What can we all do to better cope with stress? Here are some research-based tools that could help calm you down and your clear your head:
- Confide in someone who gets it.
A problem shared may really be a problem halved, but the key, researchers have found, is to share your feelings with someone who is having an emotionally similar reaction to the same situation. In a study of 52 female undergraduates, participants were paired up and asked to give a speech while being videotaped. Yet prior to this task, the pairs were encouraged to talk with each other about how they felt about giving a speech. The results revealed that sharing feelings with a person in a similar emotional state better helped buffer individuals from stress. So if you're faced with a stressful responsibility, whether it's public speaking, a tight deadline, or incoming relatives that need to be hosted, it may behoove you to confide in someone in the same boat as you.
- Write down your negative thoughts—and then throw them away.
It may be hard to believe, but three separate studies on several hundred subjects at Ohio State University revealed that the physical act of throwing away written negative thoughts helps to mentally purge them. Not only did the act of tossing them out decrease the lingering influence of negative thoughts, but investigators also found that it worked better than just imagining the process of doing so.
- See the world.
We know that being in nature can be calming—but just looking at images of nature can also decrease stress levels and increase positivity. Studies have found that exposure to such imagery can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. Gazing at images of streams and skies isn't idle wasted time—it's helping you stay healthy and balanced.
- Listen to relaxing music.
Multiple lines of research have established that music can have soothing effects, particularly the unhurried rhythms of much classical music. Consider a study in which two groups of undergraduates were asked to complete a stressful cognitive task involving preparation for an oral presentation. One group prepared while listening to Pachelbel's Canon in D Major; the other prepared in silence. The experimental task significantly raised the participants' anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure—but these physiological changes were all fended off by exposure to the calming melody in the test group.
- Breathe deeply.
You've likely heard this before, but it bears repeating: Stress, wherever you encounter it, can activate our sympathetic nervous system and its fight-or-flight response. Our heart rate and blood pressure increase and deliver more oxygen and blood sugar to important muscles as our bodies gear up either to fight hard or run fast. What can we do to reset ourselves? Breathing from our abdomen or bellies stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system, and helps promote (or restore) a restful state.
What are your effective tools to reduce stress? Please share them here!