The weirdest stress-relieving tactics from plunging into cold water to massaging your feet

Squeezing a stress ball might be the most conventional way of battling stress.

But if you are looking for something a little different, you could try pretending your belly is a balloon.

Experts also believe submerging yourself in cold water or giving your dog a tight cuddle could help. 

Here, MailOnline explains the method behind the madness and reveals some of the stranger ways of tackling stress. 

People who are experiencing stress often have shortness of breath. The airway between the nose and the lungs becomes smaller and constricted which creates irregular breathing.  Stress expert Dr Olivia Remes suggests pretending your stomach is a balloon as part of a breathing exercise 

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling under pressure or threatened. 

Too much stress can affect your body and your mood and make you feel anxious and irritable.

But not all stress is bad. It can motivate you to achieve things in your daily life including meeting the demands of home, work and family life.

Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout.

Signs of stress or burnout   

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Having racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling constantly worried, anxious or scared
  • Feeling a lack of self-confidence
  • Having trouble sleeping or feel tired all the time
  • Avoiding things or people you are having problems with
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • drinking or smoking more than usual

 

Source: NHS 

Imagine there is a BALLOON in your stomach

It’s natural to feel short of breath when you’re stressed.

Your breathing muscles, including your diaphragm, become tense when you are feeling the heat.

This can cause some to feel they can’t breathe naturally, making them inhale quicker.

Simple breathing exercises can give you relief within minutes. 

They work by getting your breathing back under control, allowing a steady flow of oxygen into your lungs.  

Cambridge University’s Dr Olivia Remes is a world-renowned expert in managing stress. 

She is also a life coach and has written a book all about managing stress called ‘The Instant Mood Fix’. 

Luckily, Dr Remes has some breathing exercises she swears by. 

She said: ‘When you have rapid shallow breathing you should engage in some belly breathing exercises. 

‘Imagine there is a balloon in your stomach and every time you are taking a breath in this balloon expands, and then with each breath out, this balloon shrinks. 

‘Just doing this a few times can help you breathe properly and relax.’

Dr Darren Player, lecturer in musculoskeletal bioengineering at University College London (UCL), also explained the importance of controlling your breathing. 

Dr Player said: ‘Breathing is actually the core component around stress relief, when people are stressed, because they are anxious, they will increase their breathing rate and their heart rate.’

Exercise and stretching  

Yoga and exercise can also help to control your breathing, Dr Player added.

Physical exertion — whether from going to the gym or for a run — releases hormones in your body called endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood enhancers, which make you feel more relaxed.

These are what trigger a ‘runners high’ — a euphoric feeling that occurs after running or exercising.  

Dr Player said: ‘During the exercise process there is a hormonal response, known as an endocrinal response. 

‘What we are now starting to understand is the muscle tissue itself is an endocrinal organ. 

‘Muscles actually secrete certain growth factors which will signal to other tissues of the body and the brain.’ 

The repetitive motion of running can be likened to meditation because it can allow you to gather thoughts and deal with the situation that is causing the stress. Experts suggest running or other sports to help you feel less stressed

The repetitive motion of running can be likened to meditation because it can allow you to gather thoughts and deal with the situation that is causing the stress. Experts suggest running or other sports to help you feel less stressed

But exercise also works to reduce stress in a different way.  

The repetitive motion of running, for example, can be likened to meditation because it can allow you to gather thoughts and deal with the situation that is causing the stress. 

Dr Player said: ‘A lot of people take up running or solo sports to get a sense of being on their own and having that opportunity to spend that time on their own.

‘In sports where there is often more of a skill component, then having to concentrate specifically on that skill can take your mind away from a stressful situation.’ 

Plunging into cold water

Thanks to Wim Hof, nicknamed the iceman for his freezing feats, cold water dips have become increasingly popular.

Plunging yourself into cold water may fill you with dread.

But, even if it sounds counter-intuitive, it has been shown to actually help with your stress. 

An Italian study published in 2021 explored the brutal effects of winter sea bathing on stress responses. 

Nearly 230 people, a mix of adults every age — including teenagers and almost 90-somthings — took part in the study. 

Questionnaire results suggested that people who bathed in the sea in the depths of winter had a ‘higher perception’ of wellbeing. 

Not only that, but they also appeared to be able to better handle stressful situations — such as being exposed to cold temperatures.

Winter sea swimming has been associated with lower levels of self-reported stress and higher wellbeing. Studies show people who swim in cold water have a better perception of their state of health in comparison to people who do not bath in winter

Winter sea swimming has been associated with lower levels of self-reported stress and higher wellbeing. Studies show people who swim in cold water have a better perception of their state of health in comparison to people who do not bath in winter

But why would swimming in cold water help reduce stress?

Another study from 2007 shows that, in the same way as running, exposure to cold water floods the body with endorphins. 

At the same time, experts believe it has the opposite effect on cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone. 

However, experts warn taking cold water dips can be dangerous.

Dr Player said: ‘There is a shock response that occurs with cold water. There is always a danger of an acute episode of a heart attack.’

Hug your pet 

Spending time with loved ones, whether it is family, friends or partners, can ease stress. 

However, so can spending time with your pooch. 

Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol. 

That is according to a 2020 study by the University of York and the University of Lincoln, which involved almost 6,000 participants. 

The study, which looked at human-animal relationships and interactions during the Covid lockdown, revealed that animals provide emotional support and combat loneliness and stress. 

Experts claimed that this is because pets are ‘tuned into humans’. 

Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease the levels of the stress related hormone, cortisol. Pet therapy is used to help university students feel less stressed and it has even been used as a method to combat stress at the University of Cambridge

Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease the levels of the stress related hormone, cortisol. Pet therapy is used to help university students feel less stressed and it has even been used as a method to combat stress at the University of Cambridge

Dr Remes agrees that spending time with an animal, especially your pet, can help you feel like a weight is lifted. 

She said the technique is even used on stressed university students. 

She said: ‘Pet therapy is another great thing, spending time with a pet whether it is your pet or somebody else’s. 

‘At the University of Cambridge several years ago they brought in a dog so people could pet it for stress relief, it was for the grad’s stress relief.’

The life coach added that a hug from family is just as important. 

Dr Remes said: ‘Touch is an important thing; it can make you feel better. Touch can have a positive effect on your emotion. 

‘Getting a hug from somebody whether it is a close friend, a partner, whoever it may be. 

‘Spending time with friends and family is a great antidote to stress, because when people feel surrounded by others and part of a support network then whatever difficulties we go through in life, it can make it easier to bare them.’

Tapping your face

It might sound strange, but some studies have bizarrely suggested that tapping your face can relieve stress.

Unsurprisingly, this decades-old technique has been disputed.  

The experimental method, devised in the 1990s, is called emotional freedom technique (EFT).

Clinics charge up to £80 an hour to do it — although there’s guides online that show how you can do it yourself. 

It is described as being like acupuncture, the ancient Chinese medicine, but minus the needles.

EFT involves tapping or rubbing points on your body, including the face, while you repeat positive phrases out loud, such as ‘I love and accept myself’. 

This therapy is supposed to give people a more positive frame of mind. 

According to its developer, Gary Craig, tapping helps balance energy and reduce physical and emotional pain.

Tapping is an experimental therapy method, devised in the 1990s, is called emotional freedom technique (EFT). It is described as being like acupuncture, the ancient Chinese medicine, but minus the needles

Tapping is an experimental therapy method, devised in the 1990s, is called emotional freedom technique (EFT). It is described as being like acupuncture, the ancient Chinese medicine, but minus the needles

But is there any evidence this unusual technique actually works?

A study in 2013 looked at EFT as a method of reducing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans.

After one month the veterans using EFT showed significantly reduced phycological distress. 

But others doubt its success and explain that the majority of studies conducted on EFT are not all reliable.  

A 2019 study by psychologists at Bond University in Australia, looked at the science behind tapping.  

Despite more than 100 studies recognising its benefits, limited evidence existed to prove it truly worked. 

Some studies relied on people reporting their own progress and other studies did not compare tapping with other methods of battling stress. 

Massaging your feet

A day at a fancy spa will always help you relax.

But there is evidence to show that just massaging your feet could relieve tension and stress. 

This massaging method is also known as reflexology, which, like EFT, is also described as being similar to acupuncture. 

Information from the Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust explains that reflexology is based on the idea that there are reflex areas in the hands and the feet that are connected to the rest of the body.

Applying pressure to specific spots on your feet using your thumb and fingers, is thought to release congestion and promote the flow of energy. 

The hospital’s website highlights that reflexology provides a way to relax and destress.

Experts on stress relief suggest massage as a way of relaxing your muscles. It is thought specifically massaging your feet or hands can relieve tension in your body

Experts on stress relief suggest massage as a way of relaxing your muscles. It is thought specifically massaging your feet or hands can relieve tension in your body

However, a review published in 2014 found that reflexology is not an effective treatment for any medical condition, raising doubts about whether the therapy— which can cost £35 an hour in private clinics — has any benefits. 

Despite having no proof, they still argued it might be a good complementary treatment for stress and anxiety.

The review claimed that massaging your feet may activate the sub-callosal cingulate gyrus region of the brain, which is integral to regulating emotions, such as stress. 

Dr Remes suggests massaging as a ‘great strategy’ to relieve stress because it helps to relax your muscles. 

The life coach also recommends simply relaxing muscles.

Starting at the top of the head, Dr Remes suggests slowly relaxing parts of your body, one at a time.

She said: ‘You might say to yourself now I relax my forehead, my eyes, cheeks, jaw, neck and so on. 

‘You focus on those areas and one by one it feels like your body is slowly getting into that state of relaxation.’

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