How could humming help you feel less tense? Why would pretending to be a fictional character help you feel less stressed-out? Can you really get stress relief just by snacking? In honour of National Stress Awareness Day, I've brought together six rather weird, but proven ways, to reduce your stress levels in a matter of minutes.
I run anti-stress workshops for businesses, and I always say the best way of reducing stress is to change the way you consider, and respond to, pressure mentally. But while you're practising changing your thinking, you may as well have some fun with these instant stress-busters.
1. Make Some Noise
Exercising your vocal chords is a really good form of stress relief. Singing, humming, and even screaming have all been shown to help instantly reduce stress. Humming helps relax tense muscles, singing has the added benefit of boosting your immune system, and letting rip when you're angry can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. If you're feeling pressurised, find a wall to shout at, rather than taking it out on your friends, family or colleagues. The best songs to sing or hum for stress relief are those that give you a warm buzz inside. Or the Beastie Boys, if you're me.
2. Nosh on Nuts
Eating nuts can have a multitude of stress-relieving benefits. Don't just nibble delicately - crush the bejaysus out of those crunchy kernels. Crunching down can give you an outlet for anger, while the act of eating will set your parasympathetic nervous system into action, producing a calming effect. Choose a handful of walnuts for the best results - they contain antioxidants and omega-3 oils, which can lower elevated blood pressure. Nuts are also fairly calorific, so they can give you extra energy to deal with whatever is stressing you out.
3. Blow up a Balloon
When you're suffering from stress, it may not feel like party time, but blowing up balloons could be the very thing you need. Blowing into a balloon actually forces you to breathe in the way you're meant to - deeply, slowly, and using your diaphragm. This, again, engages the parasympathetic nervous system and will stop anxious feelings in their tracks. You're also likely to mentally associate blowing up balloons with carefree childhood days or fun times as an adult, adding to the feel-good factor.
4. Sniff Stress Away
Scientists have found that certain smells can have as soothing effects on the brain as taking stress-relieving medication. Researchers claim that the scent of Jasmine is just as effective as Valium at calming people down. Vanilla fragrance has been shown to lessen anxiety before stressful medical procedures and also to reduce the startle reflex. Lavender, apple and coconut scents have also been linked with reduced stress and anxiety. Soothing smells enhance the effects of the brain chemical GABA on nerve cells, bringing feelings of wellbeing and stress relief. If you're feeling super-stressed, invest in some incense to melt those anxious feelings away.
5. Make a Worry Space
I tend to think that worrying is a waste of time, but I do come across people who would be worried if they were never allowed to worry. If you're one of those people who actively has to worry, then at least make yourself a time and space for it. Choose a spot that is easily accessible, but where you rarely go (a fire escape or the bottom of the garden is good), and make that your special worry space. Allow yourself 15 minutes there every day, and let yourself worry to your heart's content. Any time you feel stressed and worried outside of that time, remind yourself gently that you've a special worry space that you'll go to later on, where you can give that worry thought the attention it needs. This should stop you stressing out at unhelpful times, allowing you to get on with your day.
6. Turn Into Yoda
If you're really stuck on a stressful problem, imagine you were Yoda, and ask yourself how you would solve it. By stepping out of your 'stuck' mindset, and taking on a wise new perspective, you should be able to give yourself some sage advice. If you're not a fan of the little green Jedi, then pick someone else, fictional or otherwise, whom you consider to be wise and pragmatic. Whoever you choose to be, have fun with it. Imagine yourself doing their voice as you give yourself counsel. Playfulness itself has been proven to be a great stress reliever.
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