Unusual Stress Relievers (Part 3 of 3)
This is part 3 of a 3-part series on unusual stress relievers.
In part 1, we looked at what exactly stress is, the long-term repercussions and some of the best ways to deal with stress when you're on the go. The list included: celery, acute cold exposure, fractals and prosocial behaviour. If you haven't read part 1 yet, you can read it here.
In this final post – part 3 – I’m interested in activities you can use to get your zen on in the lead up to to a stress-tacular event. Ways to get so calm that NOTHING can break your cool. Group getaway with an ex, major deadline at work or public speaking be damned.
Start de-stressing with these ideas:
Ear acupuncture, aka auricular acupuncture, is when tiny needles are inserted into your ear. One of the studies conducted on the effects of ear acupuncture found “a significantly higher reduction of anxiety in the real-needles group”. So how does it work? Small needles stimulate points on the ear, which encourages the flow of energy.
Research has shown that the stimulation of ear points causes the release of endorphins, although whether the amount released is significant has been debated. Another thought is that the ear is like a mini version of the body (“a somatotopic mapping of the body was represented in the external ear”), so when you stimulate certain points on the ear, you address those parts of the body. This sounds a little far-fetched but they did have a 75.2% accuracy rate in diagnosing problems using the ear in this study, which concluded somatotopoic organization of the body is represented upon the human auricle (the ear).
Reading is a proven stress reliever. In one study, subjects "read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles". Reading produced a 68% reduction in stress levels, compared with listening to music (61%) and having a cup of tea (54%). Though I must admit, this study didn't specify the number of subjects, which I always find suspect.
Study criticisms aside, there has been extensive research on the power of reading.
You get to transport yourself to another land or time. Better yet, get some perspective on your own issues by hearing about others’. Or know you're not alone in your feelings and experiences. Psychologists think that the mind power it takes to read distracts you from what is causing your stress.
But I think John Green said it best in this interview* where he talks about language constructs:
"You're definitely right that all these questions are sort of tangential to the actual business of reading books, because most of reading is about story and emotional involvement and being transported into the lives of others so that you can experience radical empathy and feel more unalone in the world and while metaphor and symbolism and language choices are all part of that experience, they aren't the core of it."
*I can't find the interview but I've had this quote typed out and blu-tacked to my wall for many, many years.
Despite reading being so healing, it can be hard. I used to consider myself an avid reader. I did the MS Readathon all through primary school. But one day I realised that it had been years since I'd read for pleasure. The thought of reading when I could be relaxing in front of Unreal was very unappealing. It's not very relaxing to be using all that brain power, is it? But after being gifted two books by one of my favourite cousins, I got back into the swing of things.
As much as I love a Lionel Shriver novel, what I really love is something slightly trashy*, preferably with a pink cover, where nothing really bad happens. I’m creating a list of some of my favourite Pink Books, which I'll link to here over the weekend. I think of my bookshelf as a library, so if you see any titles you want to borrow, just let me know!
*And by trashy, I mean wonderful.
Bringing nature into the home can relieve stress, according to this study, which examined human responses to natural and urban visual landscapes. Research conducted at Edith Cowan University (which is password protected. Grrrr) proved that plants create positive changes in the brain’s electrical activity, muscle tension and heart activity. House plants also majorly reduce air toxins, according to extensive research by NASA. Downside: Plants are notoriously easy to kill. So go for one of these low maintenance plants from my Housewarming Gift Ideas post.
Laughter triggers activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, which we ALL know - having read my other posts - is the key to de-stressing. You can watch a comedy show or you can simply fake laughing to trigger authentic laughter. You'll look like a loon for a short while but then you'll start laughing for real. You can also participate in Laughter Circles.
Origami is one of my friend's preferred stress relievers. It's also backed up by research. Origami boosts mindfulness, forcing you to single-task. This is a form of 'focused attention meditation', which numerous studies have shown promote calmness. If you think about it, the definition of stress is when you feel you do not have the resources to perform a required task. When you do origami, you prove to yourself just how capable you are. Personally, I like the origami box. All you need is a piece of paper (or napkin).
If you want to learn how to make origami, the City of Melbourne runs free origami making workshops.
I've written extensively about float therapy. Basically, you lie in very salty water in pitch black darkness. You can expect a whole range of benefits, like muscle relaxation, lowered blood pressure, and even a memory boost. Floating is one of the activities that I didn't fall in love with immediately but I believe would become more enjoyable in the longer-term.
The first time you do something, there are lots of uncertainties. And fear of the unknown is hardly conducive to de-stressing. After you've floated once, though, you know what to expect, so you have a better change of reaping the rewards.
Gut health and probiotics are just about the trendiness health topics going around. So of course they're included here. Specific types of live bacteria have been found to help the nervous system and reduce your overall stress. Med students found probiotics helpful when managing their stress around exam time.
I guess like everything on this list, an activity really depends on the other people involved. If you walk with a friend but they're an emotional vampire, you're probably not going to find yourself chilling out.
I love love love massages but I get a bit bothered if I'm receiving one and it's shit. In the past, I have gently said "more pressure would be fine" five times and still felt NOTHING. My firm instruction ("no chopping") has also been continuously ignored. Time wasted! Money wasted! Oh the stress.
For this reason, where you go really does matter. I love a quality physio massage from Back in Motion. The mobile masseuses through Red Balloon are ace and they arrive early to set up. I also highly recommend Body and Balance, which is at Westfield Doncaster and a bunch of other locations. Ask for Joanna.
Reduce your caffeine
Caffeine stimulates your nervous system and causes a rise in cortisol - the same hormone that's produced when your body is stressed. Some of the wondrous effects of this steroid hormone include lowered immune system, poorer memory and weight gain. In a study, both habitual and infrequent coffee drinkers had a stress response. This is terrible news for latte lovers (80% of the population).
It's worth mentioning that the times you are most likely to grab a third cap are when you're already tired. When you're sleep deprived, all situations seem worse and your ability to work through them diminishes. The take away? Sleep more, coffee less. Not that I abide by this at all. But hey, I'm just relaying the info.
The gravity blanket weighs 10% of your body weight and is based on research around deep pressure stimulation. Such pressure triggers the sympathetic nervous system and induces relaxation. It's also meant to help you sleep. Its weight keeps you from tossing and turning. You can read this review to figure out if it's worth the money. I usually just layer on the doonas.
When it comes to calming the mind, you may prefer more traditional approaches. Yoga, candles and exercise are all time-tested methods for reducing unease.
Cull the crap
If you’ve tested all of the above and your heart is still frequently racing, it may be time to examine what exactly is causing you so much stress. Got a friend who always manages to spiral you into a state of worry? Or maybe you work in a high-pressure environment without supportive colleagues? If it’s within your means, look for other work. Say you’re busy the next time your friend texts. Eliminate the stressors.
Some stressors simply can’t be avoided, like death and moving house. If you can get rid of a stress, though, DO IT. There are times where you can overcome a toxic situation, through reframing and mindfulness. Other times, it’s ok to cull.
I really hope that some of these 21+ unusual stress relieving ideas have worked or will work for you! I have already begun implementing some of the new ideas so I can better respond to difficult situations. I felt a bit funny blowing on my thumb but if it can keep me cucumber-esque, I'm not going to knock it.
Did any of these techniques or activities help you? Message me or comment below. I'm ALWAYS curious.
Where to now?