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11 scientifically-backed ways to chill out if you are stressed by work


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Stress has become a part of our life – at least for some of us.

In fact, a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and healthcare company Simplyhealth found that stress is the top reason for those of working age taking sick leave lasting four weeks or longer in the UK.

When your body detects stress, the hypothalamus – a small region in the base of the brain – reacts by stimulating the body to produce hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, triggering the release of glucose into the bloodstream as a temporary means to increase energy. But the process also puts a strain on your body.

We may not really have control over circumstances that get us stressed but there may be ways – backed by science – that could help undo its effects.

1 Chewing gum

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Your teacher may have told you chewing gum goes against etiquette and your dentist may have warned you sugary versions are bad for your teeth.

But chomping on a piece of gum does have its benefits, according to a 2008 study.

It can relieve anxiety, improve alertness and reduce short-term stress during episodes of multitasking. Just make sure to stick to sugar-free ones.

2. Indulging in sweet treats

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Feeling stressed? Maybe it’s time to reach for that scrummy doughnut you’ve been denying yourself all day.

Eating (or drinking) something that’s sweet leads to the production of a steroid hormone known as glucocorticoid that helps mediate stress response.

“Glucocorticoids are produced when psychological or physical stressors activate a part of the brain called the stress axis,” says Yvonne Ulrich-Lai, of the University of Cincinnati – which conducted the study.

“The sweets we are talking about are not the low-calorie, sugar-substitute variety. We actually found that sugar snacks, not artificially sweetened snacks, are better ‘self-medications’ for the two most common types of stress – psychological and physical.”

3. Listening to music

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Are you in a situation where you feel the need to calm your mind? Maybe turning to your favourite playlist might help.

If you are fond of classical music then here’s some good news – studies suggest that it has a particularly soothing effect and can slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure and even decrease levels of stress hormones.

But even if you aren’t a fan of the classics, worry not, because listening to any music you love should help as it will release feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine into your brain.

4. Getting indoor plants

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Indoor plants do more than make your desk look pretty and absorb carbon dioxide around you – they can actually help you calm down, if this study is anything to go by.

Researchers say that simply being around plants can induce your relaxation response.

According to a study published by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, potted plants in offices reduced fatigue, stress, dry throats, headaches, coughs and dry skin among workers.

5. Watching cat videos

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The internet has been obsessed with cats and for good reason – they are cute and they make great video subjects. But there’s a scientific reason why you are so drawn to their videos.

A study by Indiana University found that watching four-legged furballs can actually boost energy levels and increase feelings of happiness.

Looks like all that time you spent on Instagram and YouTube looking at cats may not have gone to waste after all!

6. Smelling rose oil

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You will have probably heard about the benefits of aromatherapy and how it helps you relax and release tension.

And scientific research appears to back the theory rose oil can be effective in reducing stress.

According to a 2009 study, “rose oil caused significant decreases of breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation and systolic blood pressure” amongst the subjects who took part in an experiment to determine the “relaxing effect” of rose oil on humans.

7. Planning your holiday

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Remember the last time you booked your holiday and how much you were looking forward to getting away from it all?

The best enjoyment comes from the anticipation and, sometimes, the happiest part of your holiday can happen way before you ever step foot in your far-flung destination.

According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, simply planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.

8. Taking a deep breath

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It might sound like a cliche, but taking deep abdominal breaths can actually help you feel more relaxed.

According to Harvard researcher Herbert Benson, deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange that can help slow the heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure and may even be able to change the expression of some genes (a process that determines what that cell can do – including triggering stress).

9. Doing desk yoga

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Yoga, when combined with controlled deep breaths, can act as a stress reliever.

An UCLA study in 2012 found that volunteers taking part in yoga and meditation showed a decrease in the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins linked to stress within the blood stream.

Why not take the plunge and try a yoga class or get in touch with a practitioner for lessons in breathing and meditation?

10. Meeting friends after work

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If you find yourself having a stressful afternoon, it might be worth making plans to see your close friends after work.

It appears being in the presence of your besties could actually reduce stress levels – at least according to a study of children.

Research by Nebraska University found that having a best friend to talk to “significantly buffered the effect of the negativity of the experience on cortisol and global self-worth”.

11. Ditching caffeine

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Neck deep in work? Taking a coffee break might sound like the perfect solution to help you work faster but a 2004 study by Bristol University found that caffeine might actually make things worse.

Researchers say volunteers (especially men) taking part in the study found themselves generally feeling more stressed and less confident about their ability to cope after over-indulging in caffeine.

Dr Lindsay St Claire, one of the researchers involved in the study, points out: “Our research findings suggest that the commonplace tea or coffee break might backfire in business situations, particularly where men are concerned. Far from reducing stress, it might actually make things worse.”

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