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  • Writer's pictureStaci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

Five research-based ways to help your mind and body relax



When you hear someone tell you to relax, you may feel like this is a pipe dream due to your busy work and home schedule. But relaxing does not mean you have to spend money or time going to a spa or going on a vacation. Relaxing and reducing stress can be as simple as engaging in meditation practice at home or sitting with a cup of tea on your patio in the morning or evening. And relaxing doesn't mean you have to schedule a huge chunk of time each day for a nap or mindfulness session. Read below to learn about five simple ways you can bring more relaxation into your life with little time or financial commitment.


1.) Physical activity


Research shows that those who do not engage in physical activity have more health problems and higher healthcare expenses (1). Both of these factors can cause a lot of stress in ones' life. Not to mention that acute stress can help reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels in some people (2). Cortisol is a stress hormone, so this means that exercise can help you reduce the actual stress hormone in your body. Pretty cool, right?


Now you don't have to engage in boot camp or marathon training to reap these relaxation rewards. Just gentle exercise daily can do the trick. Walking, cleaning house, gardening, light aerobics, swimming, or riding a bike are examples of exercise you can engage in to help you reduce stress in your body. And you don't have to do extended periods of exercise to benefit. Being active in short bouts of just five or ten minutes at a time with breaks in between for a total of thirty minutes daily are just fine.


2.) Laughter


As the saying goes, "Laughter is the best medicine." Research shows that this is actually true in some respects. A 2021 study shows that laughter therapy can help reduce stress and anxiety (3). Furthermore, a 2023 study shows that laughter can actually reduce the stress hormone cortisol (4).


Therefore, if you're feeling stressed, turn on your favorite funny show or movie and enjoy a few laughs. Visit a comedy club. Spend time with friends or loved ones who always make you laugh. Who knows? It might just make you feel better and help you better manage any stress or anxiety you may be feeling.


3.) Spending time in nature


You may have heard a technique called grounding that involves putting your bare feet on dirt or grass to help you feel less anxiety. This technique as well as just getting fresh air from being in nature shows promise to help reduce stress.


A 2021 review of studies shows that there is a positive link between nature exposure, increased levels of physical activity with lower levels of heart disease (5). Also, a 2024 study shows that those with greater connection to nature have lower levels of stress and anxiety than those who have a weaker connection to nature (6). Studies are still early when it comes to grounding, but so far research shows that this technique, when done 30 minutes daily for five times a week for 12 weeks, can improve sleep quality (7).


So, if you're feeling stress or anxiety, open up a window, or better yet take a walk outside. Listen to the birds sing, feel the air blowing on your skin, and appreciate the free stress relief nature has to offer. If you're at work while you're feeling stress, then try to slip out during your lunch break to take a short walk outside, if possible.


4.) Listening to music


I know that for me, listening to soft music when I'm feeling stress or anxiety can help me zone out and relax. I didn't realize there was actually a scientific backing to support the use of music to help reduce anxiety and stress. A 2024 review of studies found that listening to music can reduce symptoms in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (8). Furthermore, listening to music can help both children and adults relax before a dental procedure and can help lower stress parameters in healthcare workers at risk for burnout (9,10).


There is no set type of music or length of time one needs to listen to music that has been confirmed to be most effective for lowering stress. But if you start to feel stress, try listening to your favorite type of music while breathing gently and sitting still or lying down. Over time, you will learn what type of music helps you relax best.


5.) Yoga or meditation


Meditation, mindfulness, and yoga are often spoken about in tandem since they are practices with very similar properties in mind. Such factors include breathing techniques and staying in the present moment, for example. Research shows that the fluid movements and breathing methods used in yoga are effective ways to provide stress relief (11).



A study on mindfulness, a practice of focusing on the present moment without judgment, shows promise to reduce overeating related to stress (12). Researchers found that actual parts of the brain related to reward, awareness, and emotion regulation change when a person engages in regular mindfulness training. This type of training, known as MBSR, or mindfulness-based stress reduction, involves breathing meditation, body scanning methods, and gentle yoga-inspired movements (13). You can find training classes for MBSR online or at your local yoga or meditation center.


Mindfulness research shows its positive effect on improving stress, anxiety, and depression levels (14). The cool part is that mindfulness shows an actual physical change in the brain in regard to cognitive functioning and brain plasticity, or structural and functional changes in the brain.


For more detailed instructions on how to engage in meditation, mindfulness techniques, and certain yoga movements, visit HelpGuide.org and their article, "Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief."


Also, be sure to follow and listen to Lighttrack Nutrition's No Sugar Coats podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts today for more quick tips on healthy eating and healthy living.


References:


  1. Mahindru, A., Patil, P., & Agrawal, V. (2023). Role of Physical Activity on Mental Health and Well-Being: A Review. Cureus, 15(1), e33475. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.33475

  2. Morava, A., Dillon, K., Sui, W., Alushaj, E., & Prapavessis, H. (2024). The effects of acute exercise on stress reactivity assessed via a multidimensional approach: a systematic review. Journal of behavioral medicine, 10.1007/s10865-024-00470-w. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-024-00470-w

  3. Akimbekov, N. S., & Razzaque, M. S. (2021). Laughter therapy: A humor-induced hormonal intervention to reduce stress and anxiety. Current research in physiology, 4, 135–138. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crphys.2021.04.002

  4. Kramer, C. K., & Leitao, C. B. (2023). Laughter as medicine: A systematic review and meta-analysis of interventional studies evaluating the impact of spontaneous laughter on cortisol levels. PloS one, 18(5), e0286260. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0286260

  5. Jimenez, M. P., DeVille, N. V., Elliott, E. G., Schiff, J. E., Wilt, G. E., Hart, J. E., & James, P. (2021). Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(9), 4790. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18094790

  6. Chang, C. C., Lin, B. B., Feng, X., Andersson, E., Gardner, J., & Astell-Burt, T. (2024). A lower connection to nature is related to lower mental health benefits from nature contact. Scientific reports, 14(1), 6705. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-024-56968-5

  7. Lin, C. H., Tseng, S. T., Chuang, Y. C., Kuo, C. E., & Chen, N. C. (2022). Grounding the Body Improves Sleep Quality in Patients with Mild Alzheimer's Disease: A Pilot Study. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 10(3), 581. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare10030581

  8. Ma, Y. M., Yuan, M. D., & Zhong, B. L. (2024). Efficacy and acceptability of music therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. European journal of psychotraumatology, 15(1), 2342739. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008066.2024.2342739

  9. López-Valverde, N., López-Valverde, A., Macedo de Sousa, B., & Blanco Rueda, J. A. (2024). Efficacy of music therapy on stress and anxiety prior to dental treatment: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Frontiers in psychiatry, 15, 1352817. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2024.1352817

  10. Catherine Colin, Violaine Prince, Jean-Luc Bensoussan, Marie-Christine Picot, Music therapy for health workers to reduce stress, mental workload and anxiety: a systematic review, Journal of Public Health, Volume 45, Issue 3, September 2023, Pages e532–e541, https://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdad059

  11. Zok, A., Matecka, M., Bienkowski, A., and Ciesla, M. (2024) "Reduce stress and the risk of burnout by using yoga techniques. Pilot study." Sec. Occupational Health and Safety, Volume 12 - 2024 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2024.1370399

  12. Torske, A., Bremer, B., Hölzel, B. K., Maczka, A., & Koch, K. (2024). Mindfulness meditation modulates stress-eating and its neural correlates. Scientific reports, 14(1), 7294. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-024-57687-7

  13. Worthen, M., & Cash, E. (2023). Stress Management. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.

  14. Argyriadis, A., Kopanakis, E., Koutras, P., Louvaris, K., Mammi, A. Z., Psychogiou, M., Katsarou, D., Vieira, I., Drakopoulou, O., & Argyriadii, A. (2024). The Impact of Outdoor in Nature Mindfulness on the Mental Well-being of Children and Adolescents. A Mental Health and Cross-cultural Approach. Materia socio-medica, 36(1), 73–76. https://doi.org/10.5455/msm.2024.36.73-76

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