From natural disasters to heated political debates, to overly demanding bosses, our world is filled with stressors. While some research has shown that short bursts of stress can be good for you, a new study out of Ohio State University and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that dealing with persistent, long-term stress (like that from a toxic boss or from caring for an elderly parent) can actually change your genes, leading to an increase in inflammation that can bring on a variety of health issues.
Learning how to cope properly can go a long way for your everyday health. Here are some of the best ways to de-stress right now.
Get some fresh air
Research indicates that the vitamin D boost from sunlight may elevate your levels of feel-good serotonin. And, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells around you redirects your focus from your worries. Can’t get outside? A Washington State University study published in the Journal of Environmental Horticulture found that when plants were added to the workspace, subjects exhibited a lower systolic blood pressure. Translation: they were less stressed!
Rely on rituals
Whether it’s taking a bath before bed, listening to your favorite playlist on the commute to work, or walking the dog to the park down the street every morning, in times of stress it helps to turn to a comforting routine. (A consistent routine also helps you sleep.) Because our bodies naturally crave routine, by focusing on these consistent rituals you increase your body’s ability to deal with the physical aspects of stress. When stressful situations leave you feeling powerless, following a routine allows you to take back control over part of your day and can help alleviate some of the anxiety and tension.
Get out of your head
Do you ever get that never-ending loop of negative thoughts and what-ifs playing in your head? That’s because stress likes to mess with your mind. A surefire and fun way to get out of your head is to engage in activities that put the focus on your hands or body (think kneading bread, sketching a picture, knitting a scarf, or climbing a rock wall). As your hands and fingers begin to fall into those familiar rhythmic moves, it sends a signal to your brain that immediately relaxes you and makes you feel grounded. So immerse yourself in a creative, engaging activity and get ready to press the mute button.
Connect to your spiritual side
For centuries, religious groups and native tribes worldwide have used prayer beads to guide their spiritual practice, and research shows that spirituality might boost happiness in times of stress. Take in a yoga class, go sit in a garden and connect to nature. Find a way to connect to your spiritual side.
Find a quiet space, close your eyes, focus your breathing, and transport yourself to your happy place for a few minutes each day. Research from the University of California, Los Angeles shows your body actually produces less of the stress hormone cortisol when engaging in guided imagery. There are plenty of books and articles written on the subject if you need help getting started, but the most important thing is to find a comforting and calming image that works for you (a beautiful blue ocean might be totally relaxing to one person, but a nightmare for someone who’s afraid of water).
Take a bath
Water has an innate soothing effect on the mind and body since it connects us back to our time in the womb. Schedule a regular time to soak in the tub. Further your bliss by pairing your bath with aromatherapy candles or bath beads. Pick a scent that smells best to you or go for lavender or jasmine, both of which possess stress-reducing properties.
Express your gratitude
Several studies have revealed the positive effects of expressing gratitude. While studying brain activity, National Institutes of Health researchers found subjects who showed more gratitude had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that has a huge influence on our stress levels.