For your ancestors who hunted and gathered their own food and ran from bears, stress was a helpful motivator that ignited their critical fight-or-fight survival mode. In modern-day society, the stressors you experience often feel less motivational and more like persistent pests you just want to go away.
Although stress still serves a purpose and can be positive in small doses, chronic stress isn’t good for anyone. Research has shown a connection between prolonged stress and health problems like high-blood pressure, obesity, depression, and anxiety.
Some well-known and popular stress-reduction techniques come in the form of exercise, yoga, meditation, breath work, sleep, and gratitude practices. However, there are a handful of other stress-relievers that may not have made it onto your radar—until now.
1. Mindfully Clean Your Home
Researchers have proven that doing repetitive, and what some would consider mundane, tasks, like cleaning your home or raking leaves in your backyard, can dial back stress levels. The key: The tasks must be done mindfully, where you’re completely immersed in the activity and not thinking of other things or multi-tasking.
For example, researchers at Florida State University observed a group of 51 students who partook in mindful dishwashing. In other words, the students focused on the feel of the dishes, the smell of the soap, and the warmth of the water. The students reported a decrease in nervousness by 27 percent and an increase in mental inspiration by 25 percent.
Any repetitive activity could have similar stress-reduction benefits. And, if it’s a chore that needs to be done, simply getting the task off of your to-do list could also relieve some stress.
2. Try a Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets, such as the Gravity Blanket, are engineered to feel like 7 to 12 percent of your body weight. They replicate the sensations that coincide with being held or hugged, and simulate deep-touch pressure, which has been shown to relax the central nervous system and help with autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety.
Data obtained during a 32-person research study on the effectiveness of weighted blankets revealed that 63 percent reported lower anxiety after use, and 78 percent said they preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality.
Another recent study found that 55 percent of individuals who had previously experienced suboptimal sleep reported a reduction in overall stress when they used the Gravity Blanket.
3. Sit or Stand Up Straight
There’s a correlation between sitting or standing up straight and higher self-esteem and positive mood, and, therefore, lower perceived levels of stress. Next time you feel inclined to slouch in front of your computer or hunch over your grocery cart, remember to tighten up your core, push back your shoulders, and sit or stand up nice and straight.
4. Be Physically Affectionate
Being affectionate is often associated with some form of touch—kissing, hugging, snuggling, holding hands, or having sex. These are also great ways to deeply connect with another person.
Kory Floyd, an associate professor at the Arizona State University Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, has devoted his career to studying affectionate communication and its ability to help reduce stress. In one study, he proved that those who engaged in affectionate behavior experienced accelerated cortisol (stress hormone) recovery after being exposed to acute stressors.
In addition to aiding in cortisol recovery, physical affection elevates oxytocin, a feel-good chemical that has a calming effect on the body. If you have a special person in your life, don’t hold back when it comes to smooching, and giving and receiving all of the physical affection that comes with being romantically involved with someone. If you don’t have a significant other, hug your friends and family members more. Unless someone truly doesn’t enjoy being touched (they will let you know!), your hugs will help dissolve their stress and yours.
5. Use Your Hands More
Stimulating certain areas and lines on the palms of the hands helps you get out of your own head and let go of self-criticism. Therefore, when you use your hands to do some kind of activity, you can rapidly and positively change your behavior, thinking patterns, and mood. Some people receive palm therapy or squeeze stress balls to reduce tension.
6. Create Art
You don’t have to be a modern-day Picasso to reap the benefits of stress reduction by creating a piece of art. Your skill level isn’t important; the act of creating something matters most.
To prove it, researchers recruited around 40 adults, ages 18 to 59, to create free-form art without instructions for 45 minutes. They were given markers, glue, clay, paper, and scissors, and instructed to do whatever they wanted. The participants completed questionnaires about their mindsets before and after the activity. Their saliva was also tested before and after to measure their blood cortisol—aka stress hormone—levels. After creating art, the saliva tests revealed that nearly 75 percent of the participants had lower cortisol levels. People also said they felt more relaxed.
Next time you feel stressed, try it out for yourself and see how you feel.
7. Spend Time with the Llamas and Fish
Animal-assisted therapy has been used for decades to help people recover from or better cope with health challenges. Research shows that interacting with an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease the production of the stress hormone cortisol. These hormonal changes can help you feel more relaxed overall. So long as you’re unafraid of and not allergic to animals, spend time with horses, dogs, cats, pigs, birds, rabbits, llamas, fish, or whatever non-human friends you gravitate toward and have access to.
8. Forgive and Let It Go
Although you might not think of taking advice from fictional movie characters, Queen Elsa of Arendelle in the film “Frozen” belted out a song with a name that happens to be an effective stress-reduction technique: “Let It Go.” Holding on to anger or other negative feelings toward others can be a major source of stress.
Forgiving someone can seem difficult at times or even impossible in some cases, but your health depends on it. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you condone whatever they did to upset you. It simply means you’re making a choice to stop feeling anger and resentment so you can return to a peaceful state. When you make the decision to forgive and let go, research shows that stress decreases.
Although stress is part of life and cannot be avoided completely, there are a variety of methods that can be used to reduce it. What works for someone else might not work for you, which is why it’s a good idea to experiment with several stress-reduction techniques to see which one works best. And you just might be surprised to find out that the one you hadn’t tried until now is just the one that will wash away your stress and make you feel better.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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