Stress takes a toll on just about everyone. While various studies have shown that a slightly elevated stress level can be helpfully motivating, most people go way beyond “slightly elevated” very quickly, and high levels of stress cause the hormone cortisol to skyrocket and contribute to a host of health problems. Recommendations for resolving stress are often time-consuming, and frankly, we just don’t have the time to implement them in our lives. Here are a baker’s dozen ways you can reduce stress effectively and immediately:
Got time for a cuppa? Black tea has been shown to lower cortisol levels immediately as well as over longer-term periods for regular tea drinkers. Furthermore, the study showed that it was the chemicals specific to black tea that were effective: participants given a tea-tasting substitute did not experience lower cortisol levels, while participants given a fruit-juice tasting drink with black tea properties did experience lower cortisol levels.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Can be done anywhere, anytime, by anyone. It requires no special training and has been shown to relieve stress by releasing pent up tension. Simply focus on a muscle group -say, your hands- and tense that group as much as you can -for hands, you’ll want to ball up into tight fists- and hold for a few seconds, then relax fully. Go throughout the body focusing on different muscle groups. Does this seem too simple? Check out this comprehensive PMR guide.
Drink a glass of orange juice.
Orange juice is a great source of Vitamin C. In one study participants had to complete two stressful tasks at once: public speaking involving math problems, and those who were given a vitamin C supplement beforehand showed substantially lower levels of cortisol than those who didn’t. Stress relief can be as easy as drinking a glass of liquid sunshine.
Walk barefoot in the grass.
Nope, we’re not kidding. Walking barefoot through the grass engages all of the senses, especially visual and touch. Our feet are great reflexology receptors for the rest of the body, and the pressures applied specifically by walking barefoot stimulates the first, second and third toes, which correspond to vision. The act of walking barefoot through the grass calms the mind and rejuvenates the senses, proven stress reducers, so kick off your shoes for a few minutes and feel your stress go down.
Swear out loud.
Cursing can have a beneficial effect, especially if your expletive vocabulary is particularly robust. Find a place where no one can hear you and swear your head off. Not a fan of swearing? You can achieve the same reduction of stress levels by shouting, singing or even just humming.
Try hand yoga.
This one minute practice doesn’t require you to even leave your seat, and has been shown to shift from negative feelings to a calmer, more positive state.
Adult coloring books are all the rage and it’s no wonder: they have been proven to help melt away stress and are easily and instantly accessible. Even coloring for just a few minutes can help reduce stress levels, and coloring has proven more effective than less-engaging methods of distraction, like TV or tablets, because it engages and focuses the mind in a very mellow, relaxing way.
This helps to reduce stress in two ways. The physical act of crunching the nuts is a proven stress reduction technique, but pistachios in particular help to lower blood pressure, providing an added stress-releasing boost.
Blow up a balloon slowly.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed out and someone tells me to breathe deeply the only thing it does is stress me out more. Blowing up a balloon forces you to slow your breathing and focus your intentions, simple though they may be. You can try something like this exercise or just keep a few balloons on hand to blow up (this author has a stash behind the screen of her laptop for emergency stress reduction).
Laugh it off.
Laughter is a great stress reducer and proven fatigue buster (fatigue being one of the physical signs of stress on the body). It can be tough to laugh spontaneously, though, so try saving one of your favorite YouTube funnies to your home screen so that relief is just a click away. Too stressed to hunt through YouTube? Here’s a compilation of pranks, here’s a compilation of cat videos, and here’s a killer Robin Williams standup video to get you started. (Caution: video content possibly NSFW)
Similar to crunching pistachios, at least one study has shown that chewing gum lowers cortisol levels. Additionally, researchers noted that chewing gum helps to increase alertness and productivity among study participants, who were required to perform a battery of multi-tasking activities, while also reducing stress and anxiety.
Smell something good.
The benefits of aromatherapy on stress have been proven exhaustively, so it seems like such a simple thing. But keeping a few vials of essential oils around can not only reduce stress, different oils have differentiated effective properties as well. Lavender, for example, does a great job of reducing stress and calming, while peppermint helps to reduce stress but improves alertness and clarity. Check out this guide as an aromatherapy primer, and sniff your way to serenity.
Believe it or not, acupressure techniques employed in ear massage can help you gently relieve stress quickly and effectively. Here’s a great guide to performing the massage successfully. Acupressure, like acupuncture, has been proven to be an effective means of achieving stress relief, and the ears are particularly receptive to self-massage.