The holidays are over. No more last minute shopping for the perfect gift. No more cooking for extended family. No more fretting about what to wear to the office party. Our stress levels should be lower, but for many, they are not. Studies have shown there are some simple actions we can take to lower or even alleviate stress. While some of the suggestions below do have a minimal cost, most are free and available to all.
Motion is lotion. Move your body.
Yong Swearengin, owner of Sunstone Cycle in Keller, has been in the fitness industry for 15 years. “Our society places value on multitasking and running ourselves ragged. Group fitness classes allow us to unplug and sweat out toxins. You leave with a lighter heart, clearer mind and shaky legs.”
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While group exercise is motivating, it does bear a cost. One alternative is walking, either alone or with a friend. Buy an inexpensive pair of shoes and walk, preferably briskly, for as little as 10 minutes, 30 minutes or longer, and perhaps, after a while, work your way up to a jog.
Research conducted by Men’s Magazine found that with 50 percent of our population living in urban zones, just getting outside can be a stress reliever. The study compared those who walked for 90 minutes in an urban area to those who walked the same amount of time in a more natural environment. The latter group reported more positive thoughts than those who walked in the cityscape.
Most of us never think about our breathing, but it is something we do from birth until death.
“Your breath is a free tool, literally right under your nose, and always available to you,” says Sandra Vanatko, a certified yoga therapist and teacher, and owner of Indra’s Grace at 3Tree Yoga in Fort Worth and Weatherford. Vanatko focuses on the therapeutic aspects of yoga practice. “One of the most effective things you can do when feeling stressed is to make your breathing slower, deeper, quieter and more regular. In order to activate the rest and digest response, exhales should be twice as long as inhales, something most people do not know.”
A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that 45-60 minutes of relaxation massage lowered participants’ heart rates by more than 10 beats per minute. A massage also promotes serotonin — a sleep hormone and regulator of our biological clocks. Pam Jones with Advanced Therapeutic Massage in Keller says, “Stress levels vary with each client. Our goal is to listen to each client’s concerns and identify which technique is best.”
Tired of opening closets and “stuff’ falling out? Is there no space left on your countertops?
“Mess causes stress,” says Sherrie Bourg Carter, psychologist, and author of High Octane Women. “Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli, making it difficult to relax. Clutter signals our brains that our work is never done. If you don’t use it, don’t want it, or don’t need it, get rid of it. Toss it, recycle it, or donate it, but don’t keep it.”
Create designated space for items and put them back after use. As the saying goes, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Barely Used Resale in Keller accepts a variety of goods — clothing, jewelry, household items, and even linens. Community Storehouse and Goodwill Boutique also accept most items, as long as they are in good condition.
“Clutter doesn’t just apply to physical things. Mental clutter is just as stressful,” Carter advises. “Focus on one task at a time without cell phones, emails, and other electronics.”
Adopt a pet
This may not be a stress reducer for all, but for many, it is — especially having a dog — man (and woman’s) best friend. And you meet the nicest people at the park, especially at K-9 Pointe Dog Park in Keller. Lisa Bodley, who owns Fiona, a 9-year-old mastiff, says, “Fiona’s sweet gentle nature brings me peace and reduces stress by my being in her presence. She loves being petted. Dogs can sense what their owners need and they give it freely and unconditionally.”
And many dogs make excellent running buddies. Make sure you do your homework on what kind of pet suits your lifestyle, and also realize there is a cost and a responsibility to adding a furry one to your household. Consider a local rescue facility or the Humane Society in lieu of purchasing a pet.
Smudging your sacred space, your home or office, or even your body with sage is like taking an energetic shower, or doing a deep metaphysical cleansing. The smoke from dried sage changes the ionic composition of the air, and can have a direct effect on reducing our stress response.
According to Dr. Marlynn Wei, a New York psychiatrist, clary sage, a close relative of the garden herb, can help patients relax during dental procedures. Wei also promotes lavender as a calming herb, used in a bath or in tea, and it can help with mild insomnia.
Listen to music
Music, like smells, can evoke powerful emotions and remind us of bygone days of our youth. A study by the University of Nevada at Reno found that faster music can make us feel more alert, upbeat music can make us feel more optimistic about life, while a slower tempo can quiet our minds and relax our muscles while releasing stress from the day. Research by the European Journal of Internal Medicine calls it the “Mozart effect” and says music can reduce anxiety, depression and stress-inducing cortisol levels. The Alzheimer’s Association found that patients can often recall songs long after they’ve stopped recognizing names and faces. Patients who may not have responded in years have been known to perk up after hearing music popular in their youth.
Yes, you read correctly. According to Livestrong, a nonprofit foundation that offers tips for a healthier lifestyle, chewing gum may help reduce anxiety and improve mood. A second study by Physiology & Behavior agrees that chewing gum can boost calmness and contentment. The reason may be because the chewing action increases blood flow to the brain. Just remember to do it in moderation and chew only sugar-free gum.
As an old saying goes, “laughter is the best medicine.” According to Mayo Clinic, “Whether you’re laughing at a sitcom or giggling at a cartoon, laughing does you good. Laughter is a great form of stress relief.” Laughter enhances the intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, all of which help reduce physical symptoms of stress. It’s fun, it’s free, and you can do it alone or with friends.