Close up smiling young North African woman posing by green wallLife has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns. While those turns can bring joy and delight, they can also create circumstances that are less than desirable. When this happens we have more control over a situation than we may believe. There are five simple things you can start doing today to relieve stress and feel happier.

1. Breathe deeply

Deep breathing is a practice that engages the muscle above your stomach called the diaphragm as opposed to simply breathing in your upper chest. Also known as “belly breathing” or diaphragmatic breathing, it involves taking deeper breaths that fill the entire belly with air. There are many exercises to help master this technique, but the benefits are clear. Known as the breath used during meditation, this type of breathing may reduce stress levels, regulate body processes and lower your blood pressure while clearing your mind from unnecessary chatter.

2. Meditate

Meditation is an ancient practice that involves quieting and centering the mind. While it sounds simple, it actually takes quite a bit of discipline to practice the art of a still mind and body. Meditation can truly benefit your mind and body by helping you become more aware and intentional about your actions and by teaching you to respond rather than react. It may also lower your stress and anxiety levels while improving your focus, concentration and self-esteem.

3. Do something kind

Doing a good deed does more than just help another out. In fact, your body responds with certain chemical reactions when you engage in random acts of kindness by releasing dopamine and oxytocin, two feel-good hormones that provide a sense of contentment, well-being and happiness. But, just one or two acts of kindness aren't enough to sustain these hormones long-term. Kind acts need to be performed regularly to realize the greatest benefit.

4. Be grateful

It has been suggested that taking time at the end of each day to write five things you're grateful for can pay you back tenfold. We as humans tend to focus on things that may have gone wrong and to even ruminate or hyper-focus on those scenarios. Spending time with thoughts of gratitude can shift our focus from the sometimes toxic thoughts that can fill our minds and bring us back to a place of positivity. Physiologically dopamine is released every time we express or receive gratitude which brings an overall feeling of contentment, peace of mind and happiness. Plus, let's be honest, it just feels better to focus on things that are positive rather than negative.

5. Limit social media

Social media can certainly serve beneficial purposes and can even help us connect with others near and far, but too much can begin to have negative consequences. Studies show that too much exposure to social platforms can increase anxiety and feelings of isolation while prompting feelings of inadequacy or the fear of missing out. Studies have shown that many times individuals will use social media as a security blanket of sorts and will turn to this usage instead of connecting with live human beings. Taking a break or limiting usage can have a strong benefit on your mental health.

Life can certainly be a compilation of joy, excitement, disappointment and worry. It can feel like a roller coaster! But, we can make certain choices to help us navigate life with confidence, happiness and gratitude.

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