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6 Science-Backed Ways to Reduce Stress and Improve Focus

So often, we spend our days running around trying to juggle work to-dos, family obligations,...

So often, we spend our days running around trying to juggle work to-dos, family obligations, constant phone pings, and personal errands that we forget to come up for air.

Needless to say, this go-go-go culture can leave us pretty darn stressed and unfocused. While being in overdrive may sometimes be necessary, it can wreak havoc on our physical and mental health—not to mention our success—if it becomes our default operation mode.

That’s why making time to recharge is so essential. Doing so doesn’t need to take up a lot of time either. I’ve compiled six science-backed strategies for reducing stress and improving focus that can fit into even the busiest of schedules.

Take a long, deep breath, and let’s dive in.

6 science-backed ways to reduce stress and improve focus

Photo by Emily Wilkerson

1. Practice meditation

There’s a reason some of the most successful people—Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeff Weiner, and Arianna Huffington, just to name a few—swear by meditation for calming the mind and improving focus.

Through meditation, you’re actually training your brain to become calm, mindful, and focused by creating new neural pathways. This is confirmed by more than 200 studies. Not to mention, sitting in silence and taking deep breaths calms the sympathetic nervous system (aka fight-or-flight) and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (aka rest-and-digest) in real time.

To practice, find a quiet spot, sit or lie down comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe deeply, following your breath with your mind as you inhale and exhale. When your attention wanders, simply bring it back to your breath. To further support your journey inward, incorporate meditation tools and crystals into your practice.

Meditating for as little as ten minutes a day has been shown to be enough to reduce stress and improve focus.

2. Get regular exercise

Reduced stress and improved focus are among the many benefits of regular exercise.

Exercise reduces levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also activates the release of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, including endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.

Recent research also shows that physical activity (such as walking or running during your lunch break) positively affects focus for up to an hour. One possible reason this benefit occurs is increased blood flow to the brain following exercise.

Almost any type of exercise will help. Many people find that using large muscle groups in a rhythmic, repetitive fashion (aka “muscle meditation”) works best. Walking, jogging, and swimming are prime examples of this. Even a simple 20-minute stroll can focus the mind and reduce stress.

3. Declutter your space

When you leave the house, do you struggle to find your keys and wallet among all the items on your kitchen table? If so, you’re certainly not alone, but what you may not realize is that there’s a connection between clutter and mental health.

Constant visual reminders of disorganization have been shown to cause higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to feelings of tension and stress.

Clutter can also make it harder for you to focus. This is because our brains can only concentrate on a limited amount of stimuli at a time. As such, piles of papers and knick-knacks can easily draw your attention away from the task at hand. To top it off, disorganization can make it difficult to find things, causing people to lose focus when trying to complete a task.

Take some time to tidy up your living and work spaces and watch your stress plummet and your focus get laser sharp.

4. Improve your sleep

You only need one night of fitful sleep to understand the impact a lack of shuteye can have on your stress levels and focus. Poor sleep can cause your body to pump out more stress hormones, namely cortisol.

Without sleep, the brain struggles to function properly. Because they don’t have time to recuperate, neurons become overworked and less capable of focusing and performing optimally.

If you’re having trouble clocking in seven to eight hours of sleep a night, try:

  • Avoiding digital screens a couple of hours before bed

  • Keeping your phone out of your room at night

  • Using blackout curtains or an eye mask

  • Winding down before bed with soft music, a warm bath, deep breathing, or meditation

  • Avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the evening (or better yet, altogether!)

6 science-backed ways to reduce stress and improve focus

5. Spend time in nature

Have you ever spent time in nature and returned home feeling calm, rejuvenated, and focused? This wasn’t a coincidence—it’s science!

Research has shown that as little as ten minutes of sitting or walking in a natural environment can lower stress, ease brain fatigue, and sharpen focus. These benefits are said to be caused by a reduction in stress hormones and activation of certain regions of the brain.

Don’t have easy access to a natural environment? Studies show that even just viewing green spaces from your window or looking at images of nature can reduce stress and improve concentration. As little as 40 seconds of viewing can help!

6. Stay fueled with healthy food

Think your diet has nothing to do with your stress levels and ability to focus? Think again!

The foods you eat directly influence the structure and function of your brain, which, in turn, influences everything from mood to focus to stress levels.

Additionally, about 95% of the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, is produced in the gut. Research shows that people with higher levels of good bacteria in their guts are better able to produce serotonin, leading to lower stress, better mood, and better overall cognition.

With these factors in mind, it’s important to choose high-quality, nourishing foods that support brain health and promote a healthy gut microbiome. Center your diet around whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, healthy oils (olive oil, avocado oil, etc.), and small amounts of meat (if you wish).

Self-Care Is the Solution

Taking care of your mental and physical well-being is the best thing you can do to reduce stress and improve focus.

I know it can be challenging to put these strategies in motion, so if you feel like you could use some support and a jumpstart, I welcome you to join us at my three-day Rooted Retreat from Friday, September 23rd to Monday, September 26th in Arizona.

From a private, modern farmhouse in the Sonoran Desert, you’ll learn tools and gain insight that will support you in managing day-to-day stress and creating balance in your mind and body.

6 science-backed ways to reduce stress and improve focus

Photo by Suzy Goodrick


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