Who Needs a Shrink? 8 Cheap Ways to Relieve Stress

Photo (cc) by Cubosh

Headaches, fatigue, chest pain, upset stomach and sleeping problems are a few of the ways stress takes a toll on our bodies.

Restlessness, depression, and lack of motivation and focus are some of the ways it affects mood, according to the Mayo Clinic. Such emotions can prompt behaviors such as overeating, angry outbursts, social withdrawal and substance abuse.

We try seemingly anything to cope with stress, but here are some no- and low-cost options. They just might be as useful as they are unusual.

1. Get out the crayons

Photo by Flickr user laffy4k
Photo by Flickr user laffy4k

You’ll need them for coloring books, which millions of stressed-out grown-ups are opening, The Fiscal Times reports:

The appeal is simple: Adult coloring book lovers, who tend to be mostly women, like the calming and relaxing effect that coloring within the lines can have when life gets out of control.

One big plus: This type of therapy is a lot more affordable than a visit to the shrink.

Some of the most popular adult coloring books, like “Secret Garden,” have made Amazon’s bestseller list.

2. Focus on fractals

Photo by Flickr user paulmccoubrie
Photo by Flickr user paulmccoubrie

The results of a 2006 study published by the MIT Press suggest that looking at fractals might improve one’s “psychological condition,” for reasons that include “dampening [one’s] physiological response to stress.”

Fractals are a type of pattern that can be found in nature. Snowflakes and Romanesco broccoli (pictured) are examples. Check out Yale University’s “Panorama of Fractals and Their Uses” gallery for more.

Psychology Today magazine explains:

Using fMRI imaging and other brain measurements, it appears that people have hard wiring that responds to certain forms of fractals in nature. The results of many studies show that exposure to fractal patterns in nature reduces people’s levels of stress up to 60 percent.

3. Turn that frown upside down

Photo by Flickr user 3dpete
Photo by Flickr user 3dpete

A study published in the journal Psychological Science in 2012 associated smiling during a stressful task with having a lower heart rate afterward.

The study states:

These findings show that there are both physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress.

Study participants who maintained a Duchenne smile, which is larger and causes the muscles around your eyes to contract, had a slight advantage over those who held a standard smile. So remember to smile big.

Dr. Philip Muskin, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University in New York who was not involved with the study, tells Everyday Health:

When you smile, you are engaging your face, and that is wired to the rest of your brain. … If your face is forcing your brain to think it’s happy, then you feel somewhat better.

4. Straighten up

Photo by Flickr user beija
Photo by Flickr user beija

Being surrounded by clutter can feel overwhelming. According to WebMD:

It brings on anxiety when you can’t find your checkbook, your child’s homework or the utility bill. So de-clutter to de-stress. An uncluttered space can feel satisfying and restorative.

In the process, you’ll get some exercise — spring cleaning burns more than 250 calories an hour, WebMD says — which is another way to relieve stress.

5. Hypnotize yourself

Photo by Flickr user mike_miley
Photo by Flickr user mike_miley

A 2010 study published in a nursing journal concludes:

Hypnosis is an innovative, low-technology, self-modulated approach that may contribute to stress reduction and health promotion…

Study participants, 30 healthy women, “listened to a 30-minute recording of relaxing, affirming hypnotic suggestions while sitting comfortably in a recliner.”

Visit the nonprofit Stress Management Society’s self-hypnosis page to learn more.

6. Eat a sweet red pepper

Photo by Flickr user tracy_olson
Photo by Flickr user tracy_olson

Vitamin C might help people manage stress more effectively, partly by lowering their levels of stress hormones like cortisol, WebMD reports.

Sweet red peppers contain more Vitamin C per serving than any other food, according to the National Institutes of Health. (Red peppers are followed by orange juice, oranges, grapefruit juice and kiwi.)

7. Chew gum

Photo by Flickr user sunshinecity
Photo by Flickr user sunshinecity

A study published in Physiology & Behavior in 2009 associated gum-chewing when facing stress with significantly better overall performance and alertness, and reduced anxiety, stress and cortisol levels.

While the researchers could not determine why gum-chewing is connected to these effects, they speculated that it might have to do with improved blood flow in the brain, among other possibilities.

8. Pucker up

Photo by Flickr user waltstoneburner
Photo by Flickr user waltstoneburner

Neuroscientist Wendy Hill, provost and dean of the faculty at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, led a study that found that kissing decreases cortisol levels. (Hand-holding does, too.)

This good news is even better for long-term couples:

“The longer the relationship, the greater the decline in cortisol,” Hill said during a 2009 interview with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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