“Adopting the right attitude can convert negative stress into positive,” said Hans Selye, author of the groundbreaking work around stress theory. When optimism is hard to muster, cognitive-behavioral therapy, which trains people to recognize negative thinking patterns and replace them with more constructive ones, can also help reduce the risk of chronic stress and depression.
While modern civilization has made our lives more convenient, it has deprived us of an essential source of stress relief—connection with nature. Studies show that interacting with nature can help lessen the effects of stress on the nervous system, reduce attention deficits, decrease aggression and enhance spiritual well-being.
Aromatherapy, or smelling essential plant oils, is recognized worldwide as a complementary therapy for managing chronic pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia and stress-related disorders, and can help you unwind. Orange and lavender scents in particular have been shown to enhance relaxation and reduce anxiety.
During stressful times, coffee helps us keep going. To give yourself a break, however, consider drinking tea. Research shows that drinking tea four times a day for six weeks leads to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Habitual tea drinking may also reduce inflammation, potentially benefiting your heart health.
Humor relieves stress and anxiety and prevents depression, helping put our troubles in perspective. Laughter can help boost the immune system, increase pain tolerance, enhance mood and creativity, and lower blood pressure, potentially improving treatment outcomes for a number of health problems including cancer and HIV. Humor may also be related to happiness, which has been linked to high self esteem, extroversion and feeling in control.
Relationships are key to health and happiness, especially for women. Women with low social support, for example, have a higher risk of increased blood pressure under stress. Loneliness may also contribute to stress in both men and women, also leading to poorer outcomes after a stroke or congestive heart failure. On the other hand, active and socially involved seniors are at lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Social support also helps cancer patients to boost their immune systems and maintain a higher quality of life.
Music, especially classical, can serve as a powerful stress-relief tool. Listening to Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D major while preparing a public speech helps avoid anxiety and an increased heart rate and blood pressure, which usually accompany public speaking. Singing and listening to music can also relieve pain and reduce anxiety and depression caused by low back pain. Group drumming, for example, showed positive effects on stress relief and the immune system. Music therapy can also elevate mood and positively affect the immune system in cancer patients, and reduce fatigue and improve self-acceptance in people with multiple sclerosis. Music can help people reduce anxiety as they prepare for stressful medical procedures such as surgery. A dose of calming music may lower anxiety, pain and the need for painkillers.
To get the best of both worlds, affecting the mind through the body while getting into good physical shape, try exercise. In one study, a group of lung cancer patients increased their hope due to exercise. Exercise can also reduce depression and improve wound healing in the elderly. Tai chi, which works for people of all ages, may enhance heart and lung function, prevent falls and improve balance and posture, all while reducing stress.