5 unconventional ways to reduce stress
From experiencing awe to chewing gum, we discuss five unconventional ways to reduce your stress levels - all backed by science.
We all feel stress – it’s a natural part of life. But, how do you deal with it? We all know that eating healthy and doing a bit of yoga can help, but what if there were some other, more unconventional ways, to deal with stress? Oh wait, there are… and we’ve got five, all backed by science.
1. Chew, chew, and chew some more
‘Research suggests that chewing gum may be associated with stress reduction…’
Yep, you read that right. Chewing gum isn’t just for combatting bad breath and bettering oral health . Studies have shown that some people report feeling less stressed when chewing gum regularly for longer periods of time .
‘But how?’ you ask.
How can chewing gum reduce stress levels?
- Improves cognitive function – chewing gum has also been associated with improvements in concentration and memory . It might help you stay focused and reduce levels of anxiety.
- The art of distraction – chewing is a repetitive, physical movement that can act as a form of mindful distraction. And in some ways can act as a grounding technique. The distraction of the taste and physical movement can help to take your mind off any stressful thoughts.
It is also important to note that chewing gum isn’t always the answer – it may provide some temporary relief from stress, but it is not a substitute treatment for long-term (chronic stress). If you are experiencing chronic stress, it may be worth seeking support from your GP.
2. Get your daily dose of vitamin C
‘…Vitamin C appears to restore the stress response and improve the survival of stressed humans’ .
Vitamin C is essential in several functions in the body, including supporting immune function, reducing inflammation, and promoting the absorption of iron. And some of these functions can work towards reducing stress – it’s time to pour yourself a glass of freshly squeezed OJ, sit back, relax, and let the vitamin C do its work.
How can vitamin C reduce stress levels?
- Reduces cortisol levels – studies suggest that vitamin C supplementation reduces stress-related cortisol release, which could help to lower your overall cortisol levels [5,6].
- Antioxidant magic – vitamin C is a strong antioxidant that helps protect the body against any damage caused by free radicals (molecules in the body associated with stress and inflammation). This in turn can promote overall health and reduce the damaging effects of stress on the body.
Of course, one glass of orange juice isn’t going to fix all your stressors, but vitamin C can definitely play a part in stress reduction.
Want to get an insight into your stress levels? Try our Cortisol Saliva Stress Test.
3. Borrow a pup (or use your own)
Yes, that’s right. Some studies have shown that having a dog in your life can reduce your stress levels. One study even found that petting an animal for 10 minutes can reduce the amount of cortisol in the saliva .
But why is it that a dog (or any pet) can help to reduce your stress levels?
How can pets reduce your stress levels?
- Companionship – there’s science behind the saying about dogs being a man’s best friend. Dogs can increase oxytocin (happy hormone) levels by up to 300% just with their stare . There is also the added fact that having a pet can make you feel less lonely. Loneliness can be a big driver of stress and to have that companionship can help reduce increasing stress levels.
- The touch – there’s nothing better than stroking a fluffy, soft animal. Whether it be a rabbit, hamster, or a big fluffy border collie, the physical touch of a pet can help calm you and reduce stress levels . The physical touch can class as a grounding technique – the same way infants may stroke a blanket to calm themselves.
- Physical activity – the thing with some pets is that they will encourage us to get outside and exercise. Even the ones that live indoors can keep us busy with cleaning out cages or washing fish tanks. This extra physical activity can reduce stress levels and improve overall mental and physical health.
Pets can prove to have many benefits for reducing stress levels, but they also require a lot of care and attention. Before getting a pet, it’s important to take into consideration your lifestyle, and whether you have the time, resources, and ability to care for one. If you’re not in a position to get a pet yourself, you could always dogsit for a friend!
4. Get outside and experience awe
Getting outside may seem a conventional way to reduce stress – but add things like experiencing awe, forest bathing, and earthing, and it’s probably not so conventional. Experiencing awe is becoming more widely talked about, with Professor Dacher Keltner leading the way.
Awe is something we’ve all heard of and most likely experienced. It’s an intense emotion, characterised by a feeling of wonder and amazement in response to something seen as vast, powerful, or beyond comprehension . It can be triggered by a wide range of experiences, such as natural wonders like sunsets or lakes, hearing a powerful piece of live music, or a moving piece of poetry.
You can experience awe as soon as you step out your front door. Going out and looking for things that can generate awe can lead you to start experiences like forest bathing – the art of visiting a forest and breathing in its air. The likes of forest bathing and earthing (the act of feeling the earth with your bare feet) have both been associated with a reduction in stress levels [11, 12].
How does awe help to reduce stress levels?
- Creates an increased sense of meaning and purpose – awe can broaden our perspective and help us to see the bigger picture. When we experience awe, we may be reminded of how we are a very little fish in a very large pond. This can sometimes help us to see our problems as small in relation to everything around us and give us a greater sense of purpose and meaning .
- Influences gratitude – awe can encourage appreciation, enhance positive emotions, and even create a sense of humility. Humility is the ability to recognise your limitations and imperfections – nobody’s perfect – and that’s okay. Accepting this can help reduce any worries and in turn stress levels.
‘We often associate awe with the extraordinary. But we can actually find it all around us…’ – Dacher Keltner.
So, step outside your front door and see what awe you fall upon.
5. Dance it out
Dancing is good for the soul – whether you’re out on the town or having a dance party in your kitchen, you’re releasing endorphins and creating a happy and healthy way of coping with stress. Dance is even used as a therapy to support intellectual and emotional improvement and reduce stress levels .
How can dancing reduce stress levels?
- Social interaction – dancing can provide opportunities for social interaction (nightclubs come to mind). Socialising itself has been associated with reducing stress and promoting feelings of support.
- Self-expression – dancing can be a form of self-expression and creativity. There’s nothing like the feeling of being so comfortable that you can express yourself in a way that feels unique to you. These feelings of comfort and confidence can, in turn, help to reduce stress levels.
- Distraction – there’s nothing better than blasting your favourite song to be able to block out your thoughts, helping to provide a temporary escape from stress and anxiety.
And of course, physical activity is a well-known stress reducer. You don’t need to be a good dancer to use dancing as a stress reliever. Find a way to move to music that suits you – dance party anyone?
The important stuff
It’s important to note that while these unconventional ways of reducing stress might help, they’re not a cure-all. It’s important to keep an eye on your stress levels, as chronic (long-term) stress can negatively impact your health. If stress is getting on top of you and starting to impact your mental health, it may be time to speak to your GP.
Want to find out more about stress? Head over to our Stress Hub.
Want to monitor your cortisol levels? Take a look at our Cortisol Saliva Stress Test.
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