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March 9, 2022

More Ways to Reduce Stress

The world is a scary place right now. We’ve spent two years enduring a global pandemic, inflation is at an all-time high, businesses struggle to find people to work, and we’re witnessing the most intense European invasion since World War II. The world feels stressed.

Then there’s personal stress from your job, relationships, and finances. Chances are you feel stressed right now. The American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report for 2020 concluded that a mental health crisis afflicts Americans, which could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come. That report was published before war broke out in Ukraine.

Regardless of where we are now, the Stress in America report wrapped up optimistically, saying 7 in 10 Americans feel hopeful about their future. That points to one of the key ways to maintain strong mental health in times of adversity—remain hopeful.

To remain hopeful, we all must take deliberate actions to deal with stress. Let’s face it, our current stressors won’t disappear any time soon. If we choose to ignore them, they will come back and haunt us. Let’s look at a few tips to help you navigate each day.

1. You Need a Hug. A recent study found that a 20-second hug lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Participants received a hug from a stranger for 20 seconds and took three deep breaths during the hug. The study, conducted in 2021, sought to understand how lack of physical touch during the pandemic affected stress. Turns out there was a significant effect.

Being touched by others improves stress coping. Another study found that when women received a hug from their partner, it increased their oxytocin levels and reduced their blood pressure.

A study published in 2014 found that hugs correlated to less severe illness in people with viral infections. (No comment.)

If you need a hug and no one is around, you can hug yourself. In the first study mentioned, the researchers found that hugging yourself for 20 seconds provided the same benefits as receiving a hug from someone else. Participants in the study gave themselves a hug by placing their right hand on the left side of their chest above the belly. They were told to take two or three deep breaths and concentrate on the warmth and pressure of their hands.

2. Take Cold Showers. Our bodies have learned to function well in changing temperatures. In fact, there are benefits to exposing your body to temperatures above and below 72 degrees.

Exposing your body to cold temperatures for short amounts of time can improve your mood by influencing your hormone levels. Research has shown that cold water submersion at 58 degrees for one hour increases noradrenaline by 530% and dopamine (the feel-good hormone) 250%.

But who has time to sit in a cold tub for an hour? Turns out you can benefit from cold exposure by taking a cold shower. I know this doesn’t sound appealing unless you try the James Bond trick of indulging in a Scottish Shower. The method involves starting with a warm shower and gradually decreasing the temperature of the water until it becomes an ice-cold shower.

A study in 2016 found that taking hot-to-cold showers showed a 29% reduction in sickness absences from work. The benefits of the cold showers worked even when the exposure to cold water only lasted 30 seconds.

Wim Hof (The Ice Man) has immersed himself (literally) in the effects of cold showers, ice baths and cold exposure. If you’d like to experience the stress reducing benefits of cold showers, try his 20-day Cold Shower Challenge.

3. Watch A Lot of Comedies. I always feel better after watching an episode of Parks and Recreation, or my favorite Will Ferrell movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. That’s because researchers have shown laughter increases endorphins, lowers your blood pressure, decreases your heart rate, and improves your mood.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the physiological benefits of laughter are almost endless. The Mayo Clinic says it’s just as helpful to make others laugh as it is for you to laugh. So don’t just consume comedy; bring laughter to those around you. Learn a few good jokes so you can share a laugh with someone who might need a pick-me-up.

Stress reduction can be simple, but it requires intentionality. As we navigate through our current environment of stress, make sure you take some deliberate actions to reduce your stress and the stress of those around you. Give hugs, take cold showers, and make people laugh.

And don’t forget two of the most important things you can do to reduce stress—exercise and adopt Simple eating habits. Make sure you get to Exercise Inc every week for your 20-minutes of strength training. Take time every day for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity. And eat 2-3 servings of fruit and 4 or more servings of vegetables every day.

Stay Strong and Happy!

Bo Railey