I’ve never understood people who said running and exercise help them reduce stress. This is partly because I’ve always turned to semi-destructive stress-relief solutions: eating a roll of cookie dough, binge-watching movies, heading to the bar with a few friends, etc. However, in an effort to turn over a new leaf, I want to slightly change my destructive behavior into something more constructive. Here are my baby steps to healthy stress-relief.
Eat After You Cook
Most of us have been guilty of turning to comfort food when we’re stressed. Whether we “deserve a treat after surviving today,” or “can’t make it through the test without chocolate,” our diets go out the window when we’re tense. This can have an equally harmful effect because we feel ill afterward from binge eating, and end up gaining weight when the habit continues in the long run.
I’m going to give you permission to eat whatever you want when you’re stressed; you just have to make it first. Are you craving something sweet? Try making homemade chocolate chip cookies. Do you need some of mom’s famous macaroni and cheese? Call and ask for the recipe.
The act of cooking reduces stress because it gives you something to focus on, builds anticipation for a positive event, and provides a reward in the end. Plus, you’re less likely to eat all of the cookies at once if you made them than if you bought a package from the snack aisle.
Binge Watch While You Knit
After a rough day at work, my favorite hobby is curling up with my TV and wallowing in despair. Like eating comfort food, you can still do that, but you’re just going to pick up a pair of knitting needles while you watch. Knitting, you say? OK, it may not be for everyone, but find another simple productive task, like ironing, folding laundry or shucking large amounts of corn (you never know) can help you remain productive while enjoying entertainment.
According to the journal of Academic Medicine, repetitive motions, such as knitting, trigger a relaxation response in the brain. Knitters only have to focus on two motions over and over again. Plus, like cooking, you will have a finished product at the end.
Check out this resource I found with different shows that match your mood. It lists out all of the genres we search for when we’re looking to ease our minds with TV. Knitting while binge watching your favorite sitcom will have you relaxed in no time – with a new scarf to boot.
Kiss and Cuddle
This is one I can really get behind. Do you hear that, gents? I need a kiss. A study of 2,000 couples found that those who only kiss during sex were eight times more likely to suffer from stress and depression. It’s the little kisses throughout the day that help.
While we’re talking about studies, another one from UNC Chapel Hill asked a group of couples to hold hands then hug while another group just sat near their significant others. When asked about stressful events, the latter group experienced higher blood pressure and higher heart rates. Taking some time to hold each other and hug is an easy way to relax. That’s science, folks.
Try to Keep a Plant Alive
Many studies have found that gardening reduces stress, but that’s not easy to do when you live on the fourth story of an apartment building. Let’s start small: buy a Bamboo Palm or Spider Plant. Buy something that’s low-maintenance but effective.
Plants purify the air but they also reduce stress. One study found that hospital patients with plants in their rooms showed lower stress levels than those without. Gardening and getting out into nature is good for your health, but sometimes you have to settle for what you’ve got.
When you choose your plant, look for something that will look nice in your home. Plants are also easy ways to solve your interior decorating problems!
You don’t need to go out and buy running clothes and a heart rate monitor to reduce stress. A healthier, stress-free you is as simple as buying a tube of cookie dough to bake instead of eating it raw. These steps are as small as taking a few seconds to kiss your hubby when you’ve had a bad day, or squeezing your toddler when you pick him up from daycare. Don’t let reducing stress become stressful. Just do what makes you feel good.