30 ways to less stress
Gulp green tea
This comfort drink naturally revs up the brain’s production of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that helps people feel calm, even when surrounded by complete chaos, explains nutrition researcher, Steven Pratt, M.D., co-author of the book, SuperHealth. Indeed, research suggests that sipping just three 10-ounce mugs daily can help frazzled people feel more collected in as little as 48 hours.
Treat yourself to some TLC
Surprise: A little self-pampering can go a long way to soothing stress. Studies show little self-indulgences like buying a new perfume or switching to a pretty new shade of lipstick, helps women reduce stress for up to 24 hours straight. 'That's because these things focus the mind inward, away from anxiety-inducing distractions,' explains Vincent Giampapa, M.D., and author of The Anti-Aging Solution. 'And that soothes overworked adrenal glands, reducing their output of cortisol, adrenalin, and other draining stress hormones.'
Spruce up your screensaver
Simply gazing at a beautiful beach, forest, field or other tranquil scene stimulates the brain to produce alpha waves, electrical impulses that enhance feelings of relaxation and tranquility, say researchers at the University of Sheffield. And you don’t need to book a tropical cruise to make this stress-busting strategy work for you. Study authors produced these great results simply by asking subjects to gaze at pretty nature photos!
So, sleuth out a soothing shot and load it as a screensaver on your computer for some quick calm.
Go for whole grains
'To quell stress and even full-blown anxiety, steer clear of foods made with white flour, and enjoy 100 percent whole grain breads and other healthy carbs, instead,' suggests Harold Bloomfield, M.D., author of Healing Anxiety Naturally. 'This healthy eating plan calms up to 75 percent of stressed people studied, often in as little as two weeks!'
The reason: White flour is so rapidly absorbed by the gut that it triggers wild ups and downs in blood sugar and that stimulates the adrenal glands to pump out an excess amount of stress hormones, explains Dr. Bloomfield. 'But whole grains are absorbed a lot more slowly, so they keep blood sugar on an even keel and prevent nerve-jangling stress hormone surges.'
Shed your shoes
And take off your socks, too! Walking barefoot on soft carpeting, grass or any other plush surface stimulates pressure points on the soles that signal your brain to release the calming hormone dopamine, explains Elaine Wilkes, Ph.D., author of Nature’s Secret Messages. And research at the School of Complementary Health in Exeter suggests that this sort of gentle foot massage can reduce feelings of stress as much as 33 percent.
The study-proven strategy: Spend 10 minutes walking barefoot on lush grass, or a soft carpet or wiggle your toes along a fluffy pillow, instead.
Keep track of your concerns
Feeling frazzled? Carry a pad and pen with you during the day, and whenever you catch yourself stressing about something, give yourself one mark. At the end of the day, add up your score. As you become aware of how much time you waste worrying, your daily score will automatically go down, say experts at the National Institutes of Mental Health in America.
Why? Their research suggests that worrying is a time-sucking habit that people often fall into unintentionally. However, this stress-shedding trick prompts people to become more cognizant of mindless fretting.
Breathe deeply when you see a dot
A pack of small circle shaped stickers could be the key to calming your nerves.
How? According to Belgian research, spending a few minutes each day breathing slowly and deeply (moving your belly instead of your shoulders) can trigger a 63 percent reduction in stress. 'Deep breathing slows your physiological responses, calming the brain and nervous system the same way meditation does,' explains Herbert Benson, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. 'The problem is that in times of stress, most of us forget to do this.'
But posting dot stickers wherever you’re sure to see them regularly, like on your computer, your mirror and doors can help you quickly decompress. 'Each time you see a dot, that’s a solid, visual reminder to take a deep, calming breath,' explains Dr. Benson. The result: You’ll shed stress in seconds!
Squeeze in some exercise
Just 30 seconds of intense exercise can tame tension for a full hour, say researchers at California’s Stanford University. That’s because, quick bursts of exercise boost production of serotonin and norepinephrine, mood-elevating hormones that help your brain stay 20 percent clearer and calmer during high stress times, explains Dr. Bloomfield. 'Even a quick peddle on a stationary bike, a turbo-fast sweep of the kitchen floor or a quick sprint to the bus stop can give you this great mood boost.'
Munch on trail mix
Suffering from jangled nerves? Start, noshing! According to USDA researchers, trail mixes containing salted nuts, seeds and chocolate chips are the second richest source of magnesium. 'And magnesium is a powerful, natural tranquilizer,' explains cardiologist Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., author of Reverse Heart Disease Now. 'This nutrient naturally relaxes muscles, lowers anxiety levels and even improves sleep quality.' Start snacking on a few handfuls daily, and Cornell researchers say you could be feeling less frazzled in as little as one week.
Recent studies have shown one of the simplest ways to slash your stress levels is to simply sound calm, cool and collected.
Why? Speaking in a relaxed tone of voice has been shown to significantly lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels, often within minutes! 'Although no one’s sure yet why, a person’s speech has a profound effect on their own mood,' explains psychologist John Garrison, Ph.D., former director of Lahey Clinic’s Stress Management Program in America. 'In fact, just speaking more calmly can reduce your own blood pressure as much as 10 percent.'
Put your feelings on paper
Just writing about what’s stressing you out can make you feel far less frazzled, says Garrison. 'Spelling, grammar, writing style and neatness don’t matter one bit, the trick is to just vent,' he says. 'Letting off a little steam in this healthy way can quickly reduce pent-up anger and frustration and that dampens stress hormone output, allowing you to truly relax.' In fact, studies at Stony Brook’s State University of New York and elsewhere show writing about what’s bugging you for just 15 minutes three times weekly is so effective at easing stress, it cuts tension headaches, anxiety and other stress-triggered symptoms almost 30 percent.
Sing in the shower
Getting a little wet and wild can lower heart rate and blood pressure, and trigger slower, deeper, more relaxed abdominal breathing, all in as little as three minutes, say scientists at the University of Wisconsin in America.
The connection: When you sing, you naturally inhale deeply and breathe out in a slow, controlled fashion. And scientists say that breathing strategy naturally calms the brain stem and the cerebral cortex, brain regions that help control everything from heart rate and stress hormone output, to muscle tension and anxiety.
Bonus: Any kind of music will work. The trick is to simply inhale deeply and sing with gusto!
Get a lift from lavender
Just a whiff of this sweet scent has been shown to spur a significant increase in stress-reducing alpha brain waves, often in as little as 60 seconds, say scientists at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. 'You can get this powerful effect from sniffing the real flowers, smelling a lavender-scented candle or just by setting a small bowl of potpourri in the room you most often use,' explains lead researcher Alan Hirsch, M.D., the foundation’s neurological director.
Watch a film
In a study done at Dallas’ University of Texas, 85 percent of people admitted that just crashing on the couch and watching a film was not only one of their favourite ways to relax, it was also their most effective way of chasing away stress!
'Watching an upbeat movie is a fantastic way to relax, escape and get a better perspective on the week’s stresses,' says Garrison. 'It allows you to take a mental break from your worries, and problems are often easier to solve once you’ve had a break from them so you can see them more objectively.' So have a movie night tonight - and call it your stress-therapy!
Head to bed early
Surveys suggest 38 percent of people hit the snooze button at least once every morning. And this simple action can be enough to put your stress-o-meter through the roof.
Why? Being repeatedly jarred awake is as stressful to the brain as chronic sleep deprivation, since it shocks you awake repeatedly, says Dr. Bloomfield.
His advice: Head to bed 30 minutes earlier this week, instead of trying to sneak in more poor-quality winks in the morning, and recent studies reveal you’ll cut your stress hormone output as much as 37 percent.
Spread some good news
Chatting with friends or coworkers about acquaintances, as long as you’re recounting positive stories and passing along praise, helps 96 percent of people reduce their stress levels within 30 minutes. 'That type of positive, uplifting human interaction stimulates the brain’s natural bonding instincts, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and soothing the cortisol-producing adrenal glands,' explains Dr. Benson.
Holding hands for two minutes boosts the brain’s production of oxytocin, a bonding hormone that soothes jangled nerves and lowers blood pressure for an hour or more at a stretch, say researchers at the University of North Carolina. That’s because oxytocin helps soothe the amygdale, the brain region that’s responsible for feelings of anxiety, researchers say.
Can’t spot anyone to snuggle? Cuddling a pet for two minutes offers the same stress-shedding effect.
People who spend at least 20 minutes doing soothing activities like knitting, or scrap booking, enter a light meditative state that dials down their production of cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones by 45 percent, helping them feel calmer and more relaxed for up to three hours afterwards, say Harvard researchers.
Focusing your mind on simple, constructive fine motor tasks activates the brain waves that calm the adrenal glands, making them less likely to fire out a flood of stress hormones when life throws you curves, explains Dr. Sinatra.
Be a busy bee
People who putter around the house doing small tasks like sweeping out a closet, sorting through a junk drawer, or organizing their spice rack, burn off so much mood-dampening cortisol that they feel calmer and happier within 15 minutes, say University of Chicago researchers. Knocking some small, nagging jobs off of your to-do list provides a major feeling of accomplishment and that stimulates the brain to produce a flood of the calming neurotransmitter, dopamine.
'For best results, select a little task that won’t take you more than 20 minutes to finish,' suggests Dr. Sinatra.
Flip through a photo album
Gazing at the photo of a loved one can de-stress you in as little as 60 seconds, by stimulating the release of the calming hormone oxytocin, says Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happy Families.
Can’t cart full-sized photos around on the job? Hang a smaller one on your key chain, attach one to your car dashboard, or tuck one into a pretty locket to look at when you have a harried day.
Sip hot cocoa
It’s packed with phenylethylamine, a natural plant compound that binds to brain cells, boosting their production of the calming neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in as little as five minutes. The study-proven strategy: Enjoy one 8 ounce cup of cocoa daily.
Counting calories? Sniff a few squares of chocolate instead. Just savoring the smell of this sweet treat stimulates cannabinoid receptors, tiny receptor sites on brain nerves that alter brain wave patterns, producing a calm, relaxed sensation in less than two minutes, say UCLA researchers.
Make time for a massage
A five minute daily massage (whether you do it yourself or ask a loved one to help) is so relaxing, it cuts stress hormone production almost in half, and helps women function 50 percent more effectively under pressure, say University of Miami researchers. 'The trick is to lie down, relax and do a two-minute body scan, first, mentally checking your body to find the muscles that are most tense and sore,' says Garrison.
Why? You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck if you massage the sorest muscles, whether it’s your neck, shoulders, lower back or calves, because applying pressure to tight muscles stimulates the release of mood-boosting, calming endorphin hormones, he says.
Enjoy a little bath time
Do you tend to pick speedy showers over leisurely baths, because you always have so much to do after your tub time? Well, consider this: Studies at Florida’s University of Miami suggest that a 20 minute relaxing soak activates the parasympathetic nervous system, a branch of the nervous system that helps calm and soothe the brain, cutting cortisol levels by as much as half and shielding you against stress for up to 12 hours straight!
Dry brushing involves gently rubbing a soft, dry brush all over your legs, arms and back - and for years, it was considered nothing more than a speedy way to boost circulation to the skin. But now doctors at California’s Stanford University say dry-brushing your legs, arms and back for just five minutes can cut edginess by 25 percent for up to three hours by stimulating thousands of nerve endings that work together to lull the central nervous system into a tranquil state.
Their advice: Select a long-handled brush made of natural fibers, like tampico vegetable fibres, to make this stress-buster a breeze.
Give in to giggling
Turns out, laughter really is the best medicine. That’s right, studies show yuking it up with a funny friend dampens stress and anxiety levels 63 percent, making giggles more effective than even yoga.
'Shared laughter activates the maternal response in women, increasing their production of calming dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin hormones, plus it soothes the adrenal glands, so they’re less likely to produce a flood of stress hormones every time life gets a little hectic,' explains Elaine Wilkes, Ph.D.
Make a list of lovely things
Trapped in traffic? People who use chunks of this type of wasted time to jot down five things they’re grateful for spend the rest of their day feeling more optimistic, calmer and happier, thanks to the fact that reminding yourself of some of the blessings in your life automatically dials down your stress hormone output, says Dr. Benson.
'And you don’t have to write down the same five things each time,' he says. 'A sunny day, a delicious lunch, a loved one’s smile...if it made you feel grateful that day, you’ll reap the benefits by putting it on your list.'
Recite your favourite poem
Relaying a poem out loud derails anxiety by forcing you to breathe deeply and rhythmically while focusing fully on the words and the pacing of the lines, according to recent research in the International Journal of Cardiology. And that chases away stressful thoughts, lowers heart rate and triggers a state of deep relaxation within 10 minutes. Any rhythmic poem that forces you to take slow, relaxed breaths as you read will do the trick, say the study authors.
Do a good deed
In a recent study, scientists scanned subjects’ brains as they played a computer game that allowed them to make charity donations or win cash. While both scenarios raised levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine, only charitable donations stimulated a rise in stress-soothing oxytocin.
Interestingly, people who stand the least chance of their good deeds being noticed, such as those who make quick trips to a charity shop, experience the biggest oxytocin boost, notes Dr. Giampapa. 'And that’s because helping others without fanfare activates the genes that elicit the maternal response, one of the most effective ways of soothing your brain when you’re surrounded by chaos.'
Sneak in a few stretches
When your muscles are constantly tense and tight, it stimulates your adrenal glands to produce a steady stream of anxiety-triggering stress hormones like adrenaline. Thankfully, just stretching for two minutes four times daily can relax muscle tension and dial down stress hormone production, boosting calmness and positive moods as much as 60 percent, say Cornell University researchers.
To do: Loosen a tight back, neck and shoulders by doing gentle head rolls, shoulder shrugs and arm and leg stretches, then finish by straightening your now-relaxed spine and reaching for the sky with your finger tips, so your lungs can take in several deep, relaxed breaths before you dive back into your busy day.
Slice some vegetables
The rhythmic action and fine motor control required to do this task reduces stress by soothing the brain’s amygdala, two almond-shaped nerve clusters that kick-start feelings of nervousness, anxiety and even panic when people are under pressure, say UCLA researchers.
Bonus: Ten minutes of chopping will not only soothe your amygdala for up to two hours straight, it will give you enough veggies to make a healthy, soothing batch of your favourite soup or stew!
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