Stress level struggles are real. In fact, none of us are strangers to managing stress, whether it’s thanks to an overflowing inbox, looming deadlines or a busier-than-ever social schedule. Whatever the cause, stress, and particularly work-related stress, is a pervasive and persistent issue—the latter is estimated to have cost the UK economy around £28 billion last year. Although it can feel overwhelming and impossible to navigate when you’re in the thick of it, there are strategies we can all adopt to help mitigate the effect of a rising stress level.
Soothe with scent
Fragrance doesn’t only have the ability to evoke memories, it can also act as an instant anxiety buster, helping to jolt you out of a high-stress state and into a calmer, more relaxed frame of mind. When we inhale scent particles, they travel through the nose to the limbic system, the area of the brain responsible for memory, mood, and emotions. Think of a relaxing essential oil and you’ll probably think of lavender, but studies have shown that ylang ylang has powerful anti-stress properties. It’s thanks to its high concentration of linalool, a compound with sedative effects that can help to soothe an overactive nervous system. When inhaled, linalool has an “anxiolytic” effect, a term derived from the Ancient Greek words for “loosen anxiety”, meaning it helps you feel calmer and less fraught. Another essential oil with similarly soothing qualities is cedarwood, a deeply grounding oil that contains sesquiterpenes, plant compounds that can affect the central nervous system, trigger serotonin production and promote calm.
Transform with touch
While stress has been dubbed the number one 21st-century health epidemic by the World Health Organisation, social isolation and loneliness are not far behind it. The good news is that social connectivity, and more specifically, physical touch, is an extremely effective stress-relief strategy because it reduces stress hormones like norepinephrine and cortisol, and increases levels of dopamine and serotonin. If you are feeling the effects of stress, you don’t even need to seek out something as intimate as a hug with a loved one – research shows that even a perfunctory hand massage administered by a stranger is enough to reduce active levels of cortisol in the body.
Refocus your vision
A common side effect of stress is a tunnelling of the senses. The brain enters what’s known as a high-focus visual mode when we’re stressed. When this happens, physiological changes to our eyes – and our nervous system – take place to allow us to deal with the threat at hand: as well as our eyeballs rotating inwards, our breathing becomes more rapid and our heart rate increases. To immediately reduce the feelings of anxiety associated with these changes, we can actively choose to engage in panoramic vision, increasing our field of vision to allow our brains to take in more of the visual stimuli around us. Helping to shift focus away from what’s in front of us kickstarts the parasympathetic nervous system, which encourages everything to slow down and our bodies to move out of panic mode.
Reset with sound
The benefits of nature for reducing stress are well documented, but did you know the sounds of nature are particularly effective when it comes to lowering anxiety levels? A 2017 study led by the University of Sussex looked at the impact of nature sounds on brain activity and markers of the autonomic nervous system like heart rate and breathing, and found significant decreases in the body’s sympathetic response, which gets switched on in response to stress. If you can’t step outside and into a green space when stress threatens to overwhelm, opt for the next best thing by downloading an app like Nature Sounds. If you’ve ever struggled to get a baby to sleep, you might be familiar with white noise as a soothing aid, but it’s brown noise you need to zone into in order to zone out. Possessing a lower frequency to white noise and with a neutral, more organic feel, brown noise sounds similar to the steady fall of rain, or the low rumble of thunder. For some (including the community on TikTok, where #brownnoise has racked up more than 100 million views), the continuous, dense nature of the noise acts like a blanket of sound, helping to block out external stimuli.
Try a new taste
According to a study carried out by Swinburne University in Melbourne, chewing gum can have significant anti-stress effects. In a study that pitted gum chewers against non-chewers, measuring and comparing their alertness, stress and anxiety levels, the findings revealed that as well as improved focus, the chewers had lower levels of salivary cortisol levels compared to non-chewers. Reaching for a bar of something sweet is a common response to feeling stressed, but according to a study by Nestle, eating 40 grams of dark chocolate a day for two weeks actually reduced cortisol levels in 30 healthy adults. As well as containing serotonin, for a natural mood boost, and anandamide, which binds to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors for a calming effect, dark chocolate contains valeric acid, a natural relaxant, and magnesium, which is also known for its relaxing properties.
This article first appeared on www.vogue.co.uk
5 ways to wake up better and improve your day
How beauty rituals can ground you in times of stress
If you find yourself stress eating, here’s what a clinical dietician wants you to know