TIME health

5 Ways to Relax In No Time At All

relax
Getty Images

Ever felt like you just can’t unwind after a demanding week? That’s because stress triggers your body’s fight or flight response: your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure rises, explains Ash Nadkarni, MD, an associate psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “Long-term overexposure to stress hormones can cause increased risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems,” Dr. Nadkarni adds.

That’s not exactly a relaxing thought. So what should you do when calming classics like downward-facing dog and chamomile tea don’t work? Check out these alternative ways to de-stress recommended by experts and recent studies.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

Wake up early

It may feel counterintuitive to deprive yourself of sleep, but giving yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes before you head out the door will leave you feeling more refreshed—and less frazzled. “Take time in the morning to center yourself,” says San Francisco-based psychologist Leslie Carr, PsyD. “A lot of people shoot out into their days like a rocket ship and it never gets better from there,”

Consider that caffeine takes 20 minutes to be metabolized for you to feel its effect. During that time, think about your goals for the day or read something inspirational. You might find that your normally crazy day goes a little smoother.

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

Create a soothing space

Research suggests that warm colors like red excite you and cooler, muted colors like blue, green, or grey relax you, says Molly Roberts, MD, president of the American Holistic Medical Association—but surrounding yourself in any color you find soothing can help bring on calm. “The theory behind the use of color therapy is that colors enter the eyes, which then send messages along the nerve pathways to the area of the brain that regulates emotion,” Roberts says. “There are a lot of ways to surround yourself with colors that can ease stress throughout the day.” Her suggestions: at home, paint an accent wall; and at the office, drape a soothing-colored scarf over the back of your chair and change your computer screensaver.

Clean out your junk drawers

When you’re feeling emotionally drained, chances are whipping out your Swiffer is the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, tidying up your home can also tidy up your mind. “Having a mindset of de-cluttering helps to manage stress,” says Lauren Napolitano, PsyD, a psychologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Purging unused items gives a sense of order to your physical environment, which helps you feel calmer about your stressors.” She suggests starting with a small project, like your kitchen junk drawer. “Tangible or visible organization leads to emotional organization,” Napolitano says. If you’re ready to take it up a notch, schedule monthly donation pickups with Goodwill to keep yourself in the de-cluttering habit.

Visualize your stressful thoughts

Your coworker just threw you under the bus. Your husband forgot to walk the dog. When it’s that kind of day, try thought diffusion, “a sort of visual mindfulness meditation, a way to sweep out whatever is buzzing around unhelpfully in your head,” says Erin Olivo, PhD, an assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and author of Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life.
Health.com: The Worst Ways to Deal With Stress
Here’s how it works: Imagine your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, and let them drift by above you. “When you begin to observe your thoughts as mental objects that simply come and go, they become less unpleasant, less threatening and less emotionally powerful,” Olivo says.

Watch cat videos

There’s a reason Buzzfeed links are popping up all over your newsfeed. There’s nothing that will relieve some tension like watching a baby masterfully dancing to Beyonce or a cat riding a Roomba in a shark costume.

“After a stressful day, looking at these funny things actually activates the part of the brain that delivers tranquility and a calm physiological response,” says Rose Hanna, a relationship counselor and professor of psychology and women’s studies at California State University Long Beach. “This decreases anxiety and helps tremendously with reducing stress.”

Health.com: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME psychology

Can You Really Predict What Will Make You Happy?

girl-jumping
Getty Images

Here’s what most people think will make them happy, in order of importance:

Via The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain:

A survey of more than 2,015 people conducted by the British research company Ipsos MORI revealed that people believe the following five factors are most likely to enhance happiness (they are listed in order of importance).

1) More time with family
2) Earning double what I do now
3) Better health
4) More time with friends
5) More traveling

Are they right?

Looking at the research, and sticking with just these five options, the order of importance looks more like this:

1) Better health
2) More time with friends
3) More time with family
4) More traveling
5) Earning double what I do now

Health

How people value health varies dramatically based on age, which probably isn’t too much of a surprise. Tali Sharot points out that:

Only 10 percent of respondents from fifteen to twenty-four years old rated better health as one of the top five factors that would make them happy, as opposed to 45 percent of people over seventy-five.

That said, economists value your health as equivalent to an extra $463,170 a year, dwarfing other factors:

Improvement in health has one of the largest effects on life satisfaction; a move from having a very poor health to having an excellent health is worth around an extra £300,000 a year.

A good deal of research lumps friends and family together. Harvard Happiness expert Daniel Gilbert (author of the bestseller Stumbling on Happiness) sums up much of his research by saying:

Family & Friends

We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

Having a better social life can be worth as much as an additional $131,232 a year in terms of life satisfaction:

I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

Slumdwellers in Calcutta are much happier than you might expect largely due to relationships.

Travel

Travel, in terms of vacations, provides a modest benefit. (Commuting, on the other hand is devastating to happiness and might even end marriages.)

Money

Money, once you get above a pretty good salary, doesn’t add much happiness:

…people in the US who make $75,000 a year…are just as happy as those who make $150,000. Any higher income is not going to increase emotional well-being, but a lower income is associated with less emotional well-being, Scollon explained.

That said, how you spend money can affect how much it increases happiness. And at the risk of splitting hairs, while money has very little effect on moment to moment happiness, it is associated with being more satisfied with your life when looked at in the big picture.

Why do we get it so wrong?

Looking at Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness my main takeaway was this:

Much of our unhappiness springs from the fact that we’re terrible at accurately remembering how things made us feel in the past, so we make bad choices regarding the future.

In Gilbert’s own words (and backed up by many studies):

We overestimate how happy we will be on our birthdays, we underestimate how happy we will be on Monday mornings, and we make these mundane but erroneous predictions again and again, despite their regular disconfirmation.

Do you dread going to work, going to the gym or to that family gathering? How do you really feel when you finally get there or after? It’s often very different from your prediction. Some things that look like an enormous chore to do in the future are actually very fulfilling in the moment and afterward… like, oh, blogging.

Stop trusting your memory. Write things down.

Does that seem like work?

Well, Gilbert has a great research-backed suggestion that is quick and easy:Look at other people, what they do, and how they react in the moment:

This trio of studies suggests that when people are deprived of the information that imagination requires and are thus forced to use others as surrogates, they make remarkably accurate predictions about their future feelings, which suggests that the best way to predict our feelings tomorrow is to see how others are feeling today.

Want to learn more about what will make you happy? Go here.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Weird Ways Stress Can Actually Be Good for You

stress
Getty Images

We hear over and over again that stress is unhealthy. And all that talk makes us, well, stressed. But getting worked up isn’t always a bad thing, says Richard Shelton, MD, vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alabama Birmingham; after all, the body’s fight-or-flight response is meant to be protective, not harmful.

It’s only when stress becomes chronic, or when we feel we’re no longer in control of a situation, that it negatively affects our health and wellbeing.

Here, then, are five reasons you should rest easier when it comes to everyday stress—and how a little short-term anxiety can actually benefit your brain and body.

It helps boost brainpower

Low-level stressors stimulate the production of brain chemicals called neurotrophins, and strengthen the connections between neurons in the brain. In fact, this may be the primary mechanism by which exercise (a physical stressor) helps boost productivity and concentration, Dr. Shelton says. Short-term psychological stressors, he adds, can have a similar effect, as well. Plus, animal studies have suggested that the body’s response to stress can temporarily boost memory and learning scores.

Health.com: Best and Worst Ways to Cope With Stress

It can increase immunity—in the short term

“When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection,” says Dr. Shelton. “One way it does this is by producing extra interleukins—chemicals that help regulate the immune system—providing at least a temporary defensive boost.” Research in animals support this idea, as well: A 2012 Stanford study found that subjecting lab rats to mild stress produced a “massive mobilization” of several types of immune cells in their bloodstreams.

It can make you more resilient

Learning to deal with stressful situations can make future ones easier to manage, according to a large body of research on the science of resilience. It’s the idea behind Navy SEAL training, Dr. Shelton says—although you can certainly benefit from less extreme experiences, as well. “Repeated exposure to stressful events gives [SEALs] the chance to develop both a physical and psychological sense of control, so when they’re in actually combat they don’t just shut down,” he says.

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

This idea may even hold true at a cellular level: A 2013 University of California San Francisco study found that while chronic stress promotes oxidative damage to our DNA and RNA, moderate levels of perceived daily stress actually seem to protect against it and enhance “psychobiological resilience.”

It motivates you to succeed

Good stress, also known in the scientific community as eustress, may be just the thing you need to get job done at work. “Think about a deadline: It’s staring you in the face, and it’s going to stimulate your behavior to really manage the situation effectively, rapidly, and more productively,” says Dr. Shelton. The key, he says, is viewing stressful situations as a challenge that you can meet, rather than an overwhelming, unpassable roadblock.

Eustress can also help you enter a state of “flow,” a heightened sense of awareness and complete absorption into an activity, according to research from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow can be achieved in the workplace, in sports, or in a creative endeavor (such as playing a musical instrument), and Csikszentmihalyi argues that it’s driven largely by pressure to succeed.

Health.com: 13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less

It can enhance child development

Moms-to-be often worry that their own anxiety will negatively affect their unborn babies—and it can, when it’s unrelenting. But a 2006 Johns Hopkins study found that most children of women who reported mild to moderate stress levels during pregnancy actually showed greater motor and developmental skills by age 2 than those of unstressed mothers. The one exception: the children of women who viewed their pregnancy as more negative than positive had slightly lower attention capacity.

Health.com: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,067 other followers