Debra Kissen, PhD, clinical director of Light On Anxiety CBT Treatment Center in the greater Chicago area. She is author of Overcoming Parental Anxiety. DebraKissen.com
The holidays are over…and yet you are still feeling stressed. You probably already know some potential remedies—exercise…listen to soothing music…meditate. But those strategies don’t work for everyone, and they’re not practical in every situation. Here are six lesser-known possibilities backed by academic research…
Improve your seated posture. According to researchers at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, sitting upright with your shoulders back reduces fears and fosters self-esteem and a more positive mood. Why? When we sit hunched over, the mind receives the message that we’re curled into a ball trying to protect our vital organs from attack.
Do a crossword puzzle…or a Sudoku…or play chess. A UC Berkeley psychologist found that mentally challenging activities are more effective anxiety-reducers than passive distractions such as watching TV.
Do something for someone else. Not surprisingly, researchers at University of Miami School of Medicine found that people’s anxiety decreased when they received three massages a week for three weeks. But the study also found that people experienced even greater anxiety declines when they gave three massages a week for three weeks. Other studies have found that donating money to people in need is a better mood booster than splurging on oneself.
Chew gum. Researchers at Australia’s Swinburne University found that gum chewing reduces stress—probably because chewing burns off anxious energy when other options aren’t available. If gum chewing isn’t for you, squeeze a ball of putty or play with a fidget spinner.
Cool your fears with cold water. A 2021 study by researchers at England’s University of Chichester found that a 20-minute dip in 56°F water significantly improved participants’ mood, lowering tension, anger and depression while boosting self-esteem. Another 2021 study, by an international team of researchers at Australia’s Swinburne University and Canada’s Queen’s University found that immersing one’s face in a bowl of cold water can reduce feelings of panic. This might be because cold slows the heart rate…or because the cold jolts the stressed brain away from its ruminations, like hitting a reset button. If sitting in a cold bath or plunging your face into cold water isn’t practical, try running cold water over your wrist or hold an ice cube against it.
Lean into your anxieties. If diversion attempts fail, try the opposite—allow your mind to roll around in the “crumminess” of your situation. Stop trying to convince yourself that your problem is no big deal, and let yourself dive into the fact that it truly stinks. Numerous studies have shown that increasing exposure to a source of anxiety can slowly reduce its power. A stressed brain can be like a young child throwing a tantrum. Sometimes the best option is to get the child to a private place and let the tantrum happen. Soon the child will yell himself out and be ready to move on.