considered high. (Systolic blood pressure is the top number; diastolic, the bottom.)
Although medication can lower blood pressure, it may cause side effects such as leg cramps, dizziness, and insomnia. The good news is that most people can bring their numbers down naturally, without using drugs. “Lifestyle changes are an important part of prevention and treatment of high blood pressure,” says Brandie D. Williams, M.D., a cardiologist at Texas Health Stephenville and Texas Health Physicians Group.
You’ve quit smoking. You’re paying attention to your weight. Now, try these natural ways to lower your blood pressure—no pills necessary.
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1. Get more exercise.
Regular exercise, even as simple as walking, seems to be just as effective at lowering blood pressure as commonly used BP drugs, according to a 2018 meta-analysis of hundreds of studies. Exercise strengthens the heart, meaning it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood. Dr. Williams recommends shooting for 30 minutes of cardio on most days. Over time, you can keep challenging your ticker by increasing speed, upping distance, or adding weights. Losing even a little weight will also help ease hypertension.
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2. Let yourself relax.
Our bodies react to stress by releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can raise your heart rate and constrict blood vessels, causing your blood pressure to spike. But breathing exercises and practices like meditation, yoga, and tai chi can help keep stress hormones—and your blood pressure—in check, Dr. Williams says. Start with five minutes of calming breathing or mindfulness in the morning and five minutes at night, then build up from there.
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3. Cut down on salt.
Although not everyone’s blood pressure is particularly salt-sensitive, everyone could benefit from cutting back, says Eva Obarzanek, Ph.D., research nutritionist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The American Heart Association recommends aiming for 1,500 mg of sodium in a day, and certainly no more than 2,300 mg (about a teaspoon). Obarzanek suggests treading with caution around packaged and processed foods, including secret salt bombs like bread, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches.
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4. Pick potassium-rich foods.
Getting 2,000 to 4,000 mg of potassium a day can help lower blood pressure, says Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. (The nutrient encourages the kidneys to excrete more sodium through urination.) We all know about the potassium in bananas, but foods like potatoes, spinach, and beans actually pack more potassium than the fruit. Tomatoes, avocados, edamame, watermelon, and dried fruits are other great sources.
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5. Adopt the DASH diet.
Alongside the Mediterranean diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is consistently ranked as one of the absolute healthiest eating plans—and it was developed specifically to lower blood pressure without medication. The diet emphasizes veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy, capping daily sodium intake at 2,300 mg, with an ideal limit at that all-important 1,500 mg. Research shows DASH can reduce BP in just four weeks and even aid weight loss.
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6. Indulge in dark chocolate.
The sweet is rich in flavanols, which relax blood vessels and boost blood flow, and research suggests that regular dark chocolate consumption could lower your blood pressure. Experts haven’t determined an ideal percentage of cocoa, says Vivian Mo, M.D., clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, but the higher you go, the more benefits you’ll get. Chocolate can’t be your main strategy for managing blood pressure, Mo says—but when you’re craving a treat, it’s a healthy choice.
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7. Drink wisely.
Too much booze is known to raise blood pressure—but having just a little bit could do the opposite. Light-to-moderate drinking (one drink or fewer per day) is associated with a lower risk for hypertension in women, per a study following nearly 30,000 women. One drink means 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits. “High levels of alcohol are clearly detrimental,” Obarzanek says, “but moderate alcohol is protective of the heart. If you are going to drink, drink moderately.”
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8. Switch to decaf.
A 2016 meta-analysis of 34 studies revealed that the amount of caffeine in one or two cups of coffee raises both systolic and diastolic blood pressure for up to three hours, tightening blood vessels and magnifying the effects of stress. “When you’re under stress, your heart starts pumping a lot more blood, boosting blood pressure,” says James Lane, Ph.D., a Duke University researcher who studies caffeine and cardiovascular health. “And caffeine exaggerates that effect.” Decaf has the same flavor without the side effects.
9. Take up tea.
It turns out that lowering high blood pressure is as easy as one, two, tea. Adults with mildly high blood pressure who sipped three cups of naturally caffeine-free hibiscus tea daily lowered their systolic BP by seven points in six weeks, a 2009 study reported. And a 2014 meta-analysis found that consuming both caffeinated and decaf green tea is associated with significantly lowering BP over time. Tea’s polyphenols and phytochemicals (nutrients found only in fruits and veggies) could be behind its benefits.
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10. Work less.
Putting in more than 40 hours per week at the office raises your risk of hypertension by 17%, according to a study of more than 24,000 California residents. Working overtime takes away time for exercise and healthy cooking, says Haiou Yang, Ph.D., the study’s lead researcher. Not everyone can clock out early, but if you work a 9 to 5, try to log off at a decent hour so you can work out, cook, and relax. (To get in this habit, set an end-of-day reminder on your work computer and peace out as soon as you can.)
11. Sit less, too.
In the age of working from home, it’s easier than ever to accidentally sit at your desk all day. Study after study after study has shown that interrupting prolonged sitting time at work can reduce hypertension, working in tandem with other practices like exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep. Simply get up for a bit every 20 to 30 minutes, and at least every hour—even non-exercise activities like standing and light walking really can lower BP over time, especially if you start to sit less and less.
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12. Relax with music.
The right tunes (and a few deep breaths) can help bring your blood pressure down, according to research out of Italy. Researchers asked 29 adults who were already taking BP medication to listen to soothing classical, Celtic, or Indian music for 30 minutes daily while breathing slowly. When they followed up with the subjects six months later, their blood pressure had dropped significantly. Louder, faster music probably won’t do the trick, but there’s no harm in blissing out to an ambient track or two.
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13. Try fermented foods.
A 2020 meta-analysis of over 2,000 patients found that eating fermented foods—specifically supplements made from fermented milk—was associated with a moderate reduction in blood pressure in the short term. The culprit could be the bacteria living in these foods, which might produce certain chemicals that lower hypertension when they reach the blood. Other fermented foods, including kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut, haven’t been studied in the same way, but they probably can’t hurt.
14. Seek help for snoring.
Loud, incessant snoring is a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disorder that causes brief but dangerous breathing interruptions. Up to half of sleep apnea patients also live with hypertension, possibly due to high levels of aldosterone, a hormone that can boost blood pressure. Fixing sleep apnea could be helpful for improving BP, says Robert Greenfield, M.D., medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology & Cardiac Rehabilitation at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute.
15. Focus on protein.
Replacing refined carbohydrates (like white flour and sweets) with foods high in soy or milk protein (like tofu and low-fat dairy) can bring down systolic blood pressure in those with hypertension, findings suggest. “Some patients get inflammation from refined carbohydrates,” says Matthew J. Budoff, M.D., F.A.C.C., professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine and director of cardiac CT at the Division of Cardiology at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, “which will increase blood pressure.”
You woke up to a leak in the kitchen, narrowly avoided a fender bender en route to the office and now you have 50 “urgent” emails to weed through before you see your boss. (Oh, and it’s only 11:00 a.m.) How the hell are you going to make it through this day without blowing a gasket? The answer: Alternate nostril breathing.
So What is Alternate Nostril Breathing?
We came across this tip on our friend Grace Atwood’s blog and were immediately intrigued. Thought to harmonize both hemispheres of the brain, nadi shodhana is a form of meditation so easy that you don’t even realize you’re doing it. We gave it a go on a stressful morning and are pleased to report that it seriously works. Intrigued? Read Grace’s tutorial below.
And How Exactly Do I Try Alternate Nostril Breathing?
“You can do this wherever you are, standing or seated, although I prefer to practice it seated with closed eyes. Take your right hand, curl the ring and pinky fingers into the base of the palm, join the middle and index fingers together, pointing the thumb upright.
4 Seconds: Gently press the extended two fingers to close off the left nostril as you inhale for a count of 4 through the right nostril.
8 Seconds: Close your right nostril by pressing down with the thumb, simultaneously releasing closure of the left nostril as you exhale out of the left nostril for a count of 4.
12 Seconds: Inhale for a count of 4 through the left nostril, keeping the right nostril closed with the thumb.
16 Seconds: Press the two fingers against the left nostril as you release the thumb from the right nostril to exhale out for a count of 4.”
That’s it, folks: A total headspace reset in 16 seconds.
Article by email@example.com (Grace Beuley Hunt) for purewow
It is important to spend time alone. For introverts, it allows us much needed time to recharge our batteries. However, for all of us, it is a great time to check in with ourselves and develop healthy relationships with ourselves in the process.
Spending time alone is the perfect way to really get to know ourselves, to hear our inner voice and develop a friendship with ourselves. Not to mention doing things alone pushes our comfort zone. In some ways, we are forced to be more social and that can open the door for new relationships to enter our lives. Choosing to be alone is one thing, however, being thrown into it by outside forces such as a divorce, a death, a move or change in friendships can be difficult to get used to.
We will all face times in our lives when we have to spend time alone so getting used to alone time is something we should all try to embrace in some way or another.
To help you develop more independence in your life here are 70 ideas of ways to spend time alone. Are you ready to push your comfort zone and have some solo fun? Good, let’s do this!
Go for a walk in the park
Eat at your favorite restaurant
Learn to knit
Try paint by numbers
Volunteer for a cause you love
Have a solo picnic
Read a book in the park
Go to the beach and soak in the sun
Try a yoga class
Head to a coffee shop and people watch
Go to an arcade and play a few games
See a daytime movie
Binge watch an awesome Netflix series
Bake something fabulous for yourself
Try meal prepping for your week ahead
Start a garden
Take an online course
Try a night class
Get a massage
Go to the spa
Get your hair done
Get a manicure or pedicure
Go window shopping
Have a solo lunch date with yourself and your favorite magazine
Check out your local farmers market
Go for a bike ride
Declutter your home
Take a road trip
Learn about astrology
Watch some live music
See a play at your local theatre
Create a vision board
Give yourself a face mask
Do at home yoga
Drive somewhere magical and watch a sunrise or sunset
Go on a hike
Start a gratitude list
Watch your favorite movie with some popcorn
Head to a local museum
Write a list of your monthly or yearly goals
Grab your favorite latte and browse in a bookstore
Join a meditation or yoga retreat
Try solo traveling
Take a cooking class
Do a DIY project
Start a puzzle
Start a home reno project
Take a midday nap
Have an at-home dance party
Feed the ducks at the park
Listen to a podcast
Learn a musical instrument
Head to the library
Learn a new language
Play a free online game
Get a bubble bath
Rearrange your bedroom
Fill a photo album
Plan a trip
Order pizza and stay in
Explore a new town
Watch your old favorite music videos
Try on some new makeup at Sephora
Note: This article was written in 2016. I am alerted that this site is not secure. Not sure what that means, but do take care if you’re asked for personal information.
“I just want someone to talk to, and a little of that human touch. Just a little of that human touch.” It looks like Bruce Springsteen was onto something. We really do need human touch, and not just a little–we actually need it a lot. We’ve needed it since the day we are born and throughout our lives.
A world without touch is hard to imagine, but as we live more isolated lives and interact less, this can indeed become a problem. Browse through the following gallery and learn why human touch is so important and why we all need it.
Cabin fever is a popular term for a relatively common reaction to being isolated or confined for an extended period of time. Cabin fever is not a specific diagnosis, but rather a constellation of symptoms that can occur under these circumstances.
If you are experiencing cabin fever as a result of social distancing or self-quarantine in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you may be feeling additional stress beyond that which stems from simply being isolated. There are ways to combat the anxiety you may be feeling.
Not everyone suffering from cabin fever will experience exactly the same symptoms, but many people report feeling intensely irritable or restless. Other commonly experienced effects are:
Lack of patience
Sadness or depression
Note that these symptoms may also be indicative of a wide range of other disorders. If these symptoms are distressing or impact your functioning, a trained mental health professional could help you determine if you have a treatable disorder.
If your symptoms are relatively mild, taking active steps to combat your feelings may be enough to help you feel better. If they are impacting you more significantly, they are best addressed with the assistance of a therapist or other mental health professional.
Get Out of the House
If you are able to go outside, even for a short time, take advantage of that opportunity. Exposure to daylight can help regulate the body’s natural cycles, and exercise releases endorphins, creating a natural high.1 Even a quick stroll can help you feel better quickly. If you are not able to leave the house at all, get close to a window and start moving around.
Maintain Normal Eating Patterns
For many of us, a day stuck at home is an excuse to overindulge in junk food. Others skip meals altogether. However, eating right can increase our energy levels and motivation. You may feel less hungry if you are getting less exercise, but monitor your eating habits to ensure that you maintain the proper balance of nutrition. Limit high-sugar, high-fat snacks and drink plenty of water.Stress-Relieving Techniques to Stop Emotional Eating
When you are stuck in the house, you may be more likely to while away the time doing nothing of importance. Set daily and weekly goals, and track your progress toward completion. Make sure that your goals are reasonable, and reward yourself for meeting each milestone.Self-Improvement Goal Setting Tips
Use Your Brain
Although TV is a distraction, it is also relatively mindless. Work crossword puzzles, read books or play board games. Stimulating your mind can help keep you moving forward and reduce feelings of isolation and helplessness.2
Even if you cannot leave the house, find a way to stay physically active while indoors. Regular physical activity can help burn off any extra energy you have from being cooped up indoors. Indoor exercise ideas include workout videos, bodyweight workouts, and online workout routines.
A Word From Verywell
While staying indoors and social distancing may run counter to our instinct for socialization, it is imperative that we heed the strict guidelines given by the CDC to help minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Ignoring these recommendations will result in an increase in the number of symptomatic cases and deaths.
It is important to take this situation seriously and face the necessity of being stuck indoors with ‘cabin fever.’ Read a book, play board games, watch television, and talk to friends via FaceTime—but stay inside.
Between combining finances, raising children, and the increased household chores, being married can certainly be a source of stress. But, it turns out, having a spouse can also reduce anxiety as well. A new study published in the journal PLOS One has provided evidence that having a spouse by your side can be a real stress reliever in a moment of crisis.
For the study, Wendy Birmingham, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, and her colleagues asked 40 married couples to complete a challenging task on a computer while an infrared camera continuously measured the size of their pupils. When we are stressed or scared, our pupils dilate, so the camera provided a biological sign of how participants were responding to the pressure of the assignment. Some of the couples had to do the task separately, whereas others completed it while their spouse was by their side.
While all of the participants showed signs of stress when initially taking on the task, the ones who had their spouses sitting next to them throughout the ordeal calmed down significantly sooner than those who had to do it alone. They were able to complete the assignment at lower stress levels overall than their counterparts who were flying solo.
“When we have a spouse next to us and with us, it really helps us navigate and get through the stress we have to deal with in life,” Birmingham said.
Interestingly enough, a 2018 study found that when romantic partners hold hands, their breathing, heart rate, and even brain wave patterns actually sync up, which enables them to relieve both emotional and physical pain. But this new BYU study is unique in that it used a more biological means of measuring stress, as opposed to relying on surveys.
“The neat thing is that the pupils respond within 200 milliseconds to the onset of a stressor,” said Steven Luke, a psychology professor at BYU and co-author of the study. “It can immediately measure how someone responds to stress and whether having social support can change that. It’s not just a different technique, it’s a different time scale.”
The study also builds upon previous research that being married can help lower your blood pressure, body mass index, and cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of heart disease and dementia, and even boost your overall longevity.