It is tough to control psychological strain; stress is a natural response to tricky situations and the outside world. Some circumstances are simply beyond our control, making coping hard to do. Fortunately, you do have control over how you react to situations. Learning healthy responses to stressors is a great place to start. As compiled from calmclinic.com, Oprah, Prevention and Women’s Health magazine, here’s how you can regain your cool even quicker than you lost it.
Chew a stick of gum
Researchers from Australia and England found that in moments of stress and anxiety, gum chewers felt less anxious and had 18 per cent less of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. “Chewing increases blood flow to the brain, which may make us feel more alert, and it may also distract us from stressors,” says study co-author Dr Andrew Scholey, director of the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University. The study suggests that chewing gum can de-stress you in as little as 10 minutes.
Brew black tea
The study of black tea —instead of green or herbal varieties — found it helps cut levels of the stress hormone cortisol circulating in the blood stream. People who drank four servings of black tea a day for six weeks were able to de-stress faster and had lower levels of cortisol after a stressful event, according to a study from University College London. Chemical compounds in the antioxidant-packed beverage may relax us through their effect on neurotransmitters in the brain.
Try a tennis ball massage
The International Journal of Neuroscience reported that a 15-minute self massage twice weekly can lower stress by soothing the sympathetic nervous system. It is an effective alternative, as compared to popping beta blockers and anti-anxiety meds. “Simply rolling a tennis ball over tense muscles like the spine, thighs and foot with the palm of your hand can trigger a calming response,” says Dr Tiffany Field, director of Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, School of Medicine.
Put pen to paper
A 2010 study in Anxiety, Stress & Coping found that writing about a stressful event for just 20 minutes on two different days lowered levels of perceived stress. Putting feelings on paper appears to organise thoughts and helps process unpleasant experiences and release negative emotions. This is a good way to confront your emotions, especially if you’re naturally inclined to write. If things become jumbled, just keep writing. It’s the process of thinking and recording your conflicts that is most important.
Tune in to music
“The body’s internal rhythms entrain to the external rhythms of music, like when you go to the sea, and you start breathing slower and your heart rate slows down and starts moving closer to the rhythm and pace of the ocean. It’s the same with music,” says Dr Frank Lipman, founder and director of Eleven-Eleven Wellness Centre. A study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that patients who listened to songs of their choice were less anxious and stressed. Boost your mood with clocking in at least 15 minutes of tune time daily.
Take a tech break
Before technology and smartphones, when you left your home or place of work, you most likely turned off the thoughts and emails related to it, too. Research shows we need mental breaks to refresh our minds and shut off the continuous stressors of work or classes. In a study by University of California, Irvine, and US Army researchers, heart rate monitors showed that checking e-mails and attending work calls put subjects on constant high alert with heart rates that indicated stress. “We found that shutting off e-mail eases anxiety,” says study co-author Dr Gloria Mark. Commit to no e-mail or social media activity for 45 minutes a day to begin weaning yourself off.
Clean the house
Housework’s repetitive nature can help release tension and calm anxious nerves. “We get lost in the rhythm of folding clothes, mopping or vacuuming, which can disrupt stressful thought patterns and trigger the body’s relaxation response,” says Dr Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Studies have found that cleaning carries emotional benefits — catharsis, clarity, control and change. These good feelings lead directly to self-improvement and empowerment. Who thought doing the dishes could have benefits!
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2015.