If there’s one thing this generation has become so good at – it is being stressed.
In our fast-paced society, there is so much to be worried or anxious about – rising bills, tight deadlines, climbing up the corporate ladder – just writing them down is causing us stress. Factor in the unrelenting onslaught of social media, most of us feel there is a need to perform and if we aren’t doing as well as others – we get stressed out.
Instinctively, we then find ways to relieve ourselves of the mounting stress levels.
Here are the top 5 things people do to relieve stress. Do they really work? Let’s find out.
Can drinking alcohol relieve stress?
So you’ve had a terrible week at work, it’s finally Friday and you’re reaching for that bottle of whiskey to blow off some steam – but does alcohol really relieve stress?
Well, yes, alcohol can relieve stress when consumed moderately, for certain people in specific situations. In this article by CNN, Kenneth Sher, a University of Missouri Psychology professor shares that alcohol at its lower levels of intoxication can be a pleasant thing and will help improve your mood. Drinking alcohol, especially in groups of friends, helps you become more social. Start to let go of a few worries and you actually enjoy yourself.
On the other hand, get drunk, and your body really starts to totally relax. At that level, alcohol brings down your body’s responses to stress and lower your heart rate. Now here’s the problem – the most reliable stress-relieving effects of alcohol only occur at the most problematic doses and levels, bordering on acute physical harm and alcohol dependence.
Sher warns that if you’re looking for a drink every time you’re stressed, on a regular basis, then that is a warning sign. You start to build a habit of depending on alcohol as the “only effective way” to manage stress.
“When you’re alcohol dependent, you’re chronically stressed at the baseline,” explains Sher. Part of the stress you’re feeling is actually caused by the dependency.
The bottom line: is if you can drink alcohol moderately, then by all means go pour yourself a drink and enjoy it. But if you’re making alcohol a crutch to deal with stress, then you’re on a dangerous path. There are other healthier and more effective ways to relieve stress.
Can smoking relieve stress?
If your first reaction to anxiety and stress is to light up a cigarette, you may be a stress smoker.
Most smokers light up more cigarettes when they go through extreme pressure, job changes, and other major life transitions. But can smoking really alleviate stress?
Many people smoke because they believe a cigarette does relieve stress and help them calm down. This is because nicotine is a chemical that can alter mood. It can smother feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety when inhaled.
However, Cleveland Clinic explains that while smoking may make you think you feel calmer, it actually spikes your body’s stress levels and cause the following adverse reactions:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- Decreased oxygen to the brain and body
- Constricted blood vessels
As you smoke, nicotine enters your bloodstream and makes its way to your brain, triggering the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine – your brain’s primary reward chemical. This causes the positive feelings you experience when smoking. However, these emotions are short-lived. Your dopamine levels will crash, and you’ll end up feeling worse than before you struck the match. The bottom line: Smoking may ease your feelings of stress for a little while, but ultimately, smoking can cause more stress – both psychologically and physically. Nicotine damages your blood vessels, and take its toll on your lung health. Nicotine also causes plaque build-up in our arteries, leading to heart disease.
Can drinking tea relieve stress?
If you don’t drink nor smoke, good on you. Perhaps your own ritual for reducing stress involve a homemade chicken noodle soup, bingeing on your favorite Netflix series, or drinking tea. But does drinking tea actually relieve stress?
The first thing to consider is there are tons of different teas around the world, with different levels of caffeine content, and different health benefits.
The tea that stands out above the rest in terms of its calming and relaxing effect is the decaffeinated green tea. This tea in particular has been scientifically proven to both reduce your body’s stress levels and improve your quality of sleep.
In 2017, Nutrients journal found that participants were able to fall asleep more easily after drinking decaffeinated green tea. They reported feeling a lot less stressed over a week of daily green tea drinking habit. The researchers note that the key distinction here to get the anti-stress effect is to consume decaffeinated green tea.
Another tea option to help you relieve stress is black tea. In 2010, researchers from University College London conducted a study showing a decrease in people’s stress levels after drinking black tea over a six-week period. They also found that these people were able to deal with sudden stressful events more effectively than those who didn’t drink black tea.
One more tea variant to ease your stress, is peppermint tea. Menthol, a component of peppermint, is said to be a natural stress-reliever. It can help bring down your blood pressure and body temperature, making you feel more relaxed.
Lastly, turn to your trusty pot of chamomile tea. There are many scientific evidences that show chamomile significantly reduces stress and even symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
The bottom line: You don’t just feel good when you drink tea because you think you should (placebo effect), tea does positively affect the way your body responds to stress.
Can getting a massage relieve stress?
There’s nothing like getting a nice rub down after a stressful week. But do massages actually relieve stress?
Science suggests that massage therapy can not only reduce muscle tension, but also improve mood and combat stress.
Although good massage therapies may be more expensive than a bag of Cheetos or a glass of wine, its psychological benefits may far outweigh its often hefty price tag.
A recent study found that massages can promote muscle relaxation, reduce physical pain, improve mood, and promote better sleep quality. Another study also found that after a massage, your levels of cortisol (your body’s stress hormone) in your saliva, decreases. In a separate study, women also reported feeling better about their body image after massage therapies.
When done correctly by a licensed and well-trained massage practitioner, massage therapies help with conditions that may help you cope with conditions that affect your mind – such as depression, anxiety, and stress. A massage helps you shift your thoughts away from everyday worries and allow your mind and body to relax. Most massage centers perform these therapies in a quiet, dimly lit room, with soft, spa music in the background to help your body and mind to calm down.
The bottom line: Yes, getting a massage is an effective way to relieve stress so start your hunt for a good massage center and therapist in your area.
Can stress-eating relieve stress?
At some point in the past (or present), you may have felt super stressed with life in general, that you just a bought a tub of ice cream, a personal pizza, or perhaps a bag of Lays and scarfed it down all on your own.
Stress-eating. Our guilty pleasure.
This impulse that prompts you to stuff yourself with food after a stressful day is a result of emotional hunger. Rachel Goldman, a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, says that you experience emotional hunger when you’re stressed, angry or sad, and often lead to stress-eating as your way to deal with these emotions.
The danger here is that stress-eating can lead to binge eating if it gets out of control. Many times, if not always, guilt follows an episode of stress-eating. That negative thought will translate into negative behavior and negative emotions. These aspects are all linked together and will set you up for a downward spiral.
Goldman says that even thinking of rewarding yourself with food after doing something tough is considered stress-eating. Any type of emotional eating not born out of physiological hunger, is an unhealthy coping mechanism.
The bottom line: Stress-eating does not solve the root of the problem – your stressors. The satisfaction from giving in to your food cravings do not last and will only cause more stress from the guilt and physical adverse effects it may entail.