January 22, 2016

By Luna Greenstein

You should try meditating.” If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a dozen times. People often say that if you are stressed out, the best thing you can do is meditate. While there is plenty of scientific evidence showing that it can reduce anxiety and improve your mental health, for me, it doesn’t seem to help at all. Not doing anything allows all of my stressful and frantic thoughts to come pouring into my mind. Focusing on my breath is not enough to clear away these thoughts. I understand that I could devote more time to practicing meditation, but there are other some effective ways I’ve found to de-stress. Here are a few of the activities I’ve found effective, and a few others, that have been backed by research to help you handle stress.

1. Make a playlist that makes you feel good

Music can be cathartic and therapeutic to a stressed-out mind. Studies show that music not only reduces stress, it also boosts your body’s immune system function, which can help your body cope with stress in the future. Music has the ability to affect the speed of your brainwaves, which can help us achieve a therapeutic state.  

It can be hard to find the right songs when you’re already stressed, so plan ahead  by creating a playlist of songs that always make you feel calm. I always try to carry headphones with me everywhere I go, so that I can let myself decompress if need be.

2. Sing!

Singing not only takes your mind off of things, but it also allows an emotional release. This release is actually endorphins and oxytocin, which are hormones that alleviate anxiety and stress. Research shows that singers have lower levels of cortisol, which suggests lower amounts of stress. It feels good to let something out and your voice, whether you know how to sing our not, is something that you always have with you.

3. Read a book and pick out your favorite quote

When you’re stressed, it can be challenging to even thinking about cracking open a book. And it’s possible that you won’t pay much attention to the words. Occasionally, when I’m feeling frazzled, I notice my thoughts seem to muddle the sentences together.

However, if I’m actively looking for a passage or quote that I can connect with and relate too, then I’m forced to pay more attention to the book and less to my persistent, and intrusive, thoughts. And once you get to that point, reading is one of the best things you can do to reduce stress. Research shows that reading reduces stress by 68%, which is more than listening to music, drinking tea, or going for a walk. The reason, psychologists believe, is because reading takes you into another world where you are fully distracted from your troubles.

4. Color

If you want to let out a bit of creativity in a way that’s easy, grab your colored pencils—or whatever your favorite coloring utensil is—and color. “Coloring elicits a relaxing mindset, similar to what you would achieve through meditation. Like mediation, coloring allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus on the moment,” says neuropsychologist Dr. Stan Rodski. The great thing about coloring is that it provides the opportunity to be creative in a way that’s easier than painting or drawing for those who don’t possess artistic talent. In addition, you can put on your de-stress playlist in the background!

5. Do some exercise (that you actually like)

Rigorous exercise, such as running, can cause you to take your mind off of what’s stressing you out. For me, often the thoughts that replace my stressors when I run are along the lines of, “I can’t breathe,” so I have a hard time motivating myself to run. Although, exercise fuels the brains stress buffers, which are chemicals that play a direct role in stress response, making it a vital part of our daily lives for managing stress. There are so many other forms of exercise in order to stay active such as, zumba, Frisbee, tennis, going for walks, and yoga.  

6. “Retail therapy”

*Note: This suggestion comes with a few guidelines!* Buying something that you really want can override the stress that you are feeling. Buying something gives you a sense of instant satisfaction, which alleviates stress. However, buying things will only make you feel better temporarily. It’s a quick fix, not a long-term solution. The key to retail therapy is only buying one reasonably priced thing that you really want. If you spend a ton of money, chances are it will stress you out even further.

7. Call your funny friend

If you have a friend that makes you laugh, call them up or go see them. Laughter can be one of the best medicines for stress. Laughter relaxes your body, boosts your immune system, releases endorphins, and protects your hear. Also, good relationships are associated with mental wellbeing. Both connecting with other people and laughing will make you feel better almost instantaneously.

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