10 De-stressing Methods Put to the Test


From relationship troubles to overwhelming workloads, lots of things can stress you out. Thankfully, there are a slew of strategies that promise to help you feel better fast. But do all of them really work? We challenged real women to try out 10 of the most recommended stress busters.

1. Peel an Orange and Eat It

woman eating an orange

Why It’s Supposed to Work: Peeling releases a satisfying scent and triggers you to anticipate the refreshment of the fruit, says Coral Arvon, PhD, Director of Behavioral Health and Wellness at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Aventura, FL. Once you eat it, your blood vessels relax and blood pressure lowers, adds Nieca Goldberg, MD, Medical Director of the Joan H. Tisch NYU Langone Center for Women’s Health in New York City.

Real Result: Shaunte Wadley, 40, of Lehi, UT found this stress buster “surprisingly relaxing” when she focused on nothing but the fruit. Edilma Romero, 60, of Yonkers, NY, also found the experience favorable, but she wasn’t as shocked: She eats an orange every day.

2. Stretch Your Arms to the Sky

Why It’s Supposed to Work: If your job requires you to sit all day, standing up, stretching your arms and spreading your fingers toward the ceiling can fill your body with mood-boosting endorphins, making you feel happy and free, says Dr. Arvon. To get the most out of this de-stressor, Jane Ehrman, a behavioral health specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, suggests taking a full breath as you reach up and slowly exhaling as you bring your arms down.

Real Result: Success! Wadley rarely takes breaks from her desk job, so her hands get knotted up from typing. “I never think about them carrying stress, but spreading my fingers felt good.” Both Wadley and Romero found repeating the technique and concentrating while they did it boost the effect.

3. Hug Your Body

Why It’s Supposed to Work: As soon as you wake up, this movement can release tension in your lower back, says Ehrman. While you’re sitting at work, lift your knees up until your feet are on the seat and tuck your chin in while breathing slowly; the exercise will increase oxygen and blood flow throughout your body.

Real Result: Romero and Wadley loved this stress buster as a morning refresher. “After hours of sleep, back muscles can get stiff. This stretch loosened them up quickly,” says Romero. As an office workout, though, this de-stressor fell short. Rachel Rockwell, 31, of Tulsa, OK, found it difficult to elevate her feet up to her seat, while Wadley’s hardwood floors and rolling chair created a tricky situation.

4. Turn Toward the Sun

woman basking in the sun

Why It’s Supposed to Work: “There’s something incredibly restorative about sunshine and the warmth of it on our skin,” says Ehrman. That’s because sun exposure decreases melatonin—the sleep hormone—and increases serotonin, which promotes feelings of happiness, explains Dr. Arvon. The color yellow also has been shown to be uplifting.

Real Result: There’s a reason Superman needs his daily sun fix. Nothing’s quite as mood-boosting as some rays. “This method worked best of all the techniques for me,” says Romero. “The heat on my skin relaxed me.”

5. Watch a Funny Video

Why It’s Supposed to Work: Laughter releases endorphins into your blood and increases oxygen throughout your body, instantly improving your mood, Ehrman explains. According to Dr. Goldberg, having a good chuckle also has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure.

Real Result: Enjoying a funny clip in the middle of the workday not only gave Wadley a much-needed break but also a healthier perspective on her workload. “Instead of noticing how much I had to do, laughing helped me focus on how much I had already done,” says Wadley. YouTube time also eased Romero—until the video ended, that is. To keep the momentum going, learn to laugh at yourself instead of taking things too seriously, suggests Dr. Arvon.

6. Repeat a Relaxing Phrase

Why It’s Supposed to Work: Quietly concentrating on phrases like, “I now empty my mind of irritation, frustration, hate and worry and fill it with peace, calm, love and faith” flushes out negative thoughts, helping you enjoy the present moment, says Dr. Arvon. To feel even calmer, Ehrman suggests visualizing your stress-inducing thoughts going into a tightly closed container.

Real Result: This de-stressor provided long-lasting relief for Rockwell, who now uses this anywhere and anytime stress hits. Although Romero doesn’t recommend this de-stressor, she admits that repeating the phrase made this method more effective for her.

7. Sing a Favorite Song

Why It’s Supposed to Work: Whether you’re belting out a tune in the car or the shower, singing tames tension in your face, neck and shoulders, says Ehrman. Dr. Arvon adds that singing boosts endorphin production while lowering the heart rate. Karaoke fan? Singing with gal pals doubles the mood-boosting power.

Real Result: Both Romero and Rockwell enjoyed channeling their inner Mariah. Rockwell relaxed and started breathing more deeply, and Romero felt her mood almost immediately improved.

8. Take a Mental Vacation

woman on a hammock

Why It’s Supposed to Work: If you can’t fly off to paradise, concentrating on the sounds, sights and smells of a dream getaway is the next best thing. Your body can’t tell if your beach visit is real or not, so it responds as though you’re on vacation, lowering blood pressure, clearing the mind and reducing fatigue, says Ehrman.

Real Result: It was mixed. Rockwell felt calmer, but Romero found it difficult to “transport my mind to a beach vacation after a hectic day.” Rockwell points out that it’s best to try this in a quiet area.

9. Try a Shoulder Stretch

Why It’s Supposed to Work: Placing your hands on your shoulders and bringing your elbows as far up as possible loosens tension in your neck, shoulders and back and stimulates the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to your heart, lungs, stomach and other organs, says Dr. Goldberg. And that lowers heart rate and ups relaxation.

Real Result: This move was a hit with Rockwell, who now does this daily. Romero grades this move as 80% successful and recommends pairing it with careful breathing and concentration. If you find this exercise uncomfortable, Ehrman advises trying a cat curl to ease stress from your head to hips.

10. Chew Gum

Why It’s Supposed to Work: Popping in a piece loosens the jaw, which holds a lot of tension. This de-stressor is especially effective for teeth grinders, Dr. Goldberg points out. Gum chewing is also connected to higher alertness levels, adds Dr. Arvon.

Real Result: Rockwell doesn’t enjoy chewing gum, so she found chomping increased tension. An alternative from Ehrman: Make “exaggerated funny faces,” such as scrunching up your face, raising your eyebrows high and smiling big. In addition to releasing rigidity from your jaw, you’ll zap stress from the rest of your face.

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