What’s New About Stress?

by Susan Andrews, PhD

Actually, I was about to say, “Practically Nothing,” when I happened upon an article in the HuffPost entitled, “20 Scientifically Backed Ways to De-Stress Right Now.” Okay, I agree that we have scientific evidence that a lot of methods work, but 20 ways to destress immediately might be pushing it. So, read on and discover a couple of new ways that you might not have known about.

The early part of the list was now new. Although these are great techniques to reduce stress, most everyone knows them, and few enough actually DO them. Number 1 is Go for a 10 Minute Walk, in a park or green space if you can. Number 2 should probably have been listed first as everyone knows the value of breathing. Deep slow breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, you yawn and feel better. Number 3 on the list was to do a short self-guided visualization or imagine a vacation you enjoyed or one you are looking forward to. The suggested visualization in the HuffPost list is to “picture yourself in an elevator, happily sandwiched between two hot actors of your choice.” Might work!

Taking advantage of the newly labeled “gut-brain-axis” is the 4th scientific way to destress immediately: Eat a Snack (Mindfully). The article draws on Dr. Drew Ramsey’s new book, The Happiness Diet. In Dr. Ramsey’s words, “After all, stress is a brain and immune system mediated phenomena, and your gut is the largest organ in your immune system.” Dr. Ramsey is an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

But the surprise was that the Number 5 suggestion on the list was totally new to me: Buy Yourself a Plant. According to this article, Houseplants are not just beautiful air purifiers; they actually can help induce a relaxation response just by being around them. The science is that a Washington State University study found that a group of stressed-out people in a room full of plants experienced a 4-point drop in their blood pressure, while the control group in a plant-less room only dropped by 2 points. HuffPost included an article on the 10 Best Houseplants to De-Stress Your Home. They also quote a 2008 Dutch study that found that patients in a hospital with plants in their rooms reported lower stress levels than patients in rooms without plants. And, the # 1 top stress-reducing plant is the dangerously sharp-leaved Aloe plant. Not only does it have the ability to help heal burns and cuts, but also it cleans the air and the leaves act like canaries in a mine by displaying brown spots on the leaves when there are a lot of pollutants in the room air. (Important FYI, the aloe plant has other relaxing uses.) They list English Ivy as Number 2 and a Rubber Tree as Number 3. Number 4 is a Peace Lily and Number 5 is the Snake Plant. The only one I knew about was the Snake Plant or Mother-In-Law Tongue. And, I only knew about its air purification qualities. The bamboo palm made NASA’s list of top clean-air plants with a score of 8.4 for clearing out benzene and trichloroethylene. And, if those chemicals are in your house, you will need more than a plant to relax.

I kinda got sidetracked on the List of 20 Scientifically Backed Ways to De-Stress Right Now. And, I am running out of column space. So, I will quickly finish the list without much comment. Number 6 is Step Away from the Computer Screen – frequently. Number 7 is Pucker Up. Enough said. Number 8 is Try this Naam Yoga Hand Trick; it totally works. Apply pressure to the space between your pointer and middle fingers; it creates a sense of instant calm. Number 9 is Hang Up, Then Turn Off Your Phone. And, Number 10 is Put on Some Music. That is one of my favorites. I’ll save the other 10 for another time. These tips for instant relaxation are easy to do and I hope try them out.

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