Stress is an inevitable part of life. How you cope with it has an effect on both your physical and emotional state. Here are 10 calming strategies you can use right now to get into a less stressed space.
Feel like you’re becoming unglued? Grab a stick of gum. Research suggests that chewing gum can help relieve both stress and anxiety. It may be that the rhythmic motion of chewing helps boost blood flow to the brain. An alternative theory suggests that it’s the taste and smell of the gum that elicits the relaxation response.
Spending time outside is a great antidote to stress. Studies show that spending a few minutes outside, even close to home, can provide a mood boost. Not only do natural settings induce calm, being outdoors often means being active, too.
There’s something to the old adage, “Grin and bear it.” Smiling when you feel stressed creates a little tension in facial muscles that helps reduce stress. Smiles are particularly stress busting when they’re genuine, using muscles around the mouth and eyes. Smiling can also help an elevated heart rate recover faster once a stressful situation has passed.
Certain smells can elicit the relaxation response. One study compared the stress levels of nurses who had vials containing lavender oil pinned to their clothes to those who did not. The nurses who were exposed to lavender scent reported feeling more relaxed than those who were scent-free. Lavender can turn up the effect of anti-anxiety meds and painkillers. Be sure to check with a doctor before using lavender oil if you take one of these medications.
If you have to give a talk at work or you’re facing a similar stressful event, music can help keep you calm. Participants in one study had lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) when listening to Latin choral music (Miserere by Gregorio Allegri) than when they just listened to the sound of rippling water.
Breathing exercises are one way to quickly stop the stress response. The calming ability of breathing exercises is two-fold. Focusing on the breath directs attention away from fearful and stressful thoughts and it stops the “fight or flight” response in the body. To perform the exercise, breathe in deeply and slowly through the nose. Allow your chest and abdomen to expand and fill with air. Breathe out slowly, for as long as you inhaled, repeating a phrase or word that makes you feel calm and peaceful. You’ll get the greatest benefits by performing breathing exercises for a minimum of 10 minutes.
We all have an inner dialogue going on inside our minds. Sometimes we don’t speak to ourselves in a kind, reassuring way. Mastering the art of compassionate and positive self-talk can help you remain calm and make it easier to come up with effective solutions to problems. When confronted with a problem or upsetting situation, imagine how you’d speak to a friend who was facing something similar. Telling yourself, “I can figure this out,” or “It’ll be OK,” is a lot more reassuring than catastrophizing or engaging in negative self-talk.
Feeling stressed? Writing about your problems in a journal can help you feel calmer and help you arrive at solutions you hadn’t thought of before. You can achieve these benefits by writing in a journal, a file on your computer, or even an app on your phone. Just be honest about your feelings to reap the biggest benefits.
Social support is a huge stress reliever. Get together with friends or loved ones when you’re feeling stressed. Seek the company of others who are dealing with similar challenges. Sharing your experiences with others who can truly empathize will help you feel less alone.
Exercise benefits mood in many ways. Physical activity helps take your mind off everyday worries. It also releases mood-boosting endorphins. Whether working out at the gym or taking long walks is your style, any type of exercise reduces stress and anxiety.
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- American Heart Association: “Four Ways to Deal with Stress”
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Exercise for Stress and Anxiety”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Coping with Stress”
- Harvard Health Publications: “Relaxation Techniques: Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response”
- International Journal of Nursing Practice: “The Effects of Aromatherapy in Relieving Symptoms Related to Job Stress Among Nurses”
- Landscape and Urban Planning, vol. 105, 2012: “More Green Space Is Linked to Less Stress in Deprived Communities: Evidence from Salivary Cortisol Patterns”
- NIH National Institute of Mental Health: “Facts Sheet on Stress”
- Nutritional Neuroscience, vol. 14, 2011: “Chewing Gum Modifies State Anxiety and Alertness Under Conditions of Social Stress”
- PLoS One, vol. 8, 2013: “The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response”
- Psychology Today: “Smiling and Stress”
- University of Maryland Medical Center: “Lavender”
- University of Rochester Medical Center: “Journaling for Mental Health”