Stress Relief Tips From Around the World
Stress: a universal language
We know you're stressed. If it's any comfort, our friends around the world are juggling a lot now, too. "What constitutes stress is not having the time or help to meet demands in your life, whether you're in Texas or Taiwan," says Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Boston. "Holidays further strain our resources."
You knew that, but you might not be aware of stress relief tactics—centuries-old practices, in some cases—that people in these foreign locales rely on. And not one involves lavender candles.
What you can do: "Wine is a relaxant, that's true, but more important is having a ritual to separate the chaos of work from the comfort of home," Domar says. Any ritual you look forward to will do the trick, whether you wash up and change into sweats or zone out with a game of Words with Friends.
What you can do: Hit the showerand make it a warm one. Just a few minutes can wash away tension, and it's not just the feel of pulsating water on your skin: Research from Yale University indicates that the enveloping warmth you get from a hot shower can trigger brain and body responses that mirror emotional warmth, boosting your mood. Just get out after 10 minutes to avoid drying skin.
What you can do: It's very simple, but key: Don't fuss too much. "One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: 'Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good,' and I apply this to entertaining," says Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier at Home. "If we worry about inviting people to the perfect holiday party, the task seems overwhelming. So I lower the bar to a manageable level. I had a holiday party that was dessert and drinksso much easier than serving dinner, and very festive!"
What you can do: Knead the nape of your neck and the surrounding area. "Stimulating pressure receptors releases serotonin, a natural antidepressant," says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. Better yet: Get your partner to do it.
What you can do: Forget social media; try social eating. Sharing food releases a surge of calming oxytocin, Belgian research shows. Notes anthropologist Michael Gurven, PhD, of the University of California–Santa Barbara: "Bonding over communal eats says, 'You're a valued part of my network.'" Skip the communal tea during flu season; think a pot of melted chocolate for S'mores (without double-dipping).
What you can do: Yuk it up! The contracting stomach muscles trigger a surge of feel-good endorphins, according to a study from Oxford University. Even a couple of minutes of belly laughter can be calminga good reminder to tape your favorite late-night show and actually watch it.
What you can do: Head outside for a brisk stroll. In a 2012 study, people who rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes and then saw disturbing photographs were less anxious than people who sat quietly before viewing the photos. "Exercise not only reduces anxiety, but helps you maintain that feeling when confronted with distressing events," says study author J. Carson Smith, PhD. With less mood-boosting natural light around, it's especially helpful to get outside. Dress for the weather (layers! Thinsulate!) and you'll truly enjoy it.
What you can do: Program a break reminder into your smartphone, heed the beeps, and grab a friend for coffee in the office kitchen. Don't feel guilty for slacking off; in a study from MIT, people who got up to socialize during the work day ended up being 10 to 15% more productive than those who didn't.
What you can do: Soothe your mall-trodden feet with this remedy from Cornelia Zicu of Red Door Spa: Dunk feet up to the ankles in hot water in a plastic bin or the tub, adding a handful of Epsom salts and 2 spoonfuls of baking soda. "After 15 minutes, swelling goes down and circulation improves," Zicu says. "It's amazingly relaxing."
What you can do: Distract your brain from whatever's riling you up. "Stressful thoughts often come from a presumption that something bad is going to happen," points out Ellen Langer, PhD, a Harvard psychology professor. "If you can focus on a positive, you can help derail those thoughts." Jot down a list of Good Things in your life on iPhone Notes, and eyeball it next time you have a holiday freak-out. Your iPod can also come in handy; in one study, people subjected to freezing-cold compresses were less likely to notice the discomfort when listening to music.