Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018
With so many things happening around us all the time, getting stressed is almost inevitable.
This makes it important to be able to step back, calm down and relax once in a while.
In this article we take a look at the best ways to reduce stress based on scientifically backed evidence.
The methods listed below range from things that you can do anywhere, at any time, to those that are done in more formal settings or require a bit more time to complete.
This section includes fun and leisure activities you can do to reduce stress. They’s fun and don’t require you to think about anything else.
Stressed out, try reading.
Picking up a book you find interesting helps take off the burden caused by your daily stressors. This effect was observed by researchers at the University of Sussex, who noted that reading lowers stress levels by 68%.
Even, as little as 6 minutes offers results.
Reading allows you to get away and be distracted from whatever’s happening or bothering you in daily life. It gives you a chance to relax and takes away the tension you’re feeling. It also helps lower our heart rate, a sign of being in a more calm and relaxed state.
In fact, reading was shown to offer more stress relief ability compared to some of the others in our list, including
If reading isn’t your thing, find something else that you enjoy doing or don’t mind doing to get distracted.
Growing up, I remember seeing my mom organize and clean things around the home whenever things got really busy or stressful.
I didn’t understand it then, but is makes sense now.
It was her way of distracting herself from worries or problems. At least for the meantime.
This type of stress management technique works for different types of stress, not just work related or those at home.
A study published in the Journal of Dental Research indicated that in patients awaiting dental procedures, the group that was assigned to relaxation, as well as the active distraction group, exhibited lower levels of stress after.
Interestingly, men and women were affected differently. Women benefited from relaxation methods more while men found distraction more effective.
Spending a few minutes to reminisce about the good old days, or your past successes has been shown to improve mood.
Recalling happy memories or moments in your life has been shown to activate the secretion of serotonin in our brain’s anterior cingulate cortex.
This region is involved in governing our emotions, impulse control, empathy, decision making and attention.
Serotonin is a brain chemical which helps regulate our moods including happiness and anxiety.
A study performed at the University of Montréal in Canada observed that recalling happy times in life resulted in increased production of serotonin. The opposite meanwhile, like dwelling on sad events or times of sadness, reduced the production of serotonin.
Incidentally, low levels of serotonin has been associated with depression. This is one reason why dwelling on past failures and regrets often leads to sadness or feeling down.
Should you find it difficult at that moment to remember happier experiences, fear not. There are other ways to get there, like comedy.
If you have a funny roommate or friend, spend some time with them.
Something even quicker may just be to watch a comedy flick.
In a study submitted to the American Physiological Society, researchers at Loma Linda University in California observed that just the anticipation of laughter increases our levels of endorphins by 27%.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters, which are the brain’s chemical messengers.
Along with other hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, they are collectively often referred to as “happy” hormones due to their ability to cheer us up, in their own respective ways.
Laughter is one of the best ways to increase endorphins levels. And it’s the simplest.
This hormone is what gives runner’s their high.
In addition, the research also found that laughter lowered stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline by 39% and 70%, respectively.
In case you were wondering, comedy from an audio source actually doesn’t offer as much a stress relieving effect as comedy you can see.
Research presented in the Journal of the American Dental Association discovered that video comedy as well as video games were better in distracting dental patients compared to audio comedy, from the stressful oral procedure that awaited them in the dentist’s chair.
You probably often find your kids playing video games when they’re supposed to be studying or doing the chores.
At some point, you may have spent countless hours enjoying computer games as well.
While society has put a dampen on the reputation of these games because of the risk of gaming addiction as well as the violence that some games can teach the young, playing video games isn’t all bad.
When it comes to stress relief, taking time out to enjoy a game or two, as long as you don’t waste too much time on it and do it too frequently, does the mind and body well.
A review paper published by Australian researchers stated that videogame playing improved mental health and well-being. This was based on previous published research done.
The review did list down the negative effects of playing video games. But also noted how it fosters positive emotions.
It states that moderate video game play gave players a way to relax and relieve their stress. It also fostered emotional stability. Other benefits cited by the paper included:
Additionally, playing 3D video games, as opposed to 2D video games, thanks to their more complex graphics and spatial referencing, has been shown to improve the memory of those who play them.
This is an added bonus to the better hand-eye coordination and improved reaction time speeds noticed by scientists that video game players possess or develop.
Evidence from scientific studies reveal that listening to some tunes is an effective way of warding off stress.
This is one reason why dentist’s offices and other waiting areas often have soft music playing in the background.
Music has been shown to be therapeutic in many ways helping people recover from illness. The “Mozart Effect”, which refers to the boost in short term mental performance as a result to listening to Mozart’s music, is something that scientists have noticed in the past.
In a study involving 60 women who were given a psychosocial stress test, researchers noted that the group that was assigned to listen to music before the stress test presented lower stress response levels. They also recovered faster from the experience (the stressor).
So the next time you anticipate a stressful event coming, slip on your headphones and have a listen to your favorite songs. It will help lighten your mood and keep you calm.
While most music works, previous studies suggest the classical music, or your favorite type of music, seem to work best.
Don’t take yourself or bad things that happen too seriously. Most things will pass and so do the negative ones.
Laughing it off, whether with a friend, comics or even smiling, helps reduce the body’s stress levels.
Studies have discovered that when we laugh, our bodies secrete endorphins.
Endorphins are hormones that block our perception to pain as well as giving us a high feeling. This allows us to feel less pain as well as reduce the effects of stress.
Having a good laugh also reduces our levels of adrenaline and cortisol, hormones related to our body’s stress response.
Korean researchers found that cancer patients who were enrolled in a therapeutic laughter program experienced reduced levels of stress, depression and anxiety after 1 session.
Another study also shows that in postpartum women, as little of 4 sessions of 60 minute laughter therapy, helps reduces postpartum fatigue as well as levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
The next time your partner or spouse tells you that they’re overstressed, try having sex.
Studies reveal that engaging in intercourse with a partner reduces your level of stress.
A study done by the University of Paisley in the U.K., found that in 46 men and women, those who engaged in intercourse showed lower levels of stress compared to those who enjoyed themselves in other ways (solo or with a partner but without intercourse).
Aside from lowering blood pressure, engaging in sex also induces the release of oxytocin, the hormone that makes us bond, trust and like to be with others. It is released during orgasm which makes us like to feel closer to people.
For men who are currently unattached, you’ll be happy to know that looking at ‘rewarding’ pictures, in this case mildly erotic ones, helps lower cortisol levels as well.
Published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, scientists found that men who viewed appetitive rewarding pictures had lowered levels of cortisol before a stress challenge. Interestingly, this group performed better with math portion of the test given after.
If you like singing along to tunes or enjoy karaoke, in addition to listening to music to destress, you can go ahead and sing your heart out.
Cortisol is responsible for that burst of energy, extra alertness, increased heart rate and higher blood pressure feeling when we are in stressful or dangerous situations.
This allows us to tackle the challenge ahead, whether it is to have the speed to run away from threats or talk before a large audience.
To make the effects of singing even more effective, try it within a group or choir.
The Western Michigan University Kalamazoo Neurosciences Laboratory observed that when members of a jazz group performed together, their levels of oxytocin increased. The release of this hormone is one of the reasons singing helps battle loneliness and depression.
Meanwhile, the singers’ levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which signals our adrenal glands to secrete the stress hormones, cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, decreased.
A similar effect was also observed by Canterbury Christ Church University College researchers when they studied their university choir. The study found that singing in a choir helped lower stress, improved their mood and helped them socially, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The next time you feel stressed, chew a piece of gum.
A study presented at the International Congress of Behavioral Medicine found that participants who chewed gum had lower levels of cortisol when put before psychological stressors. The researchers also noticed that gum chewing alleviated negative mood.
Presented by Australian researchers, the study revealed that gum chewers had:
In addition, those who chewed gum had better alertness. They also performed better when put before multi-tasking challenges.
If you’re a smoker and are tempted to pick up a stick when life gets stressful, think again.
While the short term effects of smoking a few sticks helps offer that feeling of stress relief, the chemicals in cigarettes, including nicotine, increase stress in the long run.
The relationship between stress and smoking is paradoxical in nature.
Smokers turn to tobacco and cigarettes to calm themselves.
But, in actuality, this ends up with them having higher measured levels of stress due to their smoking.
Withdrawal on the other hand, which results in nicotine deprivation, leads to increased stress initially. Once this acute phase is over, and the mood effects of the nicotine deprivation are gone, stress levels ultimately come down for the now non-smoker.
Tap into your creative side and kick off an art project.
It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.
Simple sketches, drawings or even making collages and mosaics will do.
Studies show that art therapy is a great way to lower stress.
Research by the Phillips Graduate Institute in California notes that in adolescents suffering from stress or illness, engaging in art helps them relax and express themselves in an environment where there is no pressure at all.
Also, because art therapy wasn’t focused on artistic ability, talent or results, adolescents were able to focus more on problem solving. This allowed them to deal better with the emotional issues they had.
Simple forms of art therapy like painting, was also used by Israeli researchers to help patients who were ongoing chemotherapy.
In the study, patients who participated in water-based panting once a week experienced decreases in their levels of fatigue and depression.
How about picking up the morning paper and doing the crossword?
Like other brain games, the attention and focus needed in solving crossword puzzles helps move our thoughts from those which cause stress.
Research conducted by the University of California Berkeley’s Department of Psychology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute found that individuals who suffer from high anxiety didn’t have as good attention control ability due to lower prefrontal activity in that region of the brain.
This causes them to have concentration difficulties which lead to anxiety and stress.
Puzzles, along with other mind games, help keep us concentrated on something. This helps prevent our mind from wandering to conclusions or dwelling on stressors.
Over time, doing so also helps improve focus so you don’t end up ruminating or letting your mind wander to negative things.
Are you causing your own stress?
Here are some attitude and lifestyle checks that will help you identify whether or not what you’re doing is making life more stressful, and how you can better manage them.
One of the things that school teaches us is to try to be perfect. When tests come up, everyone tries to ‘’ace” the exams and get that 100% score.
While this sounds great in theory, it doesn’t always translate well to life later on.
Trying to be perfect ends up stressing you out. Whether its in arranging your décor, designing something, or doing a work project.
To see how perfectionism affects our physiological stress markers, the University of Zurich’s Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy performed an experiment putting 50 middle aged men through the Trier Social Stress Test, which is a psychosocial stress test.
Measuring the participants’ stress markers, they found perfectionism was related to increased cortisol levels.
Perfectionism, especially in the workplace can also lead to burnout. This was observed by psychologists from the U.K.’s University of Kent.
The study also learned that the source of the stress and burnout for teachers came more from the negative reactions from parents and students due to their imperfections, as well as perceived pressure from these groups.
They felt less pressure from themselves or their fellow teachers. This indicated that understanding where you stress comes from is an important clue on how to cope with it.
One of the main causes of stress in day to day life is the multitude of things we need to do. Additionally, we often lack the time to get them all done.
Whether it’s chasing after project deadlines, or hurrying to get the kids to school, these things take their toll.
Here’s where time management comes in…
Building good time management skills allows you to organize and arrange schedules as well as make tasks more efficient.
Research done on students studying for exams offer evidence that effective time management skills play a big role in reducing the amount of academic stress and anxiety. This is especially true when preparing for a big test.
In the workplace setting, a study presented in The Nursing Journal of India cites that in nurses, whose major sources of stress came from the heavy workload and caring for patients, stress awareness techniques along with time management training dramatically decreased the level of severe stress from 60% to 20%.
Whether it’s at home, school or work, things tend to pile up.
It could be your notes, project, research papers or the kids’ toys and clothes.
Picking up after things and organizing may seem like a waste of time. Especially, when you’ve got more important things to do.
Unfortunately, just leaving things around in a mess isn’t healthy in terms of mental and physical stress.
In observing 32 homes in the Los Angeles area, UCLA researchers learned that clutter around the home increased the levels of stress hormones in mothers. This became more noticeable when it came time to deal with the mess.
The study also revealed the there were lots of extra things left lying around.
Seventy-five percent of the 32 middle class families who participated in the study had items packed into their garages and driveways, such that their cars couldn’t be parked there.
A messy disorganized surrounding, be it your closet or desk, also affects your brain.
At the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, scientists reported that having a number of items or stimuli in one’s field of vision at the same time makes them compete the brain’s attention.
This limits its processing capacity because it has to deal with all the visual stimuli at the same time instead of focusing on one. As a result, performance drops and stress levels are increased.
For a while, multitasking became a buzz word.
It was a way where one could show their ability to perform multiple tasks at once. As a result, try to do more in less time.
Unfortunately, as much as the theory of multitasking seems appealing, it doesn’t work.
Studies offer evidence that engaging in multitasking actually results in doing things slower, often with less results, compared to focusing on one task at a time.
As a side effect, forcing our brain to switch back and forth between tasks increases its workload. This results in increased levels of stress.
The effects of multitasking on 20 health individuals was tested by the Stress Research Group in U.K.’s Northumbria University. What the experiment showed was that multitasking increased blood pressure and heart rate of the participants, indicating higher levels of stress when multiple tasks were needed to be done simultaneously.
Multitasking, isn’t all bad though.
Most of us will need to do it because we have a lot going on at once. But when you can avoid it, science backed evidence says you should say “no”.
As simple as it may sound, being grateful, or giving thanks for what you have or what others have done for you, is a great way of reducing the level of stress as well as depression.
Changing one’s mindset and perception on how the world treats us also helps reduce our perceived level of stress.
Studies reveal that people who show more gratitude felt that they received more support from others. They also had less depression and stress.
The National Institutes of Health, in studying brain activity, likewise reported that individuals who were more grateful exhibited higher levels of activity in their hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus is the region of our brains whose major task is to keep our body functions in balance (homeostasis). It is also where first signals of our stress response starts.
During times of stress, like when you’re either behind schedule or have way too many things left to do, it’s often easy to think on the negative side of things.
Unfortunately, this type of behavior isn’t conducive to reducing stress levels. It also doesn’t help you achieve your goals.
Optimism, and being a positive thinker, on the other hand, has been linked to reduced levels of distress as well as depression. Ultimately, being more positive results in better overall well-being.
Research backs this up. It shows that individuals with positive attitudes are more resilient to stressful situations. Plus, they are able to implement better coping strategies.
Type A and type B personalities is a concept created by Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman.
Both cardiologists, the theory was to use a patient’s personality type as a way to gauge their risk for heart disease.
Type A personalities were described as those who are:
Type B personalities had these common characteristics:
Between the 2 groups, Friedman and Rosenman found that people with type A personalities were more likely to have high blood pressure and heart disease.
While type A personalities have been shown to be strong in performance and achievement, they are also more vulnerable to stress and its negative effects.
Research indicates that on average, individuals who have type A personalities are higher prone to stress, and subsequently health issues, like cardiovascular disease.
Type A individuals are also prone to have poorer self-control compared to those who have type B personalities. This makes them more vulnerable during stressful situations.
During stressful times, call upon your inner type B personality to help slow yourself down.
We, as human beings, are creatures of habit.
We like sticking to routines we’ve developed over time or are accustomed to. These habits can come from our parents or someone who’s guided us along the way.
While the knowledge of having a routine to rely on makes us feel comfortable and very efficient in doing majority of our day to day tasks, there are some instances where we need to be open to changes, especially big ones that can affect our lives.
Since the world changes so much and so fast nowadays, being able to embrace change helps us cope with the stress that comes with it.
Your friends change, your work will probably change, your kids will grow up and change too.
While we may not like change, embracing it and seeing it as an opportunity to grow and be more creative, gives you the power to be proactive and in charge of how you want to handle the new situations.
According to studies, the more the change is related to you and what’s important to you, the higher the stress experienced. This is due to the uncertainty it brings, and its direct effects on you.
Research also shows that tinkering and antifragility, which is where systems adjust to variable conditions, makes them get better and thrive under new situations.
Not getting enough sleep, or having poor quality sleep not only inflicts physical stress but also does a number on the body’s chemical makeup.
Among the neurotransmitters affected by sleep are serotonin and melatonin. Both play a part in affecting our overall levels of stress.
Interestingly, losing just one to two hours of sleep increases our levels of cortisol which compounds the problem.
In a sleep laboratory experiment participated by 26 adults, those assigned to a night of sleep deprivation exhibited higher levels of stress response and increased cortisol levels.
A similar study also offers evidence that it takes a while for things to normalize depending on how long you’ve been sleep deprived.
Divided participants into 3 groups, individuals who were able to sleep the full 8 hours saw no changes in their cortisol levels the night after.
However, those in the partial sleep deprivation (4 hrs. sleep) and total sleep deprivation groups, still had increased cortisol levels (37% and 45%, respectively) by the next night.
In rats, scientists give us an idea of how prolonged loss of sleep affects our brains.
Done at the Netherlands’ University of Groningen, research suggests that while not getting good sleep for a couple of days is okay, as little as 8 days of sleep restriction is enough to affect our brain’s serotonin (5-HT)1A receptors. This results in the disruption of transmission of serotonin. It also took at least 7 days to get back to normal.
The problem with stress and sleep deprivation is that they’re a vicious cycle. One causes the other.
In following over 5,700 employed individuals in Stockholm, Sweden, evidence shows that stress, along with one’s social situation at work, are associated with sleep disturbance, unwanted awakening during the night and difficulty waking up the next morning.
Too much sleep on the other hand, isn’t good either.
Some of us tend to use this tactic during bad moments in our lives, preferring to just hole up in our rooms and stay in bed all day.
While lying around or sleeping all day may sound calming or relaxing, it actually has the opposite effect.
The more you sleep, the more you’ll find it difficult to get up, go through your normal routine and concentrate on important things.
After a while, even if you get 8 or more hours of sleep, you’ll still feel sluggish or unable to focus the next day.
In a study presented in the Journal of Sleep Research, patients who suffered from hypersomnia, or excessive sleeping, lacked alertness during the daytime. They also had difficulty getting up in the morning and needed to be waken. Additionally, these individuals had difficulty maintaining attention and memory deficits.
Research also reveals that other effects of excessive sleep include depression and mood disorders.
Choosing the right color for your home, place you work or where you relax also helps put you in the right mood.
Psychologists seem to agree that green is a good choice when it comes to calming us down and reducing stress. The color reminds us of the natural environment and green surroundings of trees and grass.
Having a green colored surrounding, or view, has also been reported to help kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as well as speed up patients’ recovery time during their hospital stay.
Here are some colors to choose or avoid when it comes to stress management:
Choose cool, soothing colors which help calm and relax us. Some examples include:
Meanwhile, for cheering up and lifting your mood, choose:
Colors that are considered warm and stimulating, which are associated with energy, movement and activity. Avoid these:
If you’re looking for more color options to help you de-stress, the Huffington Post has a slideshow of options you can choose from to paint your room.
Need to lower the stress level in your workplace?
Try adding plants.
Studies have shown that the presence of indoor plants reduce workplace stress.
Performed by the University of North Florida, the study sought to verify past claims that plants added to one’s décor helps destress the environment.
In it, the researchers used data gathered from office workers. Then they, tallied up the information associating how the presence of plants in the office area affected stress levels and overall health.
What they found was the more contact with nature the workers had, the lower the levels of perceived stress was.
A similar association was observed with the presence of plants and reduced the number of health complaints.
If you aren’t a fan of real plants indoors, artificial ones will do just as well. The Pacific University’s School of Physical Assistant Studies observed that real and artificial plants helped result in lower levels of stress, anxiety and pain for patients in a hospital setting.
One of the best ways to express your emotions is by writing them down.
Putting down our experiences and emotions into paper helps us cope with pain, heartache, fears and even illness.
In a study focusing on the effects of expressive writing on mental health of caregivers, researchers learned that just writing anything wasn’t as helpful as focusing on the positive.
As a whole, the expressive writing group didn’t see much benefit from the exercise, be it physical, mental or lessening of the burden.
However, upon further examination of what the participants wrote, they found that those who wrote in an optimistic, positive and future focused language benefited from their writing.
Also, writing down your worries can give you “control” over your fears, stress or anxieties. This was shown by a study performed on students who were about to take a test. Writing about their worries and thoughts on the upcoming test resulted in significantly better scores.
How about your relationships?
Are they good or bad for you… and should you make any changes. Plus, don’t forget your most important relationship of all, the one with yourself.
If you’re one of those people who smirks at those who give themselves positive affirmations, think again.
While it may not look elegant in front of others, positive self-affirmation has been scientifically proven to offer benefits.
Undergraduates at the University of Santa Barbara in California participated in an experiment where they used self-affirmation to see how it affected their stress levels right before one of their most important exams.
The group that wrote self-affirmations for 2 weeks prior to the exam showed no increase in their stress hormone epinephrine when tested, whereas those who didn’t presented cumulative increases. These finding prove that practicing positive affirmations helped provide a buffer from our stress response.
So the next time you feel you’re about to face a challenging task, try psyching yourself up and tell yourself something that will make you feel good or increase your confidence level.
Give yourself a break.
In today’s hustle and bustle world, we’re always under pressure and short on time. To add to all that, we often expect a lot from ourselves.
So what happens when we fall short or miss something?
We blame ourselves and give ourselves a hard time.
This causes stress… mental, emotional and physical.
Showing yourself some compassion goes a long way in being more satisfied and less anxious. It will also make you happier overall.
A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality reveals that in 177 undergraduate students, those who showed themselves self-compassion, defined as being kind to oneself during times of failure or pain, were happier, more conscientious, optimistic and less depressed.
More importantly, these same students performed better than those who didn’t show themselves compassion.
Pick up your phone, chat with or go and meet up with a good friend.
Ask for their advice, support or just share what’s happening or stressing you out in life.
This also helps.
While this may not be applicable to just any of your friends, good friends will be there for you to talk to when you need them.
In today’s world where we’re all connected, it’s much easier to get in touch with someone even if they’re not nearby.
At the University of California Davis Health System, children who were expected to stay in the hospital for more than 4 days were allowed to stay in touch with their families while admitted. The hospital provided video conferencing software that let the kids communicate with their loved ones.
The availability of this technology resulted a significant decrease in stress for both the kids and their families during their hospitalization.
As humans, we crave for touch, communication and interaction as we are social beings. And once we receive these positive stimuli, our body responds to it accordingly.
One way it does this is by secreting the hormone oxytocin when we cuddle with someone we love.
Cuddling is one of the best ways to show our affection for someone. It has also been shown to lower our levels of stress, reduce blood pressure as well as slow our heart rates.
Oxytocin also inhibits cortisol which is a hormone that’s in abundance when the body is under stress. In doing so, we not only get the positive effects of oxytocin but also slow the effects of cortisol.
This helps us calm down and fight feelings of depression. In addition, we also feel better about ourselves.
Having a strong and stable support group is one of the most important aspects of human life.
For some it’s their family, friends or people they know well.
However, depending on the type of support you need, or where you are in your life, other types of groups may benefit you more.
This is why peer support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) are available.
They allow individuals to share, connect and release stress with those who understand them. It also offers a safe place to talk about their concerns with people who know what you’re going through. Just as importantly, there’s no judgement on their end.
When it comes to the workplace, stress and burnout, research reveals that in a group of 660 healthcare workers who were ranked in the upper 75th percentile in terms of their exhaustion and burnout scores, peer group intervention helped lowered stress and burnout.
Conversely, studies also show that individuals with poor social support suffer from negative consequences. These include increased mortality, depression, mood disorders and higher risk of disease.
While making new friends was easy when we were younger, it becomes harder as we get older.
Yet, you should try.
Making the extra effort to forge new acquaintances and building new friendships helps fight feelings of loneliness, sadness and sometimes fear (when you don’t have anyone).
These feelings all result in emotional stress.
For some, it extends a bit further psychologically or socially. It makes them feel like they don’t belong, or are excluded from society.
Psychologists reveal that having social connections not only reduces lonesomeness and depressive feelings, it also helps us avoid early death.
More importantly, they point out that the feeling of isolation, rather than the physical state of being alone, is what affects our health negatively.
It may sound ironic when you first hear it, but we can help ourselves by helping someone else.
Spending some time to listen to someone who needs an ear. Or, assisting them in their work, errands, housework or even just babysitting, helps us cope with any stressful situations in our own lives.
Researchers who studied 846 residents in Detroit, Michigan discovered that individuals who helped others recently (in the prior year) were less likely to be affected by stressful events the happen in their own immediate future. This included negative events like losing a job, serious illness, or financial difficulties.
Meanwhile, participants who didn’t help others in the past year were more likely to be negatively affected when stressful events occurred in their own lives. Ultimately, resulting in consequences to their health.
Ever noticed that you feel good inside whenever you volunteer to help someone without expecting anything in return?
There’s some science behind that.
A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found that adults aged 50 years or older who regularly volunteered had lower blood pressure compared to those who didn’t do volunteer work.
Helping out others played a part in lowering their stress levels as well as keep them active.
The study does mention that the participants volunteered for 200 hours a year. A previous study also notes that even doing 100 hours provides health benefits as well.
Aside from keeping your mind away from your stressors, volunteering gives you that sense of belonging to a community, which contributes to reducing stress levels.
You do need to have the right motives though…
Earlier research interestingly points out that one’s intentions is important as well.
The study observed that those who volunteered for non-altruistic reasons didn’t benefit from their volunteer work. Data showed that their mortality rate was similar to those who did no volunteer work at all.
Yes, something as simple as hugging helps you cope with stressful situations.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Department of Psychiatry found that in 59 women, those who frequently hugged their partners or spouses exhibited lower blood pressure levels and had higher levels of the hormone oxytocin.
In addition, a Carnegie Mellon University study observed that hugging also helps increase immunity to infections rooted from stress.
Our most interesting discovery is that you don’t even need to have that person near you.
A study reports that through the use of a huggable human-shaped device, participants experienced reductions in their cortisol levels after speaking to their partner for 15 minutes through the device.
This mode of communication proved to be better than talking via mobile phone, which didn’t elicit as good results.
This discovery bodes well for couples or friends who are separated by distance and can’t be with one another at the moment.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, over 85 million homes in the U.S. are pet owners. Most own dogs or cats, with over 36% having at least one dog at home, and 30% having a cat.
So why are we so fond of pets?
They make us feel good.
Playing and cuddling with your pet helps relieve the stresses of life.
Research performed at the Miami University in Ohio saw that in 3 studies, pet owners got more exercise, had better self-esteem and were more conscientious.
They also enjoyed the social aspect that their pets provided them without the risk of rejection that can occur with human interaction.
Pets also alleviate our stress responses.
This was shown by researchers at the University of New York at Buffalo where pets did better in reducing blood pressure levels caused by mental stress compared to hypertensive medication.
Pet owners, when faced with mental stressors, exhibited slower heart rates (-3 bpm) and lower blood pressure (-10 mmHg systolic, -8 mmHg diastolic) compared to those who didn’t own pets.
Whenever you’re feeling stressed or anxious, how about giving that special someone a kiss.
Research shows that puckering up for a good long kiss changes our hormone levels. This helps lower stress.
The study, performed by neuroscientists at Lafayette College, observed that college students who spent 15 minutes kissing while listening to music exhibited changes in chemistry that helped lower their stress response levels.
The changes were different for each gender though:
Both genders did see reductions in cortisol levels, which is a stress marker.
While this study only measured oxytocin and cortisol levels, previous studies have noted that other neurotransmitters including the “happy hormone” serotonin, which helps lift our mood, and dopamine, which is responsible for desire and enthusiasm, increase when couples kiss.
All together, this makes kissing one of the most pleasurable ways of stress relief.
She’s the first person all of us learned to rely on, and she’s also the person who can calm your fears.
When you’ve got nowhere else to turn, try giving mom a call.
We’ve seen that human contact, from a hug, helps alleviate feelings of stress. With mom, a phone call does just as well.
The Child Emotion Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison notes that in 61 young girls who performed before an audience, kids who spoke by phone afterwards with their mothers, or got a hug from them, experienced increases oxytocin and decreases in their levels of cortisol.
Meanwhile, a third group, which had no verbal or tactile contact with their mothers, exhibited lower levels of oxytocin.
While gossiping about others is often frowned upon, it apparently has its benefits as a form of stress relief.
Maybe this is one reason why many people resort to gossiping?
Research by the University of California at Berkeley suggests that engaging in gossip not only lowers your stress levels, but also helps police bad behavior by others. In certain instances, it is effective in stopping exploitation as well.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, consisted of 4 experiments. All of which showed that participants who observed antisocial behavior, in this case cheating, used gossip for a good purpose.
Those who witnessed the act felt better after gossiping about the person in question. This helped them release their stress and frustrations. It likewise let others know about the offending party.
The participants also went further by using gossip to prevent further exploitation by the “cheater”.
During stressful times, we often want to just sit or lie down. But scientific evidence points towards doing the opposite.
Instead of internalizing and curling up, go out and get moving.
The next time you feel worn out by stress, turn on some music and dance.
Research indicates that moving your feet on the dance floor helps lower stress levels. And that’s only one of its many health benefits.
Dancing gets you up and about physically which releases different feel good hormones similar to those during exercise. It also acts as a diversion from whatever is bothering you.
Additionally, dancing has been shown to lower anxiety levels as well as strengthen your immune system.
The good news is, even if you aren’t a good dancer, you’ll be able to benefit from its effects.
Among the simplest ways to lift up your mood and get some stress relief is to step outside and get some sunlight.
The sun offers a host of benefits. Among them, is its free source of vitamin D.
Vitamin D isn’t only good for our bones but also plays a role in the synthesis of serotonin, which is one of the “happy hormones” and has a lot to do with elevating our mood.
Just as importantly, serotonin is associated with regulating our body’s sleep-wake cycle. It rises when we’re exposed to light, including that from the sun. And decreases as it gets dark, helping us get that sleepy feeling.
The changes in amount of sunshine exposure during the different seasons of the year is one of the reasons that mood and behavioral changes can be observed during the sunnier months and the darker winter months.
Research reveals that there are increased cases of mood disorders, including depressive symptoms, as well as anxiety and suicides during the winter months.
If you happen to live in areas where the sun doesn’t show up much during winter, a study reports that bright light may just be enough to help boost your mood.
Finnish employees working indoors during the months of November to January who were assigned to exercise under bright light (2,500-4,000 lx), experienced more vitality and relief from depressive symptoms compared to those who worked out in standard lighting (400-600 lx).
One of the healthiest ways to fight stress, exercise releases a host a hormones that not only reduces your stress levels, but also put you in a much better mood.
When you workout, the body releases dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, all of which help to boost mood.
This is in addition to the physical benefits gained from moving around like lower blood pressure, weight management and looking better.
A study in the U.K. shows that in adolescents, as little as 25 to 30 minutes of exercise twice a week, was enough to improve stress levels. It also helped lower feelings of hostility, anxiety and depression.
As good as the immediate benefits of exercise on stress is, staying with your training regimen will help you live longer.
Chronic stress, such as the one many feel on a day to day basis due to office workload and family responsibilities, have been linked to shortening of telomere length.
Telomeres are small genetic sequences at the end of our chromosomes. They’re like the plastic ends on shoelaces. Similar to the plastic tips on shoelaces, these caps protect our chromosomes from damage.
Chronic stress however, shortens these telomeres making the strands of DNA vulnerable to damage. Without the telomeres, our cells won’t be able to do its work (divide properly) and die.
Science shows that exercise acts as a buffer to protect us during high stress moments in life. It helps prevent stress from damaging our telomeres.
While going outside and spending some time under the sunshine provides us with the benefits of vitamin D and serotonin, do one even better and immerse yourself in nature.
Spending some time in the park or trail where you can enjoy the green grass and trees has been effective in lifting our moods.
Studies show that taking time out, even just to walk in nature can reduce feelings of depression.
In an experiment performed by the University of Essex, 71% of those who walked in nature experienced lower depressive feelings, whereas only 45% of those who walked in shopping malls did so.
Labeled as ecotherapy, the research also shows that nature walks, compared to those done indoors, yielded better results in terms of improving self-esteem as well.
The added physical activity, connection with nature, sensory stimulation and escape from daily life likewise contribute to alleviating stress.
While ecotherapy may be a modern term, the Japanese have already been doing this since the 1980s. Termed as Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, one followed slow, guided walks through a forest immersing one’s senses to whatever nature offers.
Experimenting with 24 forests throughout Japan, researchers observed that compared to walking in city environments, forest bathing resulted in lower cortisol levels, reduced blood pressure, slower pulse rates and increased parasympathetic nervous system activity.
All of which show a calming and relaxation effect.
If you live in an urban space and going to a nature based surrounding is a stretch, then by all means still take some time out for a nice walk.
Whether it’s indoors, like somewhere in a shopping mall, or around your neighborhood, taking a simple stroll helps alleviate stress.
Those in the walking group also experienced reductions in their psychological responses to stress.
If you’re not a fan of structured forms of physical activity, then try gardening instead.
Gardening offers a combination of different things that helps with stress reduction. These include spending time outside, engaging with nature, and physical activity.
It also helps you relax and focus on something other than what’s been bothering you.
Research from the Netherlands notes that gardening proved to be a better stress buster than reading. The study was performed by giving participants a stressful test.
After which, one group was assigned to 30 minutes of gardening outdoors, while another group indoors to enjoy a book to read.
While both groups experienced reductions in cortisol levels after the half hour of activity, those who spent time in the garden showed bigger decreases.
Also, the task of gardening restored positive moods to that group. The garden participants also felt replenished, whereas the reading group deteriorated in mood.
While not everyone has the time to exercise, there’s always something you can do to keep active.
Physical activities like washing the dishes, walking the dog, vacuuming or cleaning the house are all common chores that will help you lower the amount of stress in your life.
Physical activity, like moving about or marching in place while watching TV, lowers both adrenaline and cortisol levels.
Studies also indicate that engaging in physical activity reduces our response to stress and anxiety. This in addition to being protective against more serious mental conditions and disorders.
One of the problems however, is stress’ negative effects on our ability to exercise.
As much as being physically active helps fight stress, when we’re under stress research suggest that human behavior makes us avoid exercise.
Women already know this since it’s something we often see.
Retail therapy, or using shopping as a way to cheer yourself up on a bad day, is actually a scientifically proven way of stress relief.
In a paper published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, University of Michigan researchers found that shopping helps alleviate that feeling of sadness.
The sadness and emotional stress that comes with it, often results from one’s inability to control things in their life or get the results they want.
Shopping on the other hand, restores that control. It gives the consumer the ability to choose for themselves.
It’s important to note that shopping entails being able to choose and not just window shop or browse.
Those who were assigned to the “browse” only group didn’t benefit as much. Only 2% of them felt having control compared to 79% of those who were able to shop and buy.
Shopping style, of course, also varies between genders. So, you shouldn’t judge how your partner goes about it.
Taking a few minutes or a few days every now and then to get away from the routine of our daily lives works well to help us recharge and relax.
This lets us come back with a fresher, clearer and calmer mind.
Remember how excited you get whenever it’s time to plan for a vacation?
There’s a scientific explanation for why we get in a good mood when we get into vacation planning mode.
It’s all about anticipation.
Research suggests that those who go on vacations are actually happier when planning for the trip and less so during the trip itself.
The study included 1,530 individuals with researchers gathering information from questionnaires.
What they learned from the data was that vacationers were happier than non-vacationers before the trip, but there was no difference in happiness levels between the 2 groups after the trip.
The pre-trip happiness is explained by psychologists at the University of Colorado.
Their investigation found that in events, be it positive (vacation), negative (exam taking), routine (picking up the kids from school) or hypothetical (free trip or prize), the intensity of the emotions were always stronger during the anticipation period and less so when looking back afterwards.
Email is one of the most useful things created. It allows us to get and send messages to anyone in the world within seconds.
On the flip side however, its presence often ends up causing us to spend way too much time going through our inbox.
For some it also means logging in to check way too frequently.
As a result, email turns into a stressor.
Laying off of your inbox or at least limiting the number of times you check it helps reduce the stress associated with it.
This discovery was observed by a study done at the University of British Columbia. During the study period, the psychologists instructed some participants to limit email checking to thrice a day for one week.
Other participants were free to check as many times as they did normally. The groups then switched roles the next week.
What the researchers learned was limiting the amount of time spent checking email reduced the psychological stress that came with it.
Just like checking your email habitually increases your stress levels, always using your mobile phone carries the same consequences.
As far back as 2005, researchers at the University of Wisconson-Milwaukee, discovered that during a 2 year span, participants who constantly used their cell phones experienced more stress at work and at home.
They also felt more dissatisfied with family life.
That was then, when phones were text based and allowed only calls and texting.
Today, smartphones come with internet connectivity, allowing users to check email, chat, surf the web and stream video as well. This makes them take up even more of our time.
Frequent use and reliance on mobile phones are now considered a source of chronic stress.
Swedish researchers reported that in young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 years, high frequency mobile phone use was linked to increased stress and disturbances in sleeping patterns, in both men and women.
In men, it took an even deeper toll exhibiting symptoms of depression.
Most of us spend hours behind a desk.
Every now and then, just stand up and stretch.
As simple as it may sound, science shows that it not only helps fight poor posture but also stress, by relieving tension in our muscles.
Research by the University of Kentucky reveals that in 2 studies done, participants who engaged in simple stretching exercises got similar stress relieving results to those who performed relaxation techniques.
The stretching groups’ benefits included reduced muscle tension, lower diastolic blood pressure and heart rate, as well as less Electromyography (EMG) activity, which measures the electrical activity in our skeletal muscles, in the areas they stretched.
If you enjoy art or appreciate the different designs of your computer’s fonts, you might like to try your hand at calligraphy.
As a side note, it was Steve Jobs’ study of calligraphy during his earlier years that led him to add the text styling feature of having different fonts into the Mac way back when.
Today, we can’t live without all the different font styles.
Aside from developing your artistic lettering abilities, calligraphy helps calm the mind and body as it lets you focus on more than just lettering and symbols.
The art involves graceful, precision movements, along with spatial conception and position. It’s goal – creating harmony between the letters and symbols you write down.
Hong Kong researchers found that practicing Chinese calligraphy handwriting helped reduced the levels of stress in the participants. During the 8 week trial, the calligraphy group experienced decreases in heart rate, blood pressure and EMG activity.
You’ve probably heard the term “stop and smell the roses.”
While the phrase may be cliché, taking it more literally will help you lower your anxiety and stress levels.
A study done by Austrian researchers observed that the complex, natural odors of flowers induced calmness and improved the moods of the participants.
The subjects were made to go through various blooming flowers in gardens to see how the outdoor odors of nature affected mood and stress.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed or filled with anxiety, step out into your garden to go the park and smell some flowers. It will help calm you down.
While a long warm bath in your tub feels great to soothe aching muscles at the end of the night, try taking it up a notch by adding Epsom salts.
Epsom salts contain magnesium, which is one of the minerals that are effective in bringing about stress relief and relaxation.
They’re anti-inflammatory, and offer an added benefit of replenishing magnesium in our bodies – they’re absorbed quickly through our skin.
Absorption via our skin’s pores allows our body to absorb the mineral better than the slower process of digestion. This makes it efficient.
In turn, the magnesium produces that mind calming feeling and relaxation.
Research provided by the University of Birmingham’s Medical School in the U.K. found that spending just 12 minutes in an Epsom salt bath quickly increases magnesium levels. And by the 7th bath, there was a significant increase in participants’ magnesium levels. This shows that epsom salt baths are a quick way to replenish magnesium deficiency.
Another option for increasing your magnesium stores are via magnesium oil which is applied topically on the skin.
Of course, you can always start with a simple Epsom salt foot soak.
For those interested, making an Epsom salt bath can be done by:
This is the concept behind “float clinics”.
Float clinics or float centers, are places where people can relax in water.
These centers are equipped with tanks, which look like deeper kiddie swimming pools. There, customers can lie belly-up in the warm water and float as a means of therapy.
Depending on the type of center, some with have the tank filled with Epsom salts. All you need to do is get into the tank, sit down and bob on the surface, or lie down and float.
Swedish researchers learned that patients who went through floatation tank therapy achieved altered states of consciousness and well-being, including profound relaxation.
Also, a meta-analysis of floating revealed that it offered benefits ranging from reducing cortisol levels to lowering blood pressure.
Floatation was also beneficial for participants’ well-being, leading the researchers to conclude its usefulness as a stress management tool.
While it is important to do so, studies have shown working out may not be for everyone.
In fact, according to a 2012 survey sponsored by Bodybuilding.com, 73% of those who set fitness goals as their New Year’s Resolution don’t see it through, or give up before making it.
If working out following a scheduled routine isn’t for you, try picking up a hobby instead.
Hobbies are a coping strategy for dealing with stress.
We like doing them, they keep us busy and our minds away from whatever’s bothering us. Plus, there are a few thousand possible hobbies you can choose from. So, you’re sure to find one.
The key with choosing a hobby is picking something that you enjoy. Research suggests that enjoyable leisure activities promote psychological and physical well-being.
Those who engaged in such activities benefit from decreased cortisol levels, reduced blood pressure, less depression and better life satisfaction. In addition, those who participated in group or community activities gained social support.
When it comes to hobbies, you can choose from anything like playing the guitar, drawing or reading books.
To get even more out of your hobby, you can likewise go with those that are more physical, including sports like basketball, swimming or climbing.
Should you find yourself not getting enough quality night’s rest, you may want to know that there’s scientific evidence that not getting enough sleep, like sleeping just 6 hours instead of the recommended 8 hours nightly, increases our cortisol levels up to 50%.
Done regularly, you’ll find yourself primed to be chronically stressed before the day even begins.
Taking a nap helps lower the body’s cortisol levels. This provides us with that much needed relief from stress.
Napping also helps counter the effects of sleep deprivation.
For those who lose sleep the night before, research by the Sleep Laboratory in Belgium’s A. Vésale Hospital learned that taking a 30 minute nap the next day, or sleeping 10 hours the next night allows the body to recover and reverse the effects of the lack of sleep the night before.
Cortisol levels also immediately dropped after napping.
Meanwhile, those who slept the regular 8 hours the next night, didn’t do as well. With this group, the effects of sleep deprivation persisted.
Saunas have long been used in history as a way to relax.
It offers a number of benefits including stress relief, muscle relaxation and flushing out toxins from our systems.
According to a published report in JAMA Internal Medicine, spending time in a sauna reduces cardiovascular disease risk and is associated to longer life.
In the span of over 20 years, following a total of 2,315 individuals, those who spent time in a sauna between 4 to 7 times weekly had lower rates of death as well as cardiovascular illness.
They also fared better compared to those who went 2 to 3 times weekly or those who visited once a week. Results showed the higher the frequency of sauna visits, the lower the risks.
Other studies point out that the heat of the sauna allows for better circulation through our blood vessels, resulting in lower blood pressure.
The environment also relieves muscle tension and is said to help promote the release of endorphins which help improve our mood.
While it may not be the most elegant thing to do, crying works as a means of coping with stress.
Ever noticed feeling less stressed, or having some of the burden being lifted off of you after crying?
Tears contain adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in high concentrations.
ACTH is what our pituitary glands release during the first stages when we perceive any stressful situation. It is also the hormone that signals our adrenal glands to start releasing cortisol.
As such, when we cry, the ACTH that comes out in our tears reduces the levels of stress chemicals later secreted by our bodies. This leaves us more relaxed and calm after.
In reviewing studies related to crying and its effects on human behavior, research reveals that crying enhances mood and is one way of doing so without needing anyone else with us.
This section covers a variety of popular and not so well known methods that help you relax.
Try out some of the formal relaxation techniques as well as those that are more casual and see which ways to decrease stress here works for you.
Due to the sedentary nature of the modern lifestyle, aches and pains often start popping up as we get older.
These physical stressors eventually turn into other health issues causing headaches, migraines and even disability.
From a physical form of stress, this can quickly escalate to forms.
Going to the chiropractor and getting “adjustments”, which refers to manual therapeutic manipulation of our joints including the spine, can offer stress relief especially if your issues are physically related.
These adjustments, when done correctly, help restore proper alignment. They also allow you to recover joint mobility.
This is why many with neck and back pain rely on their services.
Data from the Chiropractic Research Center of Macquarie University indicates that in patients suffering from migraines, 2 months of chiropractic vertebral adjustments yielded significant improvements in the duration, frequency and disability caused by their migraines. It also helped lower the amount of medication used.
Another option to getting your bones and joints adjusted is acupressure.
Acupressure is an ancient Chinese healing art that uses pressure, from one’s hand, fingers or elbow, to improve blood flow, reduce pain or muscle tension in certain areas of the body, called pressure points.
This form of traditional Chinese medicine is primarily used in issues that are stress related.
It helps by clearing up the blockages allowing the body to self-heal and correct imbalances which cause the illness or pain.
According to a study by the University of Colorado at Boulder, college students who were assigned to acupressure groups benefited with significantly lower stress response levels.These included less anxiety, lower heart rate and increased heart rate variability.
If you aren’t afraid of needles, don’t like other people’s hands rubbing you a lot, and can lie still for a while, acupuncture may be a better option.
Acupuncture is very similar to acupressure.
But instead of using the hand, finger or palms to stimulate pressure points, it relies on needles.
One advantage of acupuncture over acupressure is there’s no pain involved, despite the presence of the needles.
This healing art is commonly used to treat stress, pain, depression and headaches.
However, isn’t limited to them, as it is also used to assist with hypertension control and stroke recovery.
In Brazil, the Fluminense Federal University experimented on the effects of electro-acupuncture on medical students who were suffering from stress related symptoms including anxiety, sleep disorders, feeling of burnt out and depression.
After 8 weeks of once a week sessions, 75% of the acupuncture group exhibited good sleep quality, better physical health, less depressive symptoms and emotional exhaustion.
Qigong is a traditional form of Chinese training that focuses on body postures that are coordinated and with a holistic purpose.
It involves meditation and breathing, along with the slow graceful movements.
Compared to yoga and tai chi, qi gong is simpler to do, with less complex movements.
Its goal is to increase one’s life force or energy, called “Qi” (pronounced as chi).
While there isn’t a lot of research available on qi gong and its effects on stress, the few studies available indicate that practicing qi gong is an effective way to lower stress and anxiety.
Its benefits for stress management and relief have been seen in hospital staff workers, computer operators as well as individuals who have high levels of salivary cortisol.
EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique is very similar to acupuncture, relying on the body’s acupuncture points to help heal it and deliver relaxation.
It is often used as a way reduce pain, trauma, anxiety and depression.
Instead of using needles though, EFT is done by tapping one’s fingers on the points, which are called energy meridian points.
Doing so allows energy flow through the body. This gives the body a chance to reprogram itself in stressful situations.
While tapping your energy meridian points, the EFT practitioner also says some verbal affirmations.
Developed in the 1990’s by Stanford engineering graduate Gary Craig, EFT draws from the concept that most diseases and illness carry with them the emotional burden. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that around 85% of all diseases have an emotional element to them.
And by addressing these emotions along with the physical ailments, our bodies are better able to recover, as well as cope with stressors.
Chronic stress is very similar to emotional scarring in that is continuously harms our body’s cells. EFT helps reduce the emotional aspect on those memories that cause distress and worry.
Tapping the pressure points also helps with regulating our body’s cortisol level.
It likewise raises serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
Research by the Foundation for Epigenetic Medicine in California observed that study participants who underwent a 1 hour Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) session saw a 24.4% drop in cortisol 30 minutes after the session.
They also had fewer symptoms of psychological distress like anxiety and depression.
Here’s a short demonstration of how the Emotional Freedom Technique is used.
Biofeedback is somewhat different from the other techniques in that is relies on getting data from the body to allow you adjust.
It is also broader because it is often used to make other methods more effective.
The concept behind biofeedback is being able to monitor the body’s function during different stimuli. In stressful situations for example, this often means sweating, faster heart rate and higher blood pressure.
Using electronic devices like pods and electrodes stuck to our skin, you are able to monitor and see in real time the changes in heartbeat, blood pressure and skin temperature for example.
This allows you to train yourself to identify that situation and adjust.
Then, see if your adjustment works or not immediately.
The ability to quickly see and then learn to change how your body physiologically behaves makes it very effective not only in helping people relax from stress but also improve performance.
This makes it useful for many different people including athletes who want to stay calm under pressure, or someone learning to speak in front of a large audience.
In a group of 60 graduate nursing students at the California State University, researchers observed that those who underwent biofeedback training for 4 weeks experienced significantly decreased levels of stress, depression and anxiety.
Using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan imaging, scientists were also able to see how biofeedback modulates our brain’s sympathetic activity.
They observed that relaxation was linked to increased left anterior cingulate and globus pallidus activity.
Here’s an example of how biofeedback works. In this case, the mechanism used is a game where the controls are based on the body’s feedback.
Used to help individuals who have heart issues, hypertension and are under stress, the Relaxation Response is a technique where you move your body from a state of stress, where there’s hyperarousal, into psychological relaxation where your heart rate slows, blood pressure comes down and hormone levels return to normal.
It often involves repetition of a word or sound along with calm breathing, taking between 10 to 20 minutes each time.
A study performed by the Boston University School of Public Health found that practicing Relaxation Response for as little as 2 months allows someone with no experience in the technique to gain significant psychological stress reduction.
The study did note, that when comparing long term practitioners to novices, those more experienced exhibited lower stress levels, and additional biological changes.
Here’s how it works.
Repeating a phrase or chant, like “om”, also known as Mantram.
It is a simple yet effective way of reducing stress and eliciting relaxation.
In this method, one taps into their consciousness to balance out negative thoughts and emotions. Thereby getting rid of anger, anxiety and other feelings that cause stress or unhappiness.
The concept behind the mantra is that the slow, continuous sound produces vibrations that affects the areas of our brain which allows a rebalancing of the chemicals to help calm us down.
Research at the VA San Diego Healthcare System in California shows Matram repetition, practiced for a short time (5 weeks) by veterans and hospital employees, allowed them to better manage stress, insomnia, their emotions and unwanted thoughts.
After a long day at work, or during the weekends, treat yourself to a soothing massage.
While commonly used as a way to help get rid of knots and aching joints and muscles, research indicates that a nice massage is effective for stress reduction.
At the University of Miami School of Medicine, a review of previous studies related to massage and its effects on stress reveal that spending a little time getting pampered by a masseuse helps reduce cortisol levels by an average of 31%.
Also, getting a massage was found to affect our brain chemicals, producing an average increase of 28% in serotonin as well as 31% rise in dopamine. This shows that massages not only provide physical alleviation of pain but also help with stress.
If you don’t have time to get a massage, you can try self-massage as well to loosen up the knots on your shoulders and neck.
Autogenic training is a relaxation technique one can do without anyone else or devices, though guidance at the beginning is often needed.
In autogenics, one tries to reduce the stress response where the sympathetic nervous system is dominant, and tries to calm oneself down by balancing the 2 branches of the autonomic nervous system so that the parasympathetic nervous system isn’t overshadowed.
Here, you follow a set of directions and exercises that involved verbal cues and imagery. All of the exercises are designed to help control breathing, heart beat and relax the body.
A study participated by workers who here at high risk of being fired and had PTSD, found that practicing autogenic training for 2 months, twice to thrice each week, allowed them to increase cardiac parasympathetic nervous activity and reduce cardiac sympathetic nervous activity.
For more on autogenics, here’s a short video:
Mindfulness is being in the present, instead of worrying about the past or thinking about the future. It is focusing on what you’re doing now and where you are.
Very closely linked to meditation, it entails on being aware of the now and using all your senses to soak in the present.
Too often we find our minds wandering while doing something.
For instance, on the drive or commute home, you were probably thinking of something else other than your surroundings. It may have been of the things you need to do when you get home or you may have been already planning for what’s up ahead for tomorrow.
Mindfulness is the opposite. It’s slowing down to appreciate the commute home instead. Doing so, helps clear the mind and block out other thoughts, leading to a more relaxing feeling and less stress.
Studies suggest that practicing mindfulness is effective for stress reduction as well as anxiety. It also works well for individuals who are dealing with chronic illness as well as healthcare providers.
Research also shows mindfulness based stress reduction has profound effects on our brain, increasing the amount of gray matter in the regions that are involved in regulating our emotions, taking perspective, self-reference processing, as well as learning and memory.
Hydrotherapy is the technique of using water to improve health, whether for stress management, pain relief or to help deal with specific illness or disease.
While you can enjoy a soothing bath in your tub, or get into a sauna, there are also other methods of hydrotherapy that are available, using various temperatures or soaks that help heal the body.
In East Carolina University’s School of Nursing, researchers observed that in women in spontaneous labor, hydrotherapy reduced anxiety, pain as well as cortisol levels while the women were immersed.
The next time you’re feeling stressed try giving yourself a foot rub.
In Korea’s Songwon College, middle aged women who were grouped into a self-foot reflexology group showed lower stress and fatigue levels, as well as better blood circulation compared to those 7who didn’t undergo reflexology.
It is a simple way to reduce stress especially at home, as it doesn’t require visiting any specialist or special equipment.
It’s also worth noting that reflexology isn’t limited to just the foot rub, which is a common misconception.
Reflexology, by definition, is the application of pressure to the feet, hands and ears. These zones are said to be connected to the various organs and systems of the body.
And, by applying proper pressure in the correct reflex zones, it is able to address issues involving the liver, kidney, digestion and endocrine glands.
This is something that regular massage, which focuses on bones, joints and muscles can’t do. For this kind of treatment though, going to a specialist is needed.
A study from the U.K.’s Anglia Ruskin University, reveals that participants who underwent reflexology experienced significant reductions on anxiety levels as well as blood pressure and heart rate. Thus, improving overall level of stress.
Tai chi, which is an ancient martial art that is practiced using slow, graceful movements along with deep breathing and mental focus is a low impact, low speed, and no stretching involved exercise activity that anyone can do.
This makes it safe for anyone, regardless of fitness level or age.
Very similar to yoga, tai chi offers numerous health benefits.
According to a review of studies done by the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, participants who engaged in tai chi experienced reduced stress levels, lowered anxiety and depression, better self-esteem and improved moods.
To compare with other forms of stress busting techniques, research at La Trobe University in Australia noted that tai chi offered similar reductions in cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate to that of brisk walking at 6 km/hr., which is around 3.7 mph.
One of the best things about tai chi is that there’s no gym membership or class fees needed to join. You’ve probably seen groups of elderly tai chi practitioners in the park during early mornings.
Just join in and follow along.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is rooted in putting together techniques in cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. The concept is based on the belief that what one thinks or believes, affects one’s behavior and vice versa.
In CBT, changing one’s cognition, for example believing that you’re not good enough to compete with someone or achieve a goal, makes it difficult to actually succeed because you’re limiting yourself. CBT’s goal is to correct this mindset.
In the same way, it intervenes in your behavior. For example, in someone who gets stressed when big responsibilities or projects are given to them, their instinctive behavior will be to shun getting assigned to these projects or as project leader. But in doing so, it reinforces their current “fearful of responsibility/challenge” mindset.
By changing the root of the emotional burden through cognitive restructuring, CBT helps fix the resultant behavior like stress, depression or anxiety.
In an analysis of 269 reviews of cognitive behavioral therapy, Boston University researchers found that CBT has a wide ranging reach in terms of benefits covering not only stress and anxiety but also depression, addiction, aggression and criminal behavior.
More on CBT in this video:
The benefits of yoga are numerous. This is in part because of its ability to affect both mind and body.
Offering both a physical as well as a mental aspect to it, the practice of yoga allows you to reduce not only mental and emotional stress but also physical ones.
In a review of yoga’s effects on stress and anxiety, researchers observed that yoga provided significant reductions in anxiety as well as stress.
The benefits included lower blood pressure levels, reduced heart rate and better respiratory function after completing yoga programs. Yoga also affected the levels of stress hormones including a decrease in cortisol numbers.
One of the healthiest practices anyone can incorporate into their lives, meditation brings with it a host of benefits.
Among the benefits of meditation is its ability to relieve stress and slow down our minds to help us relax as well as achieve better focus.
A form of directed concentration, attention is placed on being aware of a specific object of action, like your breathing or a phrase.
In an experiment to see how meditation is able to affect acute stress, researchers recruited 34 healthy male students to play computer games for 10 minutes. Stress response from the game was enough to increase heart rate as well as produce skin temperature changes in the participants.
After mediation, the researchers observed increased relaxation in the students as well as improvements in their perception of acute stress.
In the workplace setting, the Royal North Shore Hospital’s Discipline of Psychiatry in Australia studied 178 workers during an 8 week trial comparing meditation to other methods in to see their effects on stress, anxiety and depression.
Compared to the other groups, those who practiced mediation saw improvements in stress levels, profile of mood, depression and anxiety.
Available in a variety of forms, spending as little as 5 to 20 minutes daily meditating helps you get healthier and feel more relaxed.
When moments of stress suddenly pop out of nowhere and take you by surprise, one of the best things you can probably do is to take slow deep breaths.
Taking 4 seconds to slowly breathe in, and another 4 seconds to exhale will help lower blood pressure as well as slow down your pulse rate.
A study from Spain’s Universidad País Vasco reported that university students who were assigned to do voluntary breathing therapy, 4 weeks of practice resulted in reduced cortisol levels showing decreases in the students’ stress.
Practicing deep breathing also helps improve cardiovascular health, as shown by research published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine. The study recruited 100 hypertensive individuals and instructed them in mental relaxation as well as slow breathing techniques.
Results revealed that deep breathing resulting in bigger drops in blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate compared to mental relaxation.
Also, a single session of 10 minutes of slow breathing was enough to start showing improvements.
Guided visualization, also known as guided imagery is one of the most common ways of calming oneself.
By imagining yourself in a peaceful and serene location, and letting all your senses soak up the surroundings, you’re able to slow down the sympathetic nervous system activity to get more relaxed.
Done with eyes closed, focusing on happy, good or healthy images allows our mind’s eye to connect with our brain.
Because around 80% of our sense perception comes from our vision, having our eyes closed and not occupied by our surroundings gives it the ability to connect and influence our emotions.
A study on overweight adolescents found that spending just 4 sessions of guided imagery significantly reduced cortisol levels.
Check out the video below to try out a short guided imagery exercise.
One soothing way to de-stress and relax has been through our sense of smell. Aromatherapy through the use of essential oils like lavender or tea tree are a great way to wind down after a long or rough day.
According to the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Department of Chemistry, essential oils carrying the scents of lavender, orange, rose, sandalwood and lime, among others, affects the section of our brains that regulates our emotions.
This allows them, via our smell receptors, to reduce levels of anxiety and stress.
Also, a study published in the International Journal of Nursing Practice found that nurses who pinned a bottle of 3% lavender oil on their clothing’s right chest section saw decreases in stress symptoms in as little as 3 to 4 days.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) combines both mind and body.
Its one major advantage is that you can do it anywhere, even in your office desk.
This method involves progressively tensing one’s muscles for a short time, anywhere between 5 to 20 seconds, then letting the muscles relax.
It involves a mental aspect to it requiring you to be able to focus and also distinguish between the states of relaxation and tension.
By going back and forth between the 2 states, you are able to get pain relief, decrease levels of anxiety and stress. It also promotes as well as better concentration and ability to control your inner feelings.
Progressive muscle relaxation has been shown to lower cortisol levels, help with hypertension and also slow down heart rate.
Research published in Stress: The International Journal on the Biology of Stress notes that in 101 first year university students, practicing progressive muscle relaxation resulted in a reduction of salivary cortisol by 8% and self-reported stress by 10%.
A separate study also reveals that once a week PMR training was able to yield immediate benefits in lowering the participants’ heart rates by a mean of 2.4 bpm, systolic blood pressure by 5.4 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.4 mmHg.
When the 4 week course was done, the subjects saw additional drops of 2.9 bpm in pulse rate, reduction of 5 mmHg and 3 mmHg more in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively.
To try progressive muscle relaxation, check out this guided video:
Faith and connecting with your spiritual side is another way that many people have found to help cope with stressful life situations.
While many people join religious communities because of their faith, surveys show that a good number of people also do so as a means of stress relief.
The social aspect and the feeling of belonging with people who have similar interests and beliefs is one of the reasons why attending church or religious gatherings is effective in reducing depression, stress and negative mood.
At the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, researchers discovered that attending church offers a way of lessening the symptoms of depression. It was also beneficial in preserving cognitive function in the elderly.
If you aren’t a fan of attending church where there are a lot of strangers around, try a smaller setting like a prayer group.
Smaller groups that involved interpersonal contact also provided similar results based on a study done by the University of Mississippi. Those who participated in 1 hour prayer sessions that involved person to person contact exhibited improvements in anxiety as well as depression.
If you don’t like joining congregations of people or communities, connecting with your spiritual side at home works just as well.
While there’s less of a social aspect to it, science has shown that faith, religion and spirituality help relieve pressures from daily life and allow many to cope with stress.
A set of prayer beads, rosary or just sitting down and praying goes a long way.
A study presented in The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine reveals that patients who suffered from depression and anxiety benefited from regular prayer intervention.
The experiment, which involved 1 hour prayer sessions a week for 6 weeks, resulted in significant reductions in anxiety and depression. It also increased optimism in the participants. The effects kept improving up to a duration of 1 year after the study.
For those less interested in religion, engaging in other spiritual or faith based practices is another option that produces results.
At the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, HIV patients who went through a faith/assurance based training using mantram intervention experienced decreases in their cortisol levels during the 5 weeks of the program.
Don’t forget to shore up on the essential vitamins and minerals.
Those listed below have been linked to lowering stress as well as preventing diseases related to physical, emotional and psychological stress.
The vitamins & minerals below can all be found in food, which is what we recommend. But if you can’t get enough through diet, supplementing them works just as well.
The most common vitamin supplement known by us, vitamin C is integral to our immune system health. While popularly used to prevent the onset of colds, it also helps regulate the body’s cortisol levels, which is the hormone our bodies secrete more of during that “fight or flight” response.
A study by Germany’s University of Trier found that supplementing young healthy adults with 3 times a day of 1000 mg ascorbic acid resulted in lower blood pressure as well as subjective stress response from stimuli. The subjects also exhibited faster cortisol recovery from the stressed state levels.
Getting enough vitamin C is a great way to reduce stress’ effects not just mentally but also physically.
Studies have also indicated that people with lower levels of vitamin C don’t bounce back from stressful events as fast as those who do.
While readily available in supplement form, natural food sources that are high in vitamin C include:
Folate is one of the most important components of making red blood cells.
Red blood cells are vital for the normal functioning of all our organs as it delivers oxygen and nutrients to our tissues.
Folate likewise plays a role in our brain and nervous system as well as cardiovascular system.
For stress, folate helps in mood regulation along with decreasing anxiety and depression. In addition, this vitamin contributes in the production of dopamine which is one of the neurotransmitters that make us feel better.
A study reveals that in over 2,200 Japanese workers, researchers observed that those who had more depressive symptoms had low levels of folate. Compiling their data, the researchers noted that there was an inverse relationship between the subjects’ levels of folate and depression.
One of the reasons for its effects, discovered by researchers in another study performed on mice, is that folate blocks depressive like behavior and hippocampal antioxidant imbalance caused by stress. Supplementing the mice with folate allowed the limit the effects.
When it comes to folate, there’s always the question of folic acid. What’s the difference between the two?
While easier to get in larger amounts, folic acid doesn’t automatically turn into folate which the body uses after the digestive system converts it to 5-MTHF, the form of vitamin B9 it can use.
The folic acid however, needs to be converted by our body’s tissues and liver. The problem with this is that the process is inefficient, and slow.
So while folic acid is more convenient, trying to get folate straight out of our diets is a more effective way of making sure our body uses it efficiently.
While we’re on the topic of vitamin B, don’t forget to shore up on the rest of them. Vitamin B supplements assist in regulating our mood as well as battle stress.
Research by Northumbria University in the U.K. observed that in a double-blind study, participants who were give high dose vitamin B complex with vitamin C over a 33 day period presented reduced levels of stress, better overall general health feeling and improved mood. They also performed better in the cognitive tests.
The vitamin B family is actually comprised of 8 different vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 (folic acid) and B12.
Often found in a vitamin B complex tablet (though not always all included, and with different amounts), they play a major role in cell metabolism.
In particular, vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B12 (cobalamins), are involved in regulating our stress levels so they don’t get out of control. Vitamin B6, is also involved in serotonin production, while B12 plays a role in GABA formulation which helps in calming us down.
Despite being one of the most important minerals needed by the body, magnesium deficiency is a widespread problem.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 75% of Americans don’t get the recommended daily amount of magnesium.
With stress and its effects, magnesium plays a role in regulating the response.
During times of acute stress, the body releases extra amounts of cortisol.
In extended periods, chronic stress, this becomes an issue as excess cortisol is harmful to our brain’s hippocampus.
Having sufficient amounts of magnesium helps suppress the hippocampus so our adrenal glands don’t release as much cortisol. It does this by reducing the amount of ACTH, which is the signal sent by the brain’s pituitary gland to our adrenal glands to tell it to secrete more cortisol.
Magnesium is likewise involved in dopamine production as well as GABA.
Just as importantly, during times of stress, our bodies excrete more magnesium when we urinate. This makes it more essential to have sufficient amounts of magnesium.
German scientists found that supplementing with magnesium (Mg) helped triathletes reduce the levels of stress experienced during a race (500 m swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run), while not interfering with athletic performance.
Compared with the control group which didn’t take magnesium supplements, the Mg group had lower levels of cortisol during the stressful event.
Vitamin D is well known for its role in helping us build strong bones.
However, it brings with it a lot more health benefits. Among them is helping ward off cardiovascular disease, immune system problems, dementia and cancer.
This vitamin, which is also readily available from the sun, helps the body fight stress.
Studies show that during the winter months, when the sun isn’t up as much, and people don’t get enough sunlight, depression can set it.
In a review and meta-analysis of trials, researchers from St Joseph’s Hospital in Canada gathered data from 14 studies covering a total of over 31,000 participants.
The data revealed that subjects with depression were more likely to have low vitamin D levels. Conversely, subjects with high vitamin D levels were less likely to suffer from depression.
One of the less popularly known minerals, zinc plays a part in keeping our immune system healthy as well as allow us to taste and smell things.
More importantly, zinc is present in all the tissues of our body. It is needed for proper cell division.
Another aspect of this mineral is that it is involved with our hormone levels.
Low levels of zinc causes stress on the body as well as speeds up the aging process.
Among the hormones it affects are the production of cortisol and adrenaline, both of which increase when our bodies respond to stressful situations.
Taking zinc temporarily inhibits cortisol secretion by our adrenal glands.
Brazilian researchers observed that taking between 25 to 50 mg of zinc orally inhibits secretion of cortisol for up to 4 hours. As a result of the lower level of cortisol, we feel less stressed.
For those who aren’t fans of the details, or figuring out which vitamins and minerals to get, a simpler way to go about things is via a multivitamin.
In young men between the ages of 18 to 42 years old, taking a multivitamin for 28 days resulted in lower levels of perceived stress, along with less anxiety.
Do note that while multivitamins may seem similar on the outside, they often contain very different lists of vitamins and minerals. Plus, the amounts of each also varies, so examining the label is needed.
This section covers the different supplements, including herbal extract options that have been shown to provide stress relief.
Note that because many of these supplements come with side effects and interact with other medication, it is essential to consult with your physician before taking any of these.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which is found in fatty fish, fish oil supplements and some plant sources is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
This makes it helpful in battling the chronic stress that’s associated with inflammation. Omega-3 fat consumption has also been shown to help fight depression.
A study from France’s Hôpital de la Cavale Blanche, found that in a small sample consisting of 7 participants, taking fish oil supplements, for their omega-3 fat content, for 3 weeks blunted the stress response when given a mentally challenging tasks.
When the same test was given to the subjects before omega-3 supplementation, their levels of epinephrine and cortisol, both stress hormones, increased by 47% and 28%. The same test revealed much lower levels after the 3 week fish oil regimen.
Probiotics are what’s often referred to as “good bacteria”. They’re found in our gut and work to balance the “bad bacteria” so we have a healthy digestive system.
Having enough of these good bacteria is crucial for healthy digestion as well as prevention of gastrointestinal problems.
Probiotics, like those found in yogurt, miso, kimchi, and sauerkraut help boost immunity as well.
According to research from Ireland’s University of College Cork, mice that were given probiotics exhibited changes in mood related to stress, anxiety and depression. The results showed that the changes caused in the animal’s gut by the introduction of certain bacteria (the probiotics) affected the brain’s level of chemicals and response when the rats were presented with stressful stimuli.
This puts into focus the concept of the gut-brain connection wherein these 2 parts of our bodies communicate with one another. As a result, any changes caused by diet to one’s gut micro flora effectively can change one’s psychological makeup.
In the experiment, by modifying the bacteria in the gut of the mice, the scientists saw reductions in their responses to stress and anxiety. The animals also were more relaxed and exhibited lower levels of stress hormones after introduction of probiotics.
In patients preparing to go into laryngeal cancer surgery, the introduction of probiotics helped lower psychological stress levels. Patients who didn’t take probiotics saw increases in their serum corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), which signals the release of stress hormones, whereas those who too probiotics did not see increases in their CRF.
Known for causing sleepiness after a turkey Thanksgiving meal, tryptophan actually isn’t the cause of our sleepiness, though it may have a hand in it.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s present in the body.
It is required by the brain to produce serotonin which is the chemical that’s related to happiness, sleepiness and feeling of well-being.
Because consuming foods high in tryptophan or taking supplements helps increase our serotonin, tryptophan effectively helps calm us down. It also plays a role in regulating our endocrine system which is in charge of releasing cortisol during the first signs of stress.
Research suggests that changes in our brain’s levels of tryptophan affects how much serotonin it has. As a result, in subjects where the brain’s tryptophan levels dropped saw succeeding reduction in their brain serotonin as well, potentially resulting in more irritability, lower mood and aggression.
Its relationship with serotonin makes it useful in situations involving stress, anxiety, depression, as well mood and behavior regulation.
5-HTP, or 5-Hydroxytryptophan, is a precursor to serotonin. As a result, taking 5-HTP supplements help boost serotonin levels which improve our emotional feelings as well as lift our moods.
Because of this, it is very similar in function to L-Tryptophan just mentioned above. However, some people prefer 5-HTP over L-Tryptophan because there is less conversion needed to be done by the body to produce serotonin from 5-HTP compared with L-Tryptophan.
Studies have shown that supplementing with 5-HTP helps increase levels of serotonin, making it effective in helping individuals with sleep problems, depression, eating disorders, aggression, pain, anxiety and stress.
Did you know that tea, like coffee, contains caffeine?
Depending on the variety of tea you get, one 8 oz. cup can contain anywhere from 20 mg to 90 mg of caffeine.
Caffeine content in popular teas (based on 8 oz. cups):
And while it may be a less than the 90 to 200 mg of caffeine found it coffee, it begs the question, why do we feel calm and relaxed after a sip of tea and more hyper with coffee?
The answer is theanine, more specifically L-theanine.
L-Theanine is a compound present in tea that offers a calming effect and reduces our physiological response to stress.
Theanine affects our brain in a variety of ways including:
This gives us that calming, tranquil feel yet allows us to be more focused.
Japanese researchers at Nagoya University observed that in 12 individuals, taking L-Theanine resulted in lower levels of stress. Monitoring the subjects’ responses to a stressful task showed that the L-Theanine helped keep heart rate and salivary immunoglobulin A (s-IgA), an immunologic stress marker, lower than without the compound.
Theanine comes in various forms. You can get it in tea, though you’ll need to drink a lot of it to treat anxiety and stress which is why many turn to L-Theanine in supplement form, or in extract form, like green tea extracts.
Lemon balm is an herb that can be found in many gardens.
It is related to mint and has been used in many cultures both for boosting memory as well as helping people sleep, induce calmness and mood improvement.
Used in alternative medicine to relieve stress and anxiety, this herb works in part by increasing the brain’s GABA levels to help bring about relaxation and a slowing down of the system.
In a U.K. study, participants were divided into a group that took 300 mg or 600 mg of lemon balm, and compared with a placebo group.
A single dose of 300 mg was enough to increase math processing ability without sacrificing accuracy. Meanwhile, the 600 mg group experienced lower stress, more calmness and added alertness.
Additional research, which used a pilot study followed by 2 crossover studies also found similar results, noticing that lemon balm providing the effect of improving mood as well as cognitive performance.
Gingko biloba comes from the tall, Gingko tree that has its roots in China.
This plant attributes it health benefits from the high antioxidant levels it contains, including flavonoids and terpenoids.
Very popular among those who use alternative medicine, this plant comes in many forms including tablets, and liquid form.
The extract that is obtained from the dried leaves of the plant is sometimes used to make teas as well.
Gingko biloba is often used for its ability to improve one’s memory as well as let them think better. Other useful benefits is its anti-anxiety properties, as well as allowing people to be more social.
A study found that taking a 120 mg Gingko biloba extract helped lower blood pressure levels and cortisol levels in healthy young individuals, during a stressful situation.
To understand better its effects on the brain, Indian researchers monitored the levels of norepinephrine, dopamine, 5-HT and plasma corticosterone to see how supplementation of the ginkgo extract affected the stress response.
Results showed that the ginkgo biloba extract helped bring back the hormone levels to near normal after stress was introduced.
While some of the herbs have little to few side effects, this isn’t one of them, which is why it’s important to ask your physician before taking ginkgo. Among the side effects people have experienced include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, headaches and dizziness.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring substance in our bodies. It is produced in our brains from the tiny pineal gland.
This hormone plays a major role in controlling our sleep-wake cycle.
It is the reason why we find it easier to sleep when nighttime comes or when it’s dark, and less so when there’s light.
Melatonin, because of its association with sleep, is related to our mood. Taking melatonin also helps lower stress levels, anxiety and depression.
To measure melatonin’s ability to curb stress, researchers recruited healthy female volunteers.
Women who supplemented with 10 mg of melatonin during the late follicular and early luteal phases of the menstrual cycle (for a 5 day period), presented with different levels of measured prolactin.
Prolactin is a hormone that’s produced in the pituitary gland. It is linked to breastmilk production, and is used as a measure of stress levels as prolactin levels tend to rise during stressful situations. This along with the responses of the participants in their mood questionnaires indicated reduction in stress in the group that too melatonin.
Valerian is a small plant whose root is used for medicinal purposes. This herb is used for treating stress, anxiety and insomnia.
Research suggests that it is effective in lowering heart rate as well as bringing down blood pressure levels during stressful situations.
Available in various forms including capsule, tablet, tea or fluid extract, it is often combined with other calming herbs like lemon balm or kava. Do note however, that kava has been linked to some instances of liver toxicity, so we don’t recommend doing anything with kava.
While scientists aren’t sure how valerian root causes its effects, some believe that it increases the level of GABA in the brain bringing about the relaxing and calming effect.
While relatively safe, this herb, like most herbs, interact with certain medications including statins and sedatives. Thus, it is important not to take it when using such medication.
Gingseng belongs to a class of herbs that are called adaptogens.
Adaptogens are well known in alternative medicine for their ability to lower our sensitivity to stress.
They work by promoting homeostasis, to get the body back into “balance”. This includes our mental faculties. Ginseng comes in many varieties, the most popular in the west being Panax ginseng.
In a review of past studies studies on ginseng, The Ewha Womans University in South Korea notes that Panax ginseng (P. Ginseng) offers both physical and cognitive effects. It helps fight stress and fatigue as well as improves memory and immune function.
The study does note that a big issue with ginseng, even with just this one variation, namely P. ginseng, is that the active ingredient in the herb, which is ginsenosides, can vary very widely.
This can cause inconsistencies in use as well as testing for standardization.
In a related study, researchers from India’s Central Drug Research Institute compared the effects of Panax ginseng with Gingko biloba to see how each of the herbs affected subjects during different types of stress.
The results revealed that for acute stress situations, G. biloba performed better countering the biological changes caused by the stressor. However, when it came to chronic stress, P. ginseng performed better with regards to reversing the effects of chronic stress on the same biological markers.
Lysine is one of the 8 essential amino acids adults need to be healthy. They’re called essential because our bodies need them, and just as importantly, it cannot manufacture them itself.
This means that we need to get these amino acids through food or supplements.
In a study performed at the Institute of Life Sciences at the Ajinomoto Co. in Japan, scientists found that supplementing one’s diet with L-lysine and L-arginine helped regulate the stress response hormone levels in individuals with high anxiety.
The experiment was performed with 108 healthy adults who were given L-lysine and L-arginine for 1 week. Both supplements were provided at 2.64 grams each daily.
Results revealed that supplementation reduced the subjects’ cortisol levels as well as chromogranin-A, which is a marker for the adrenal system.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a naturally occurring compound in our bodies. It helps support brain health and protects cells from damage by keeping them strong.
While available in certain food sources like egg yolks and organ meats, it usually comes in form of a supplement. What makes phosphatidylserine enticing it that it blunts the effects of stress, especially physical stress.
A study involving 8 male individuals who were put through physical exercise using a bicycle ergonometer, researchers observed that taking 50 mg or 75 mg of phosphatidylserine resulted in the significant inhibition of ACTH and cortisol, sparing the athletes from their effects.
In related research, subjects were given larger doses, 600 mg of phosphatidylserine, to take for 10 days before going on a cycle ergonometer for 15 minutes at moderate intensity. Results revealed that taking phosphatidylserine before the bout of exercise helps keep the cortisol response low despite the physical stress.
The value for PS in use with exercise is its ability to prevent muscle deterioration from too much exercise as well as speed up the recovery period for athletes.
The one downside with phosphatidylserine however, is that it is expensive.
Rhodiola Rosea is another herbal supplement that belongs in the adaptogen class. This makes effective in protecting you from the stress response that’s yet to happen.
Found in colder climates as well as high altitudes, this herb is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression along with managing stress.
While still a lot is unsure on how Rhodiola Rosea actually works, it is known that the phytochemicals in the herb work to inhibit the breakdown of serotonin.
Doing so allows our brain’s serotonin to stay higher which helps give us that psychological resistance to stress.
Research shows that taking 200 mg tablets of Rhodiola rosea twice a day, one before breakfast and one before lunch for 2 weeks resulted in subjects experiencing lower levels of stress, anxiety, depression, anger and confusion, relative to the group that didn’t take the herbal supplement.
A review of literature related to the supplement using electronic databases as its sources, also found that in 11 trials, Rhodiola rosea showed benefits in mental performance, physical performance as well as in treating disorders.
The review did reveal that while there were some side effects, these were mild, with the herb being well tolerated by subjects.
SAM-e, or S-adenosylmethionine is a compound that’s present in our body’s tissues. It works with folate and vitamin B12, and is involved in maintaining healthy cell membranes and immune system.
Part of this compound’s function is its role in the production as well as breaking down of the chemicals in our brain, including melatonin, serotonin and dopamine.
It is a supplement that’s used for the treatment of depression, and has been shown to work as well as antidepressants with less side effects.
In individuals with depressive disorder who aren’t responding to medication, research shows that taking S-adenosylmethionine as adjunctive therapy to serotonin reuptake inhibitor is effective.
SAM-e however, isn’t available in food, but is created by the body by other compounds. To supplement, tablets are made available.
Named after St. John the Baptist, this is another herb that’s popular in alternative medicine.
The plant is named as such because it is at full bloom around the time of the saint’s feast day (June 24).
Used for treating insomnia, depression and anxiety, St. John’s Wort works by helping lower the levels of interleukin-6, a protein, which in high amounts is linked to depression.
Additionally, the herb also helps keep more serotonin in the brain, something that research has shown to help prevent depression.
A study conducted by the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt in Germany notes that the supplement gets it effectiveness by inhibiting serotonin uptake. It also found that the intensity of the different available types is based on how much hyperforin, the active ingredient, that certain product has.
Compared to other herbs which can come with numerous side effects, this one has a relative better safety profile, should you be looking for something to help increase serotonin levels, for anxiety or mild to moderate depression.
The American Journal of Natural Medicine even notes that physicians in Germany often prescribe St. John’s Wort over Prozac.
Below is a list of foods that help fight stress. We’ve kept our list as short as we could considering those that deserve special mention. Our list is by no means exhaustive as this article isn’t solely focused foods for stress relief.
When it comes to food, one of the best ways to help fight stress is to pick foods high in antioxidants.
Antioxidants are compounds found in food, especially fruits and vegetables. They are valuable to our bodies because these chemicals protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, which cause oxidative stress.
As a result, diets rich in antioxidants, or taking vitamins as supplements to get the antioxidants, is a great way to prevent illnesses like arthritis, stroke, aging, diabetes and heart disease. All of which are linked to oxidative stress.
Research also suggests that individuals who are suffer from depression and anxiety disorder have low antioxidant levels, including vitamin A, C, and E. The good news is short term supplementation of antioxidants help improve anxiety and depression symptoms.
Among the best foods to grab hold of when you’re feeling stressed are green leafy vegetables. Foods like kale, collards, spinach, lettuce and parsley are good choices because they contain healthy amounts of magnesium, folate and B vitamins.
A study performed by the Department of Human Nutrition in New Zealand’s University of Otago, also shows that in 281 young adults, eating 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables makes them more positive the next day.
The results were tallied from online diet diaries kept by the participants during the course of a 3 week long study.
One quick way to get more veggies in, as well as fruits is to blend or juice them.
With advancement in research, scientists now know that what’s in your gut affects your brain.
More and more studies suggest that the type of bacteria in your gut and how much you have of it affects not only your emotions and thinking but also levels of stress.
This is a reason that many experts are now believe that one of the keys to improving mental health is by improving our gut flora through what we eat.
A study done by UCLA scientists found that changing the gut’s microbiota, or bacterial environment, affects the brain. For the study, 36 healthy women were recruited and divided into 2 groups.
One group was asked to consume yogurt that contained a mix of probiotics while the other group ate a similar dairy product that didn’t have probiotics.
Results using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on the subjects’ brains showed that the twice a day, 4 week yogurt with probiotic group exhibited less stress and emotional response when presented with stress-related stimuli.
A related study by Finnish researchers also suggests that yogurt with probiotics helps with chronic stress. In high anxiety individuals, participants who consumed yogurt enriched with probiotics reported less feeling of inefficiency and better vigor.
Fatty fish, including salmon, are among the best options around for anyone looking to increase their Omega-3 fatty acid intake.
Along with other fatty fish like tuna, sardines, mackerel and anchovies, this marine animal gives you the healthy EPA and DPA that helps improve your mood and well-being.
A study by Taiwan’s China Medical University Hospital notes in a review that omega-3 helps reduce mood and anxiety disorders.
It also notes the roles of omega-3 fats in reducing inflammation, oxidation as well as helping with brain neuroplasticity (ability to restructure itself after learning/training) and neurogenesis (new brain cells are formed).
Related research from Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition also revealed that in patients suffering from anxiety disorders, those with the lowest EPA and DHA levels were linked to higher severity and presence of comorbidity.
In addition to the health polyunsaturated fats, salmon is also contains a good amount of vitamin B12, which helps keep our nervous system in healthy.
While we all agree that salmon is a healthy food choice, there’s always the question of farm-raised or caught in the wild.
Here’s a closer look.
Both species are different and have different constitutions, to briefly summarize:
Here’s a table to give you an idea of how the omega-3 fats stack up.
Omega-3 fat content per 3 oz. cooked yields:
Loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients, blueberries help our body respond to stress and protect us from the negative effects of free radicals that result from life’s stressors.
Among the antioxidants in this fruit is anthocyanin, which gives blueberries and blackberries their dark pigment.
Anthocyanins are involved in the brain’s production of dopamine which assists in improving our mood, as well as memory.
Additionally, blueberries are a good source of vitamin C. One cup contains 24% of our daily vitamin C recommended intake. This helps protect and repair our cells.
A study performed by the Appalachian State University found that consuming 250 grams of blueberries daily for a 6 week period, plus another 375 grams one hour before taking on a strenuous 2 hour run, reduced the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by the physical activity.
Of the 25 athletes, those who consumed blueberries had higher levels of natural killer cells, which are a type of white blood cells that are essential for our immune function, and fighting stress.
Instead of grabbing for a bag of chips or other junk food in the middle of the day, how about a handful of nuts.
Nuts are much healthier option compared to many other snacks, especially those containing trans fat and artificial ingredients.
Nuts have been linked to improved cholesterol levels and weight loss. They contain healthy fats and good amounts of fiber.
One added bonus of nuts is they contain nutrients that help alleviate stress. The B vitamins found in many of the nuts counter our body’s stress response.
In particular, pistachios were found the offer anti-stress properties. In a study involving 28 participants, researchers observed that those who had pistachios added to their diets exhibited improved stress levels.
The data also showed that how much you consume may matter. Those who ate 1 serving a day of pistachios saw a 4.8 mmHg drop in the systolic blood pressure, while those who ate 2 servings a day, slightly less with a 2.4 mmHg drop.
Nuts also contain magnesium, a mineral that helps regulate our stress response.
With nuts, the type you eat does make a difference, since they’re all very different. For instance,
If you’re craving for something delicious to comfort you during stressful times, go for dark chocolate instead of other unhealthy options.
Dark chocolate, one with 70% or more cocoa, is one of the healthiest foods around containing a number of minerals, is loaded with antioxidants and healthy compounds.
While you can’t eat a lot of it due to its high calorie content, enjoying small amounts help with stress relief.
When Swiss researchers at the Nestle Research Center experimented by giving participants 40 grams of dark chocolate for a 2 week period, they found that not only did the subjects’ level of the stress hormone cortisol decrease but there were also changes in the microbial activity in their guts.
Additionally, related research also shows that dark chocolate consumption acts as a buffer that protects us during the stress response. The study believes that the effects are as a result of inhibiting the ACTH which is what signals our adrenal glands to secrete more cortisol.
Chocolate helps stabilize metabolism and as shown above regulates our cortisol to help fight stress. But it doesn’t stop there. In total, this food contain 300 different compounds many of which contribute in suppressing the negative effects of stress, among other things.
Here are a few other ingredients you get with each bite of chocolate:
So the next time you feel stressed, reach out for some dark chocolate.
If seeds aren’t a part of your diet, you may want to give them a try.
Unlike other foods where you need to consume a lot. Seeds are easy to integrate into drinks, salads, and entrees.
Better yet, all you need is a small scoop to get big benefits.
With stress, we like seeds for their magnesium content. Magnesium plays a role in over 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies effecting almost all of our tissues.
More importantly, magnesium deficiency has been linked to depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
Nutritionists at the University of North Carolina note that not having enough magnesium increases the effects of stress whether it is physical or emotional.
Also, as a result of the stress response and its increased effects, someone who lacks magnesium in their bodies it placed at increased risk of hypertension, arrhythmias and blood flow constriction to the brain and heart.
The good news is adding magnesium to your diet, via food like seeds or supplements, helps with recovery, as it has been done to help those with major depression and stress recover.
When it comes to seeds, here are some of the good choices to build up your magnesium levels.
Avocados are delicious and nutritious, 2 words that don’t often go together. It is one of the most nutrient dense foods around.
They are also a rich source of plant omega-3 fats, which work well to fight stress.
In research published in the Nutrition Journal, participants whose diets were supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids resulted in a significant decreased in their level of stress.
The same reduction was not seen in the other group which didn’t consume omega-3 fats.
In addition, Israeli researchers found an association between omega-3 fatty acid consumption and reduced depression. Their review of 3 studies reveals that omega-3 fat supplementation is effective in lowering depression levels in both children and adults.
Aside from the healthy polyunsaturated fats, avocados supply us with tryptophan which helps boost serotonin levels. It is likewise rich in antioxidants including vitamin C (24% of RDA) and E (16% of RDA), and comes with good amounts of:
that help fight stress and anxiety.
They’re not the prettiest to look at, and for most people, the slimy texture is an acquired feel and taste. However, oysters, well known for their ability as aphrodisiacs, also provide you with a way to lower your stress level.
Oysters rank at the top of the all foods when it comes to levels of zinc based on nutrient density. Just 6 medium sized oysters give you over 76 mg of zinc, which is equivalent to more than 500% of our daily zinc recommended intake.
Research shows that patients with low levels of zinc were associated with higher risk of depression. And supplementation of zinc also helps provide antidepressant therapy.
Mangoes aren’t always in season but when they are, grab one.
This particular fruit contains a compound called linalool, which has been shown to be effective in lowering stress levels.
Just inhaling the aroma from foods that contain linalool, like mangoes, basil and lemons, has been shown the reduce stress.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, observed that stressed rats who were exposed to linalool exhibited reduced the amount of activity in more than 100 genes that were triggered during the stress response.
Inhaling the odor of the compound also reduced their inflammatory markers.
Incidentally, linalool is one of the ingredients found in lavender and other essential oils like ylang ylang and rosewood, which give them those calming effects during aromatherapy.
There’s a reason many of us turn to carbohydrates as comfort food when we’re feeling down or under pressure. They help soothe our mood.
Carbs help alleviate our stressful feelings as they increase our levels of tryptophan compared to other amino acids.
Tryptophan then triggers more serotonin in our brains giving comfort to us. It also brings about that emotion of feeling satisfied.
Research presented in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming a breakfast high in carbohydrates not only increased the levels of insulin but also the levels of tryptophan.
On the other hand, a high protein breakfast didn’t have the same effects.
In animal studies, scientists likewise observed that rats which were fed carbohydrates also saw increases of tryptophan and subsequent rise in serotonin in their brain.
The problem with many carbs is that too much of it, and eating the less healthy kind of it, simple carbs, has been associated with weight gain and blood glucose spikes, both of which affect health negatively.
Scientific evidence also reveals that carbs, in part because of the increased serotonin’s effects on our brains can often lead to overeating and carbohydrate cravings. This leads to a cycle which results in obesity and depression as individuals turn to these foods to make themselves feel better.
Along with moderation in carbohydrate consumption, a better option would be to skip the simple carbs and go with complex carbs.
Brown rice, whole grains, sweet potatoes, oats, whole wheat pasta and beans are some healthier options that help reduce stress yet not cause as dramatic spikes in blood sugar levels.
Many of today’s commercially prepared foods are loaded with sugar. In fact too much sugar.
While we know that sugar comes with many negative health effects, it’s also worth noting that consuming food or drinks high in sugar amplifies the body’s cortisol response during stressful situations.
To evaluate sugar’s effects our stress response, researchers at Spain’s University of Valencia asked 37 male participants to either consume glucose, protein, fat or drink water, after an 8 hour fast. Later on, the participants were give a social stress test.
Compared to the other groups, those who consumed glucose exhibited higher levels of cortisol, proving that sugar activated the body’s HPA (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal) axis, which increases stress levels.
Food high in sugar, as well as beverages like soda and their diet counterparts are great for our palates, but not for our bodies.
Just like what we eat, what we drink can help or cause our stress levels to rise. These are some beverages whose ingredients can affect you.
One of the most popular beverages in the world, and a staple in breakfast tables, coffee is something you may want to cut down to reduce stress.
Research reveals that caffeine, which is present in good amounts in coffee, increases the amount of cortisol secreted by the body.
Results also showed that caffeine elevates the release of cortisol during times of mental stress as well as when you exercise. Though this affected men and women differently.
Interestingly, smelling coffee, instead of drinking it, does the opposite. The aroma blunts stress hormones.
Korean researchers at Seoul National University discovered that in sleep deprived rats, the aroma of coffee beans provided a means of relaxation from stress.
We’re not sure however, if this translates to humans since the experiment was done on rats.
It’s worth noting that it’s the caffeine in the coffee that increases stress. This means that its effect isn’t limited to coffee. All items with this ingredient can cause this. You’ll be surprised how many food and beverages contain caffeine.
Due to its antidepressant qualities, alcohol is often used to drown our stresses and sorrows.
While drinking does offer the desired effect, it only lasts temporarily.
Over the long term, frequent, heavy drinking leads to depression and anxiety.
It also increases overall stress levels as it disrupts the normal behavior of our brain’s neurotransmitters.
This results in short term stress relief in exchange for chronic stress, which isn’t something anyone wants.
Psychologists at the University of Colorado at Boulder explain that alcohol consumption activates our body’s HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which is responsible for the release of our stress hormones.
Chronic drinking, over time, also causes us to develop some tolerance to it. This makes it necessary to get more just to achieve the same effect. This process also accelerates out body’s aging process.
What’s interesting with alcohol’s relationship with stress is its paradoxical nature.
Studies reveal that drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol help reduce stress. It also offers drinkers happiness, a carefree feeling and relaxation. However, heavier drinking produces the opposite effect. It increased depression as well as stress.
Thus, the key with alcohol consumption is moderation.
One of the best beverages to drink when you’re feeling stressed is tea.
Studies show that tea, in various forms, including green, black, and chamomile offer stress relieving qualities that help calm and relax you.
Unlike coffee which can give you that kick, and surge in cortisol, tea offers a gentler effect.
In addition, they’re loaded with antioxidants that do a number of good for the body.
In a 6 week trial, participants who were asked to consume black tea exhibited lower stress responses and were more relaxed when asked to perform challenging tasks at the end of the experiment. Those who drank tea saw their cortisol levels drop nearly 50% within an hour after completing the stressful tasks, compared to smaller drops in the non-tea drinking group.
Japanese researchers also observed a link between green tea consumption and level of psychological distress. The study, involving data from over 42,000 participants, say that those who drank green tea had lower risk of psychological distress.
Milk is a great source of calcium and vitamin D. Together they help the body build strong bones. In addition, low levels of vitamin D has been shown to be linked to depression and low mood.
Drinking milk, which contains around 120 IU of vitamin D per 8 oz. glass, offers 30% of our daily recommended intake.
Additionally, milk contains tryptophan which is an amino acid that’s been associated with sleepiness, calmness and relaxation. Tryptophan is used by the body to produce serotonin, which is the hormone that’s actually responsible for the behavioral effects like relaxation and sleepiness.
Finally, the presence of potassium, magnesium and calcium all contribute to helping regulate blood pressure.
While we try to avoid medication if possible, they are effective and for some, it’s the best option.
Lastly, there’s the option of turning to medication.
While quick and effective for many, taking medicine always comes with the potential of side effects. So like the supplements and herbs above, we don’t recommend jumping in without consulting your physician beforehand.
Among the available choices for stress relief include:
For more information about these medications, see here.
In a perfect world, we’d all be cool, calm and collected, with no stress to worry about. But because of human nature, we often end up worrying about things.
Being prepared for stress the next time it rears its ugly lets you slow down and gather yourself so it doesn’t ruin your day or make you do something you might regret.