Adopt an animal
Whether you’re a dog lover or a cat lady, one thing’s certain: behind every animal is a powerful stress-diminisher.
And now numerous studies have confirmed pets’ blood pressure-lowering effects. “When you interact with a friendly animal, all your muscles relax,” explains neuropsychological researcher Stanley Coren, PhD.
Studies have shown that the simple act of stroking a pet lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol and raises the feel-good brain chemical dopamine, meaning you’ll feel calmer and more positive almost instantly.
Quick Fix: If you’re lucky enough to have a dog, cat, bird or bunny, you’re already set. If not, get your dose of furry goodness by volunteering at an animal shelter such as the RSPCA. Not only will you make a difference to the thousands of animals abandoned each year, you’ll get to reap the warm-and-fuzzy benefit too. Just head to rspcansw.org.au.
Laugh more often
It’s long been said that laughter is the best medicine, but while it may not cure everything, it can certainly reduce stress.
How? Laughing increases the amount of oxygen-rich air you inhale, stimulates your heart and muscles and triggers the release of feel-good endorphins.
Quick Fix: Anything that gets you clutching your sides. So, catch up with a funny friend, revisit your Seinfeld box set or hotfoot it to a local comedy night.
Overhaul your diet
In need of comfort food? Put down the burger... reach for the chocolate! Good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) can improve cognitive function and boost your mood.
But it’s not the only edible stress reliever. Foods rich in vitamin C (such as citrus fruits), complex carbs (whole grains, fruits and veg) and omega-3 fatty acids (oily fish and nuts) all have properties that lower stress naturally (hello, serotonin!) as well as reduce risk of heart disease and depression.
Quick Fix: We’re so busy these days that if we can make any aspect of our lives easier we’re onto a winner. Cue one of the easiest ways to plan your meals. Think a weekly delivery of fresh vegies, healthy carbs, proteins and spices (in the exact quantities you need) plus simple-yet gourmet recipes that can be prepared in under 30 minutes. Check out Marley Spoon, Hello Fresh or Pepper Leaf for some good options.
Up your heart rate
There’s no denying the soothing benefits of a stroll in the fresh air. But pick up the pace and the payoff may be even more apparent. A study by the University of Maryland in the US found moderate exercise may help us deal with stress and anxiety for extended periods.
“Exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure. If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, you’ll be better able to maintain that level of reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events,” explains researcher J Carson Smith.
Quick Fix: Increase your heart rate with a jog, Zumba class, Pilates or a swim. You don’t have to belong to a gym or have fancy gear either—exercise can be as simple as getting outside, moving your legs and swinging your arms. And if you want to boost your social horizons as you raise your heart rate, check out walkers.meetup.com, a social network that will connect you to local groups.
Escape the indoors
Australia truly is the lucky country—we have every landscape imaginable, from pristine beaches to lush rainforests.
So we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to breathing in the cortisol-lowering benefits of the great outdoors. A recent German study has backed up nature as a restorative force. It found outdoor spaces, particularly those by the water, are good at helping us recover from stress.
But the proof is in the pudding, as you’ll well know if you’ve ever walked along the beach, through a rainforest or stood by a waterfall.
Quick Fix: Step outside, find a park, a pond, a beach, a lake (even a garden will do the trick), then take a deep breath in and a stress-expelling breath out. You’ll be feeling happier and calmer in seconds. And if you can simultaneously take a dog for a walk, eat a healthy snack and have a laugh, your bliss levels will skyrocket so fast, you’ll forget what stress is!