Don’t get us wrong: we love fall. The cooler temps mean more romance, more seasonal cocktails, and more delightful opportunities for treating yourself to a totally stylish new look. But the end of lazy summer also marks the return of something not quite so warm and cozy: the daily grind. Of course, that means the return of daily stress, too.
To help you out, we’ve compiled the most effective techniques for de-stressing yourself at a moment’s notice. So relax, breathe, center yourself, and read on—and you’ll be feeling better instantly. And if you’re feeling as though your stress is hurting your game at work, don’t miss these 20 Ways Smart Workers Keep Cool Under Pressure.
Smile (even if it’s forced)
It sounds crazy, but when it comes to de-stressing, it’s often helpful to “fake it ‘til you make it.” According to a University of Kansas study, forcing a fake smile actually helps reduce stress.
The study participants subjects were asked to plunge their hands into a bucket of ice water. Some of the participants were asked to force a smile. And yes, you guessed it: The researchers monitoring the subjects recorded lower blood pressure in the people who smiled through through the icy experience. (What’s more, the smilers reported less anxiety than those who showed neutral or distressed expressions.) For more self-improvement advice, be sure to Steal These 16 Mental-Health Secrets of Famous Geniuses.
Sit up straight
Research published in the journal Health Psychology finds that sitting upright in the face of stress can boost self-esteem and fend off further angst. The idea is based on the concept of “embodied cognition,” which maintains that our bodies impact our emotions (and vice versa).
So plant both feet on the ground, look straight ahead, straighten your back while sitting tall, and feel your shoulder blades pull back and down. And remember: bad posture might be bringing you down in other ways. Keeping your back erect is one of the 15 Ways to be a Higher-Energy Person Immediately.
No, not that way. We’re talking about reflexology here. The Mayo Clinic describes reflexology as the application of pressure to areas on the feet, hands, and ears—and it could be a great way to alleviate stress.
Now, the science on this is far from proven, but proponents say that by pressing parts of one of hands with the fingers of the other you could soon experience relief from whatever has you stressing out. They say that pressure on and around the thumbs will help combat emotions like anxiety and worry, pressure on the index fingers can help combat feelings of fear, and probing points around your pinky fingers will help you increase optimism and self-confidence, as well as reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Shout Your Favorite Curse Word
Researchers at Keele University, in Staffordshire, England, asked a group of volunteers hold their hands in freezing cold water. On their first go round, the volunteers were asked to turn the air blue with expletives. The second time around they were only permitted to utter inoffensive phrases. When they used strong language, they were able to keep their hands in longer. The researchers conclusion? Foul language can be a potent stress reliever.
Turn on some Dave Chappelle
Laughter is the best medicine. So cliche, right? Well there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that mirth actually can be effective at treating a range of maladies, stress among them. So next time you’re feeling wound up, do yourself a favor and revisit this mirth-inducing gem from yesteryear.
Being President of the United States can be a pretty stressful gig, and many presidents have turned to doodling to help cope, and often during major turning points in their presidency. According to an article in The Atlantic: “Dwight Eisenhower drew sturdy, 1950s images: tables, pencils, nuclear weapons. Herbert Hoover’s scrawl provided the pattern for a line of rompers. Ronald Reagan dispensed cheery cartoons to aides.” So next time you’re feeling stressed out, grab a pen and paper and see if the same technique works for you.
Take a Quick Shower
The therapeutic use of water has been with us for all of recorded history. While you may not have a caldarium in your house—or even a serviceable tub—you probably do have a shower. Thirty seconds of simply enjoying the sensation of hot water running over your body can be a great way to rid yourself of stress. It’s an added bonus that hot shower is also one of the tickets to a (doctor-approved!) good night’s sleep.
Chew Some Gum
Here’s something to chew on: “An investigation into the effects of gum chewing on mood and cortisol levels during psychological stress,” which was presented at the 2008 10th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine, found that chewing gum helped reduce stress among individuals in the lab.
Make a Friendly Gesture
When we’re feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, many of us feel like we’re unable to give anything to anyone else. Studies have shown, however, that the act of giving can activate the area of the brain associated with positive feelings, lifting your spirits, and de-stressing. (Bonus: the more you give, the better you’ll feel.) Maybe it’s helping someone lift a stroller up a flight of subway stairs, dropping a dollar in a street performer’s hat, or paying the toll of the person behind us. It’ll take less than 30 seconds and you’ll feel the effects instantaneously.
Yes, Sweat It Out
According to the Mayo Clinic, virtually any form of exercise can be an effective as a stress reliever. Most significantly, it increases the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters while improving your mood and taking your mind off of whatever it is that’s stressing you out.
Crank Up Your Spotify
In 2004, researchers conducted a meta-analytic review of research articles that used music to decrease arousal due to stress. They found that both music alone and music assisted relaxation techniques significantly decreased stress. Your move? Find 30 seconds of music that has a calming effect and have it handy for when your temperature begins to rise.
Play with Your Pet
Add stress relief to the list of benefits of owning a pet. A recent study found that when participants were presented with stressful tasks in four different situations—alone, with their spouse, with their pet, or with both their spouse and their pet—they experienced the lowest stress response and the quickest recovery in the situation where they were only with their pet.
If you’re desperate for a quick fix, consider an aggression exercise. (However, if you’re a man and you have anger and/or stress issues, we’d recommend you opt for relaxation exercises, instead.) Consider this desktop punch ball, which might just be your stress relief ticket.
To better fathom the stress relieving power of stretching, researchers from Spain’s Universidad de Zaragoza enlisted 134 office workers, and made half of the group stretch once per day over a three month period. The stretchees reported reduced levels of anxiety, body pain, and exhaustion, as well better vitality, mood, and flexibility. While their stretching regimen was a full 10 minutes long, much shorter stretches could yield a positive effect. The Mayo Clinic advises taking micro-breaks every 20 to 30 minutes.
Disconnect from Tech
Constant cellphone buzzing and email alerts keep us in fight-or-flight mode by stimulating bursts of adrenaline. Adrenaline served our ancestors well when they ran into lions and tigers. But these days, adrenaline mostly serves to stress us out terribly. So take 30 seconds to power down or silence your devices and return to them an hour later.
Find Your Favorite Pose
According to Douglass Dupler and Rebecca Frey, writing in the Gale Encyclopedia of Fitness, yoga can provide the same benefits as “any well-designed exercise program, increasing general health and stamina, reducing stress, and improving those conditions brought about by sedentary lifestyles.” While most yoga practices are 60 to 90 minutes long, holding a single pose may, like stretching, yield great stress-busting benefits.
It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: meditation is one of the greatest stress relief measures there is—and you needn’t go full Buddhist for hours on end to experience its mind-cooling benefits. According to a review of 47 studies published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014, mindfulness meditation was effective in reducing anxiety as well as depression and pain, and research out of Georgetown University Medical Center finds that after an eight-week course in mindful meditation, people with anxiety disorders lowered inflammatory markers and stress hormones in their blood by 15 percent. Download an app like Headspace, which will walk you through guided stress-busters, work to improve your breathing, and, in turn, bring your cortisol levels (yes, that’s your stress hormone) back to normal in short order.
Have a Quickie
Think that 30 seconds is a woefully inadequate amount of time in which to cram a sexual experience? Well, consider this: research in Dr. Harry Fisch’s 2014 book, The New Naked: The Ultimate Sex Education for Grown-Ups, found that 43 percent of sex acts are completed within just two minutes. “Sex is a powerful, powerful stress-buster,” says Daniel Kirsch, Ph.D., president of the American Institute of Stress. “It releases endorphins and induces deep relaxation.” (Worth noting: masturbation was not shown to be an effective stress reliever. Go figure.) If you want to spice things up between the sheets, try out some of the 30 Best Sex Toys That Will Enhance Your Love Life.
Kiss your Stress Goodbye
If having sex in 30 seconds or less isn’t going to work, an easier activity that produces similar results is kissing. Research from 2009 found that locking lips unleashes chemicals that ease stress hormones in both sexes.
Make a List of Things You’re Grateful For
Research has shown that taking a little time out to be grateful for what you’ve got is a potent stress buster. “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and facilitate more efficient sleep.”
Research has also shown that stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people and that people who keep a gratitude journal have a reduced dietary fat intake. How much lower? As much as 25 percent lower. (Something to be grateful for indeed!)
Squeeze a Stress Ball
Research has shown that stress balls, fidget spinners, and other tactile playthings can improve focus, attention, and memory—and can therefore be an indirect reducer of stress.
Take the Deepest Breath You Can
Deep breathing—which encourages the full exchange of oxygen in the body—activates your body’s calming parasympathetic response and lowers levels of inflammatory compounds linked to stress. Do it right by pushing your belly out on an inhale and contract in when you exhale. (Your belly should rise when you breathe in and shrink when you breathe out.) Take a few deep breaths with a hand on your stomach to make sure you’re doing it right.
Call Your BFF
A strong support system is often linked with resilience in the face of stress. The best tactic is to focus on quality, rather than quantity, of the people in your life. A study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that simply being around one close friend can decrease cortisol levels, making it one of the more effective stress busters.
Soak in Those Rays
For many of us, a relaxing vacation involves lying on a tropical beach and soaking up the sun for hours and days on end. But even a brief exposure to sun is is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting one’s mood, helping people person feel calm and de-stressed.
Eat your Greens
A study from the University of Otago found that students who ate more fruits and vegetables also tended to feel calmer and happier. Take 10 seconds to put a variety of different colored products into a blender. The different colors will give you a broader schmear of nutrients. (Kale, blueberries, raspberries, bananas, etc.) Then take another 20 seconds to slurp that delicious stress reliever down.
Smell Something Soothing
In a 2016 study from the University of Montana, researchers gave one group of students essential oils (they could chose from chamomile, clary sage, or lavender, all diluted with 10% jojoba oil) and were told to huff twice daily, while a second group of participants got no soothing scents. The treatment group reported lower levels of anxiety and stress and increased levels of sleep quality and energy. In contrast, the control group reported higher levels of anxiety and stress, and decreased levels of sleep quality and energy. Researchers concluded: “The results suggest aroma inhalation may reduce stress among college students.”
Take Two Steps Outside
In a recent study, British researchers found a direct link between time spent in green space and reduced stress levels. (The Japanese call it “forest bathing.”) Our bodies were designed to be in and near green spaces, forests, or water, say researchers, and that’s why we find a bucolic milieu so agreeable. Can’t get outside for 30 seconds? Some research suggests that even looking at photos of nature can calm stressed minds.
Drink Tea Instead of Coffee
Caffeine can give you a much-needed energy boost, but if you consume too much you could elevate your stress levels and the hormones associated with them. Instead of coffee, try tea. In a another British study, people who drank four cups of black tea throughout the day experienced a 47 percent decrease in cortisol.
Bust a Quick Move
Earlier we told you that both exercise and music have been demonstrated to reduce stress. Put those two things together and you can dance your stress away in short order.
Look at a Happy Photo
With Facebook and Instagram, it’s never been easier to find and enjoy images that we associate with our own happiness or with that of our friends, families, or co-workers. Next time you’re feeling out of sorts and stressed out, revisit pictures from a great vacation, a fun wedding, or a big night on the town, and remind yourself of how fun life can be. Now, are you feeling the tension melting off your shoulders? Good! Keep improving your days with the 10 Best Foods for Over-40 Brains.
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