Wellness

Five Unusual Ways to Relieve Stress that Really Work

The American Psychological Association (APA) showed in their last “Stress in America” survey that stress continues to affect us, with overall stress levels increasing from 2014 to 2015, and more people reporting extreme levels of stress. Money and work continue to be the top two sources of stress, affecting more than two-thirds of Americans, with family responsibilities coming in third and personal health concerns close behind.

Meanwhile, we’re all aware of how stress can put our health at risk. Chronic stress, in particular—that kind that is always there, underlying everything—is the most dangerous, and can increase risk of heart disease, weight gain, digestive issues, depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and viral and bacterial illnesses.

Hopefully you’re already incorporating some sort of stress-relieving activity into your daily life. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, daily walks, deep breathing, regular exercise, and time away from work are all proven ways to help your mind and body relax and regroup.

Sometimes, though, even if you’re regularly doing these sorts of activities, the stress still mounts up. You may be going through a particularly crazy period in your life, or you may just be extremely busy and finding it difficult to stick to your normal, healthy routine.

If that’s happening to you right now, try the following five stress-relief ideas. They’re a little different from the norm, but that may make them perfect for your life right now.

1. Drink Orange Juice.

This common beverage is helpful for a couple reasons. First, it’s rich in vitamin C, and vitamin C zaps stress. Studies have shown that people who have high levels of vitamin C in their systems don’t suffer from stress as much as those with lower levels do. In addition, they are more likely to bounce back from stressful situations.

Studies have shown that people who have high levels of vitamin C in their systems don’t suffer from stress as much as those with lower levels do. In addition, they are more likely to bounce back from stressful situations.

In a 2015 study for example, students were given either 500 mg of vitamin C or a placebo once a day for 14 days. Those who received the supplements had reduced anxiety levels. An earlier 1999 animal study also found that vitamin C reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood along with other typical indicators of stress.

Second, orange juice itself seems to help the brain function better, which could improve your reaction to stress. In a small 2015 study, those who drank just under a pint of orange juice daily for eight weeks improved their cognitive function more than those who simply drank a control beverage. Memory, reaction time, and verbal fluency increased.

2. Use the Other Side of Your Brain

There is a theory that if you’re stressed out, the key is to use the other side of the brain. If you’re involved in an organizational type activity that uses the left side of the brain, for example, using the right side of the brain in a more creative activity can reduce your stress.

Let’s say you’ve spent the morning working on financial reports (left side of the brain) and you’re stressed out. Taking ten minutes to color, listen to music, draw, or otherwise engage your creative right brain could help you relax. On the other hand, if you spent the morning creating a new script for a commercial or writing up a new article (right side of the brain) and you’re stressed out, doing something that engages the left side of your brain might help you relax. You may clean and organize your desk, for example, edit something you’ve already written, balance your checkbook, or even do some housework.

It’s fun to try it out. To help you get started, here are a few more examples:

Right-brain activities: sing, play a game, model some clay, play an instrument, draw or paint, tell a story, dance, visualize something

Left-brain activities: make a list, memorize a poem, organize a file drawer or closet, play scrabble or word search, put a puzzle together, perform some mathematical calculations

3. Have a Little Party.

More specifically, inflate several balloons and let them float. The trick here is that when you inflate a balloon, you have to breathe deeply in and out, and deep breathing relieves stress. The Harvard Health newsletter notes that deep breathing can naturally slow the heartbeat and reduce blood pressure, while helping you to let go of stressful thoughts. In a 2010 study, subjects that regularly practiced deep breathing showed decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. 

When you breathe deeply and slowly, you calm the sympathetic nervous system and take the wind out of the fight-or-flight response, reducing your feelings of stress.

When you breathe deeply and slowly, you calm the sympathetic nervous system and take the wind out of the fight-or-flight response, reducing your feelings of stress. You may also naturally lower your blood pressure. A 2005 study showed that taking just six deep breaths over a period of 30 seconds reduced systolic blood pressure by 3.4 to 3.9 units compared to just sitting quietly.

You can accomplish this simply by stopping what you’re doing and spending five minutes breathing deeply. When you inflate a few balloons, however, you ensure that you’re breathing deeply enough, and you also add some bright colors and fun to your atmosphere, both of which can improve your mood and reduce stress.

4. Eat Some Oatmeal. 

When it comes to foods that relieve stress, oatmeal is at the top of the list for many reasons. First of all, it boosts levels of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin, giving you a little happy jolt. That’s because it’s rich in tryptophan, which is the key ingredient in making serotonin. Without enough tryptophan in your system, your body can’t produce serotonin.

Second, oatmeal contains magnesium, which is a natural relaxing nutrient. Stress actually causes the body to use up magnesium in a hurry, so replenishing it with a quick bowl or snack of oatmeal may be just what you need to feel more at ease.

Finally, oatmeal contains important prebiotics that not only help ease digestion, but may also help you cope with stress. Together with probiotics, prebiotics help maintain that critical microbiome in your gut. In a 2017 study, researchers found that animal subjects who received prebiotic diets for several weeks before a stressful test recovered more quickly than subjects who didn’t consume the prebiotics. They also slept better.

5. Look at Cool Patterns in Nature

Think of images like a snail shell, ocean waves, snowflakes, or paintings with repetitive patterns in them. Studies have found that looking at these types of images can be calming to the brain. These types of patterns are called “fractals,” and are defined as repeating patterns that are similar or identical.

These patterns have an aesthetic quality that seems to affect the human eye and brain. In a 2011 study, researchers found that the way the eye “tracks” across such an image seems to help lower stress and induce a more relaxed state. In fact, fractal researcher Richard Taylor found in his studies that a fractal pattern in the background could reduce stress as much as 50 percent.

To view your own fractals, try looking up at the clouds, blow bubbles outside, or look at images of seashells, ice crystals, and lightning. You may also simply Google “fractal images” and enjoy.

Sources

“2015 Stress in America,” American Psychological Association (APA), http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx.

Mayo Clinic Staff, “Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk,” Mayo Clinic, April 21, 2016, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037.

De Oliveira IJ, et al., “Effects of Oral Vitamin C Supplementation on Anxiety in Students: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial,” Pak J Biol Sci., January 2015; 18(1):11-8, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26353411.

American Chemical Society. “Scientists Say Vitamin C May Alleviate the Body’s Response to Stress,” ScienceDaily, August 23, 1999, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990823072615.htm.

“Orange juice improves ‘brain function,’” Telegraph, May 15, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/11608224/Orange-juice-improves-brain-function.html.

“Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response,” Harvard Health, March 18, 2016, http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response.

Cea Ugarte Jl, et al., “Efficacy of the controlled breathing therapy on stress: biological correlates. Preliminary study,” Rev Enferm, May 2010; 33(5):48-54, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20617660.

Mori H., et al., “How does deep breathing affect office blood pressure and pulse rate?” Hypertens Res., June 2005; 28(6):499-504, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16231755.

Dawn M. Richard, et al., “L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioral Research and Therapeutic Indications,” Int J Tryptohan Res., 2009; 2:45-60, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908021/.

Robert S. Thompson, et al., “Dietary Prebiotics and Bioactive Milk Fractures Improve NREM Sleep, Enhance REM Sleep Rebound and Attenuate the Stress-Induced Decrease in Diurnal Temperature and Gut Microbial Alpha Diversity,” Front. Behav. Neurosci., January 10, 2017, http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00240/full.

Peter Lambrou, “Fun with Fractals?” Psychology Today, September 7, 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/codes-joy/201209/fun-fractals.

R. P. Taylor, “Reduction of Physiological Stress Using Fractal Art and Architecture,” Project Muse, June 2006; 39(3):245-251, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.741.8120&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

Richard P. Taylor, “Perceptual and Physiological Responses to Jackson Pollock’s Fractals,” Front Hum Neurosci., 2011; 5:60, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3124832/.

“Fractals reveal mysterious links between stress and art,” Daily Emerald, November 24, 2004, https://www.dailyemerald.com/2004/11/24/fractals-reveal-mysterious-links-between-stress-and-art/.

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Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story is a full-time freelance writer and editor, author, and musician committed to helping people take control of their own health and well-being. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, and has two novels forthcoming from Jupiter Gardens Press (“Rise of the Sidenah”) and Dzanc Books (“Loreena’s Gift”). Find more info at colleenmstory.com.

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