Usher in deep sleep by doodling.
Time to wind down, but your mind is stuck in overdrive? There’s an easy way to quash lingering stress: Doodle some flowers. Researchers at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine say any kind of repetitive motion that keeps your hands busy, like drawing, scrapbooking or sewing, quiets the anxiety center of the brain and helps you doze off in just 15 minutes.
Relax a tight jaw by sticking out your tongue.
Stress can cause muscle tension in the jaw and throat, causing sleep-disrupting snoring. But a study in CHEST found tongue exercises, like pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth and sliding it back and forth 20 times, three times daily, cuts snoring by 59 percent by keeping muscles aligned.
Make any decision easier by chewing gum.
When tension makes it difficult to concentrate on whatever choice is at hand, whether it’s what to make for dinner or which card you’d like to mail to your sister, pop a piece of gum. A study in the Journal of Prosthodontic Research found that rapidly chewing gum for 3 minutes significantly dials down your body’s release of stress hormones, while also sending a rush of nutrient-rich blood to the brain so you stay laser-focused.
Outsmart viruses by grabbing a good book.
Putting your feet up and doing something relaxing, like paging through a cookbook or diving into the latest historical romance, for just 20 minutes a day cuts your risk of colds and viral infections by 40 percent! Ohio State University investigators explain that unwinding reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol by 55 percent, which frees up your body to funnel more resources toward your immune system, and in turn release significantly more virus-fighting antibodies.
Boost immunity by watching a scary movie.
While chronic tension weakens your immune system, turns out short bursts of “good” stress, like rewatching your favorite horror movie or conquering a fear of heights, triggers an adrenaline rush. This sends immune cells flooding into your bloodstream, where they quickly destroy harmful invaders.
Sidestep headaches with a gentle stretch.
To keep head pain at bay even when your tension levels are high, take a mini break to reach for the sky, do a “downward dog” or any other simple yoga stretch. Research in the International Journal of Yoga found that practicing yoga (no matter your skill level) five days a week reduces your headache frequency by 84 percent, and curbs pain intensity by 77 percent. That’s because combining relaxing stretches with mindfulness (the simple act of focusing on the present) fends off stress while calming the nervous system to help block pain.
Ease aches and pains by listening to nature.
Hearing nature sounds, like birds chirping or a trickling stream, has the power to soothe discomfort in minutes. Even better: It can also block pain from returning for up to two hours, according to investigators reporting in the journal Pain Management Nursing. Our brains are naturally wired to relax in response to nature sounds, so popping open your window or cuing up a free nature video online relaxes tense muscles to ease head pain.
Sharpen your focus with deep breaths.
You know meditation is a proven stress-buster, but if you’re one of the many women who can’t get the hang of making it a regular habit, you’re in luck: Research in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience shows breathing deeply for 60 seconds (exhaling twice as long as you inhale) tames stress and sharpens your focus by 50 percent for one hour by stimulating the area of the brain that triggers a relaxation response.
Increase concentration by snacking on berries.
Juicy berries are in season now, and savoring a cup a day can boost your concentration by 45 percent, Stanford scientists say. Berries (take your pick, any kind will do!) are packed with anthocyanins, colorful antioxidant pigments that help brain cells fend off weariness.
Speed weight loss with a warm embrace.
When your stress levels spike, your body automatically ramps up production of hunger hormones, which makes it all too easy to overindulge. The fix: Hug a loved one (or a pet!) or catch a few minutes of a rom-com before sitting down to eat. Harvard University investigators found that boosting your levels of oxytocin, a “bonding hormone” that reins in stress, before eating helps you consume up to 122 fewer calories and nine fewer grams of fat.
Curb your appetite by dimming the lights.
Setting a relaxing mood before dinner by dimming the lights or switching on slow-tempo music helps you eat less. Cornell University scientists say. A soothing setting slows the pace at which you eat, which gives your brain time to register that you’re full.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.