The holidays are a notoriously stressful time: more than 60% of Americans report elevated stress at the holidays. And with rising COVID-19 cases, the added stress can be a lot to handle this year. But the good news is that there are quick science-backed ways to center yourself and find calm when panic begins to bubble up.
Get Outside (Or Pretend You Did). There is a growing body of research that shows being in nature is a proven stress reliever. Some research suggests that the wilder the surroundings, the deeper your relaxation, but you don’t have to go to a national forest to benefit. Other studies have found that a little bit of nature in urban settings can help and that just being in sunlight may increase levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin and alleviate anxiety. What if you are so pressed for time, you can’t get outside? One literature review found that simply viewing vegetation out your window—or even in a video—can lower stress.
Listen to Natural Sounds. Even if you have no time to take a break from what you are doing and get outside—you can help your body lower its stress response by just listening to the sounds of nature. A 2017 study from Britain had participants listen to natural sounds while doing a specific task. The researchers scanned their brains with a functional MRI machine and measured their heart rates at the same time. They found that listening to the sounds of nature lit up the parts of the brain that focus on external things, while sounds from manmade environments fired up the area of the brain that turns inward and is associated with repetitive thoughts and worries. Listening to nature also lowered participants’ heart rates, suggesting that their parasympathetic nervous system—the one that helps you rest and digest—was being activated. You can find natural soundtracks all over Amazon Music, but to create one of your very own, check out Noises.Online.
Put on a Stress Reduction Playlist. A number of studies have found that listening to music can help reduce stress. One of them looked at college students during exam week, (remember how stressful that was?) and found that the students not only felt less stressed when they listened to music, but also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And they got the most benefit when they put on tunes with the specific intention of relaxing. Create a playlist of music that feels relaxing to you or just search for “relaxing music” on your favorite music app, and press play any time you are feeling anxious or worried. You can also get started with this playlist.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to better manage stress during this time, the Care Team is here to help. Open the app today to speak with a doctor, nurse practitioner or nurse in minutes.