Everyone deals with stress now and again, and some stress is certainly a healthy part of everyday life. However, too much stress can wreak havoc on your physical and emotional state. Here, you’ll learn about 21 simple, scientifically proven ways to reduce stress in your life.
#1 – Aromatherapy
A study published in the Journal of the Korean Academy of Nursing in 2009 shows that scents can relieve stress. The interesting part about this is that while scents like lavender and honeysuckle are considered universally calming, everyone has a scent that works best. Scented candles, wax tarts, and essential oils are available online or in your favorite retail stores, so give some a try and see what works best for you.
#2 – Chewing Gum
Although chewing gum may not be your first choice in activities that reduce stress, science has proven that it can help. A study conducted at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia showed that chewing gum reduces the levels of cortisol, a common stress hormone, in your body.
#3 – Participate in Art Therapy
Feeling stressed out? Painting a picture may help you reduce stress significantly. A case study published in the journal Psychiatria Danubina found that patients who underwent regular art therapy had fewer stress-related symptoms and behaviors than those who didn’t participate.
#4 – Kiss Your Spouse
Believe it or not, there’s a branch of science dedicated to kissing called philematology. What’s more, kissing can reduce stress quite well. A study conducted at Lafayette College found that college students who spent 15 minutes kissing and listening to music had far more oxytocin and far less cortisol in their bodies than those students who didn’t participate.
#5 – Get a Massage
Two groundbreaking studies have proven that a good massage can reduce stress levels drastically. One study published in Autonomic Neuroscience showed that healthy people who got a massage had reduced cortisol levels and more “feel-good” hormones in their bloodstreams following the massage. Another study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2011 suggested that massage could drastically improve mood disorders and even depression in people who were dealing with stress at work.
#6 – Have Sex
A study out of Scotland that was published in Biological Psychology in 2006 showed that people who had intercourse every single day for two weeks had lower stress-related blood pressure than those who abstained or had less frequent sex. Learn more about the health benefits of sex here.
#7 – Get a Dog (or Cat)
Numerous studies have focused on the benefits of cuddling a pet to relieve stress. A study published in the journal Veterinary Record in 1992 proved that dog owners are less stressed out than those who do not own pets. Owners of cats – and in some cases, other pets – benefit similarly.
#8 – Get Some Sleep
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, a nap might help. A study published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity in 2011 showed that napping can reduce stress by reducing cortisol levels, if only temporarily. What’s more, it’s vital that you’re getting enough sleep at night. Sleep deprivation drives up cortisol levels quickly, which only adds to your feelings of stress.
#9 – Go for a Walk
Several studies have focused on the benefits of a walk outside when it comes to reducing stress. The results certainly speak for themselves. Those who walk quietly in wooded areas – at their own pace – got the most relief, as evidenced by a study published in Public Health in 2007. Others found that a brisk walk in cool air did the trick. A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 1992 compared a walk with Tai Chi in its ability to relieve stress.
#10 – Guided Visualization
Guided visualization is an activity in which you listen to a narration of a calm, serene scene and duplicate it in your mind. It’s a powerful and therapeutic tool that psychologists have used for many years, and you can find plenty of guided visualization recordings online, too. A study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that it was just as powerful as many anti-anxiety drugs.
#11 – Self-Hypnosis
Self-hypnosis is much like guided visualization, but it’s taken to the next level. It isn’t simple for everyone, but it’s something you can teach yourself to do with a little time and effort. Research out of Marquette University in Wisconsin proved that self-hypnosis could drastically reduce stress and anxiety in women, and another study from Menninger Clinic in 1990 showed the benefits of hypnosis in the treatment of anxiety.
#12 – Get Spiritual
A groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Religion and Health focused on hundreds of college students across the country. The study showed that students who regularly practiced religion were less stressed out than those who never practiced religion. In fact, when surveyed, many people claim they go to church for the stress relief it provides.
#13 – Keep a Journal
Although journaling may seem a bit outdated, it’s a great way to reduce stress in your life. Instead of complaining onto a page – either written or electronic – consider creating what’s called a gratitude journal. Take five minutes out of each day to write down something that made you happy, then reflect on your journal when you feel particularly stressed out. A study published in Anxiety, Stress, and Coping in 2009 proves its effectiveness.
#14 – Give Someone a Hug
A 2005 study published in Biological Psychology found that regular hugging increased oxytocin levels and decreased stress in postmenopausal women significantly. Although this study only focused on one group of people, there is still evidence to suggest that hugging is good for everyone. If you want to reduce stress, ask for a hug.
#15 – Black Tea
These days, you hear a lot about the powerful effects of green and white teas, but black teas aren’t without their therapeutic power. In fact, a study published in Psychopharmacology in 2007 proved that drinking black tea could reduce levels of post-stress cortisol and even stimulate feelings of deep relaxation.
#16 – Listen to Music
The power of music isn’t truly understood, but researchers have found that it can reduce stress significantly. A study published in the European Journal of Medicine found that listening to music could trigger certain biochemical stress reducers. Another study published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews showed that music could also act as a tool for relieving pain, which is a common cause of stress.
#17 – Progressive Relaxation
Progressive relaxation involves imagining all the muscles in your body relaxing, one at a time, until you’ve achieved a state of complete relaxation. To do it, you start with your toes, tense your muscles, and release them, working your way up to the top of your head. You can imagine the stress leaving your body each time a muscle relaxes. A German study from 2011 showed that progressive relaxation was a powerful tool to relieve pain and reduce stress in patients with chronic illnesses.
#18 – Deep Breathing
“Take a deep breath.” This isn’t just a saying – it’s a scientifically proven way to reduce stress when it’s at its peak. A 2010 study out of Spain showed that deep breathing can lower cortisol levels, and another study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2006 showed that deep breaths can even temporarily drop your blood pressure, which can help you relax.
#19 – Watch a Funny Movie
Laughter is medicine for the soul, and it’s been proven in numerous studies. Yet another study published in the Journal of the Korean Academy of Nursing showed it can reduce stress in postpartum women, and a Japanese case study published in the Journal of the Japan Hospital Association even documented a patient who used laughter to overcome gastric cancer.
#20 – Meditate
Meditating is a process through which you think very clearly and deeply about something while clearing your mind of other thoughts. A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice in 2012 showed a correlation between meditation and the reduction of stress, and another study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that it can reduce stress significantly in full-time workers.
#21 – Exercise
Finally, if you want to reduce stress and burn a few calories at the same time, exercise is certainly the way to go. The Mayo Clinic has dedicated plenty of time and resources into studying the effects of exercise on the human body, and the staff there found that exercise produces a rush of endorphins that can last the rest of the day.
If you want to reduce stress, you don’t have to quit your job or go to a therapist (although therapy can absolutely help in many cases). These 21 tips and tricks are scientifically proven to help reduce cortisol levels, improve feel-good hormone production, or even lower your blood pressure, all of which can improve your overall wellbeing.