calm_down

It’s no surprise that emotional stress from life can turn you into a sleepless, frazzled blob, who gets abnormally frustrated when you drop an unwrapped Kit-Kat in the parking lot. But, beyond being mentally drained, stress can also foster and worsen a long list of health conditions. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma are just a few conditions that have been linked to elevated stress levels. Luckily, there are activities and techniques to combat stress before your health is seriously at risk (and your health insurance is put to serious use!).

Just as my emotional ties to a fallen chocolate bar may be unique, de-stressing techniques vary for all of us. Below are my favorite ways to get out of my own head and relax. (Because telling me to “calm down” is literally the terrible-ist thing to say when I would probably benefit from calming down.)

1. Clean the house. Clean the car. Clean all the keyboards within an appropriate radius. Clean anything, really. Why is vacuuming the stairs or scrubbing the sink good for stress relief? The activity of cleaning requires that you direct your thoughts on the objects you wish to organize or make free of dirt. … This endeavor to assess the situation, first takes your mind off the worries that burden you; and, secondly as you assess the situation you may find that the analysis and reasoning helps you to apply the same techniques to your issues once your cleaning session has ended. (Read more about “Why Cleaning Relieves Stress” at the Everyday Power blog.)

Danny Tanner (ala Full House) was really on to something.

Danny Tanner (Full House, obviously) was on to something.

2. Pet a dog. When my dog isn’t bolting out the back door with my boot in his mouth, he’s a great snuggle buddy. Focusing on petting Rocky (and wondering why his paws smell like Fritos) takes my mind off whatever is bothering me. Pets lower stress by fulfilling our need for touch, which we find comforting. And what’s more, they feel the same way about it. If you’re [petting a dog], not only will you experience the relaxation response, [but you’ll feel the animal’s heart rate slow down, too]. (Via “8 Ways Your Pet Can Help You Relieve Stress” on Vetstreet.com.)

They’re not too picky.

3. Visit a salt cave. What is a salt cave? Halotherapy, also known as salt therapy, has become more popular in the United States in recent years. Within the cave, you’re treated to the salt’s natural anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory properties and the negative ions it produces. The rich negative ion effect can be felt in places like the ocean, near waterfalls and in pine forests. If you’re a skeptic of the, well, salty details, there’s no denying that a session feels like you’ve stepped onto a relaxing, sandy beach somewhere warm — i.e. not Minnesota in February**. Sit back in your lounge chair, enjoy the ocean sounds. You’ll likely leave feeling a bit (or a lot) more zen than you did when you arrived. (For more information on how salt caves work, or to make an appointment visit The Salt Cave Minneapolis.)

** Welp. It’s February 21, and 59 degrees outside. This isn’t normal. BUT IT’S WONDERFUL.

One of the caves at The Salt Cave Minneapolis.

One of the caves at The Salt Cave Minneapolis.

4. Listen to “Violin” by Amos Lee. And have a good cry-moment in the car. Or, you know, play any song that you like, and crying is optional. Whatever your soothing sound preferences may be, music therapy is amazingly effective. [It has been shown to] slow the pulse and heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease the levels of stress hormones. As music can absorb our attention, it acts as a distraction at the same time it helps to explore emotions. This means it can be a great aid to meditation, helping to prevent the mind wandering. (Learn more in “The Power of Music to Reduce Stress” on Psych Central.)