In case you haven’t heard (you know, because of all the stress in your life) — April is National Stress Awareness Month.A little bit of stress is good for us, in that it provides energy and keeps us aware of everything going on in our lives. But even though stress is a daily occurrence for all of us, it’s important to keep it in check. When left to its own devices, it can lead to or exacerbate a number of health problems, from heart disease, to acne, to obesity, to depression and anxiety. It can even worsen ulcers, WomensHealth.gov reported.
Fortunately, there are a number of things backed up by research that you can do, right now, to lower your stress levels. Click through the slideshow for our round-up of stressbusters, and tell us in the comments: What do you do to de-stress?
Bring Your Dog To Work: A recent study in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management showed thatbringing your dog to work could help to lower office stress and boost employee satisfaction.
“Pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support,” study researcher Randolph T. Barker, Ph.D., a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a statement. “Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace.”
The study, which looked at the pet-friendly company Replacements, Ltd., showed that employees who brought their dogs in to work experienced decreases in stress throughout the work day. Meanwhile, self-reported stress increased for people who didn’t bring their dogs, and for those who don’t have dogs.
Laugh It Up: If you’re feeling particularly stressed, perhaps it’s time to take a quick YouTube break. A small 1989 study in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences showed that “mirthful laughter” is linked with lower blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
The Mayo Clinic reported that laughter also promotes endorphin release in the brain and relaxes the muscles, which are all key for stress relief.
Caregiving is extremely stressful, but a 2008 survey showed that gardening may help to reduce stress among caregivers. The survey, by BHG.com, showed that 60 percent of caregivers feelrelaxed when they garden, the Alzheimer’s Association reported.
And, Health.com reported on a Netherlands study, suggesting that gardening can help to lower cortisol levels and boost mood among people who had just finished a stressful task. That’s because doing something that requires “involuntary attention” — like sitting back and enjoying nature — helps to replenish ourselves, Health.com reported.
Crack Open A Book: Just six minutes of reading is enough to help you de-stress, the Telegraph reported.
The study, which was sponsored by Galaxy chocolate, suggested that reading was linked with a slower heart rate and muscle relaxation. Drinking tea or coffee, listening to music and taking a walk also seemed to help lower stress, according to the Telegraph.
Call Mom: Even if she’s not there in person, a call to mom can help lower stress.
Scientific American reported on a study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society Bshowing that young girls who talked to their mothers on the phone after completing stressful tasks had decreased cortisol (the stress hormone) in their saliva, and increased oxytocin levels (the bonding hormone).
The girls who talked to their mothers on the phone had decreased cortisol and increased oxytocin levels compared with young girls who weren’t allowed to contact their mothers at all,Scientific American reported — girls who hugged their moms in person had a similar reaction to the phone group.
Eat Some Dark chocolate: Chocolate doesn’t only have health benefits for the heart — eating it can also help to lower stress.
LiveScience reported on a study illustrating that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate a day for a two-week period is linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. That study was published in 2009 in the journal Proteome Research.
(But of course, chocolate still contains sugar and lots of calories, so make sure you’re eating the chocolate in moderation!)
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that gossiping can actually lower stress, stop exploitation of others and police others’ bad behavior.
“Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip,” study researcher Robb Willer, a social psychologist at UC Berkeley, said in a statement. Willer’s research was published this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
So if something’s bothering you, go ahead and gab — but just make sure you move on so you don’t dwell on the negative emotions!