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5 surprising stress relievers


Stop stress headaches at the source with these unexpected tips.

You’ve done the deep breathing, the meditation, the bubble bath soak, but you’re still stressed out. It might be time to try some more out-of-the box approaches to relieve your stress, a very common headache trigger.

Try one of these five little-known stress relievers the next time stress strikes — and start feeling the “om.”

Put a Plant in Your Office

“It does seem that plants in the environment, at least for some people, create an atmosphere of calm,” explains therapist Chantal Marie Gagnon, Ph.D. In fact, in one small study, participants who performed timed stressful computer work in a room with plants had lower rises in blood pressure than those who worked in a room without plants.1 Those with plants were also more productive, with a 12% quicker reaction time on the test. This was a small study, and more research is needed, but the preliminary findings are encouraging for those with a green thumb.

Pucker Up

This one’s good for your stress level and more. In one study, researchers asked married and cohabitating couples to do one simple thing: kiss more often.2 After six weeks, the couples who had kissed more felt less stress, had better total cholesterol levels, and were happier in their pairings compared to those couples who weren’t instructed to lock lips more often. The study was small (52 people) and many of the results were self-reported, but the findings are similar to other studies. Gagnon explains physical touch can decrease the stress hormone cortisol.

Watch a Funny Video

Some good can actually come from a silly-animal video binge. In addition to increasing the release of feel-good endorphins, laughter relieves your stress response and can stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, according to Mayo Clinic.

Play With a Pet

“Pets help to decrease anxiety by providing companionship, love, and physical touch,” Gagnon says. One small study found that participants performing a stressful task with their pet present were less psychologically threatened than those participants with a close friend or just the experimenter there. Although the research is preliminary and more studies are needed, the authors speculated that the pets in the study represented the kind of non-judgmental social supports that are essential when experiencing stress.3

Gagnon also makes the point that having a dog specifically can benefit your social circle: “It’s more likely you will meet people while you walk your dog, and this could expand your circle of friends and increase your social support,” she says, “which we definitely know helps improve mental health and happiness.”

Fake a Smile

While you shouldn’t always “grin and bear it” when it comes to stress, some preliminary research shows that a smile could help you get through it. Research published in Psychological Science shows that when participants smiled during a stressful task, they had lower heart rates during recovery than participants who did not smile. These results were consistent whether the participants knew they were smiling or not.4

The benefits don’t stop there. Says Gagnon: “Smiling can create a domino effect. Your smile makes you seem warm and approachable, so someone might strike up a conversation with you in which he makes you laugh, and you end up becoming friends. So, you started out by smiling to feel less stressed, then you laughed, which relaxed your brain and body, and now have increased your social support by making a new friend.”

Other non-drug techniques require professional assistance. These include biofeedback, physical therapy and psychotherapy...even acupuncture and acupressure have been reported effective for some headache sufferers.

While medication plays an important role in treating headaches, no one — especially frequent headache sufferers — should ignore available options. If any of these approaches appeal to you, check them out, ask a friend who has had a positive experience with them or talk it over with your doctor.

  1. Lohr, V.I., C.H. Pearson-Mims, and G.K. Goodwin. Interior plants may improve worker productivity and reduce stress in a windowless environment.  J. of Environmental Horticulture 14(2):97-100.
  2. Kory Floyd , Justin P. Boren , Annegret F. Hannawa , Colin Hesse , Breanna McEwan & Alice E. Veksler (2009) Kissing in Marital and Cohabiting Relationships: Effects on Blood Lipids, Stress, and Relationship Satisfaction, Western Journal of Communication, 73:2, 113-133, DOI: 10.1080/10570310902856071
  3. Presence of human friends and pet dogs as moderators of autonomic responses to stress in women.Allen KM, Blascovich J, Tomaka J, Kelsey RM. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1991 Oct;61(4):582-9.
  4. Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response. Tara L. Kraft and Sarah D. Pressman. Psychological Science November 2012 vol. 23 no. 11 1372-1378.

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