Bizarre Ways to Beat Stress and Unwind 1

Most people know their stress culprits. Issues involving money, balancing work and family, and life’s breakneck speed are all key factors that keep us on edge. How much?

According to the 2009 Stress in America survey, published by the American Psychological Association, 24 percent of more than 1,500 adults polled said they’d experienced “high stress” levels during the preceding month. Participants rated their stress as an eight, nine or 10, on a 10-point scale.

If tried-and-true anti-stress remedies—more sleep, more exercise and better nutrition—hold no appeal, why not make time to try something different?

Check out some of the more bizarre things people do to calm themselves down, and why these under-the-radar activities may work for you.

  • Jaw massage

Strange: Stress usually takes its toll on the emotions. When those feelings are repressed, the body—especially the jaw—often clenches. It’s as though you lock down the body part that’s associated with giving voice to your feelings, says Willberg.

But True: Massaging the jaw area to help release muscle tension can be a real stress reliever. The key muscles involved with closing the jaw are the masseter, pterygoid and temporalis (the temporalis is attached to the skull at the temple). If, because of stress, the muscles associated with the jaw remain contracted over time, the result can be headaches and other pain syndromes.

For self-massage, Willberg suggests placing the four fingers of each hand (don’t use the thumb) over the temples and making light circular motions for about a minute. Then do the same at the jaw area. Increasing pressure according to preference can lead to additional relaxation.

  • Ironing

Strange: Ironing is hardly a popular household task. But the repetitive back-and-forth motions associated with that activity may be one of the best stress reducers around. Why? It has a lot in common with meditation, says Deb Shapiro, 30-year meditation teacher, based in Boulder, Colo., and co-author of Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World (Sterling Ethos, 2009).

But True: In day-to-day living, people tend to keep their minds busy with a myriad of activities, says Shapiro. When we’re stressed, that busyness is exaggerated. As a result, our heart rate and blood pressure may increase. Meditation helps us become totally present with whatever we’re doing, she says. Even the simple act of breathing in and out—focusing on the rhythm of the breath—can immediately quiet the body and the mind, helping reduce stress, she says.

Meditation can be applied to just about every household task—ironing, folding laundry, cutting vegetables—when you focus solely on what you’re doing. “When done with awareness, what is often considered boring and mundane work can actually be a way to develop a quiet and stress-free mind,” says Shapiro.

  • Shout it out

Strange: Ever since cavemen roamed the earth, screaming and shouting have played a role in helping humans express their frustrations. “The body’s chemistry changes with each bellow,” says Armand DiMele, a licensed social worker and founder and executive director of the DiMele Center for Psychotherapy and Counseling, in New York. “Screaming releases endorphins, the body’s natural anesthetic, and also causes other neurochemical changes, which makes it a great stress reliever.”

But True: Although many people can scream spontaneously, says DiMele, many individuals prepare by tensing their arms, shoulders, chest, face and head. He likens this tightening to what typically happens before a boxer takes a punch at his opponent. “The scream is what explosively releases that tension,” he says.

An expert in intense feelings psychotherapy, DiMele says you don’t need an open field as a refuge for screaming sprees. Instead, you can scream full force right into a pillow, or bellow in your car. Although his clients do therapeutic screaming for 30 minutes at a time, even a 10-second scream into a bolster helps get rid of pent-up stress.

  • Dry brushing

Strange: When you’re under a lot of pressure, the body releases hormones that cause the sympathetic nervous system to go into a stressful fight-or-flight mode. But simply brushing the skin with a dry brush, before you bathe, can help reverse the upheaval, says Laurie Steelsmith, a licensed naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist in Hawaii.

But True: Dry brushing stimulates the superficial nerve endings in the skin. This stimulation activates the parasympathetic nervous system which, in turn, can then restore calmness, says Steelsmith, the author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health (Three Rivers Press, 2005).

There’s another benefit. Dry brushing moves the lymph, which carries the body’s cellular debris into the blood stream for eventual delivery to the liver for detoxification. When people are laden with toxins, they tend to be sluggish, agitated, and prone to headaches and bad moods. The less the toxic load, the better a person can cope with stress.

A quick brushing in the morning—with a dry natural-bristle brush, and using upward or circular strokes toward the heart—can be great way to keep stress at bay. Steelsmith advises using a brush that’s soft enough to encourage habitual use.

  • Go dark

Strange: Before the invention of electricity, people woke up at sunrise and went to bed at sunset. Today, even when we do hit the sack, we often take the light to bed with us. Television and computer monitors are left on. Night lights and clock faces glow. Curtains or shades made of flimsy material let light from the street penetrate into the bedroom.

This extra dose of light takes a toll on the body, says Steelsmith. The production of melatonin, a powerful sleep-inducing hormone made in the brain’s pineal gland, decreases when the night is not pitch black. And less melatonin can mean more stress.

But True: Research suggests that, when melatonin levels decrease, so does the quality of sleep, says Steelsmith. Insomnia and sleep disruption can also occur. A lack of restful sleep may also lessen a person’s ability to effectively cope with daily problems or mishaps, which could lead to stress and also adversely affect the immune system, she says.

Steelsmith suggests that people lower the lights an hour before retiring, remove light-containing items from the sleeping area, and put up heavy curtains. Another alternative is wearing a sleep mask, both at home and during travel.

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