Most Peaceful Dumplings know their way around a bad day: self-care rituals, meditation, yoga, or even a quick walk around the block are some of our favorite ways to cool a hot head. Occasionally, however, you might be in need of immediate stress relief–with evening yoga class too far ahead, and only a few minutes to calm and recollect yourself. In these cases, try these quick stress relief tips using your 5 senses. These tips work because our mind is not just limited to forming conscious thoughts; a large part of our brain activity is dedicated to processing the information from the environment, and so our mood can be strongly influenced by perception. By manipulating the senses of vision, smell, sound, touch, and taste, you can put yourself in a better mood almost immediately.
1. Look at something blue or green (vision): Whether consciously or subconsciously, people respond to colors emotionally. The most calming and soothing colors are cool, lush tones like greens, blues, and neutrals like white. Minnesota State University researchers have even found that being in a red room for just 5 minutes can induce a higher stress response than being in a green or a white room. So look at some nature photos on your Pinterest board for quick relief, or close your eyes and visualize–and focus on turquoise oceans, lagoons, and waterfalls: According to UK researchers, water is the biggest mood-lifter among various nature scenes.
2. Smell something nice (smell): Smell is not something we rely on heavily in our daily lives–but it is known as “an ancient sense,” and holds powerful sway over your emotions. Unlike other sense perceptions, which are first delivered to the thalamus (brain’s sensory processing center), smell first reaches other parts of the brain that control emotions and memory, before going to the thalamus. This is why smells can immediately evoke very complex and vivid memories and emotions. Choosing the right smell for your stress emergency kit can be personal. I like to use peppermint oil on my pulse points, which is a proven mood brightener and also increases alertness and memory. People who need upbeat energy will also like grapefruit, blood orange, and ginger. On the other hand, if relaxation is what you need to combat stress, try ylang ylang (which can actually impair memory but is calming) or lavender.
3. Practice progressive muscle relaxation (touch): This is a powerful technique for flexing and relaxing your muscles. Start with clenching your fists tightly, and unclenching. Inhale, and raise your shoulders up to your ears; exhale, then slide your shoulder blades down and back. Repeat as many times as necessary.
4. Chant Om (sound): That peaceful, calm feeling you get when you chant Om at yoga class isn’t just because of asanas (pose). Sanscrit mantras such as Om are onomatopoeia, which means they mimic the sounds of what they represent. These representative sounds are processed by the right half of your brain, which controls your emotions. (Narrative sounds on the other hand are processed in the left half). I like to chant “Om Shanti Om” for a sense of peace and calm–or a simple Om would work just as well.
5. Taste something sweet (taste): No scientific studies needed here–we all know the power of food to boost our mood! But stress can also increase cravings for fatty, unhealthy foods. Be careful to taste something delicious but also healthy. A few pieces of dark chocolate will reduce your stress by releasing more endorphins and serotonin. Other mood-boosting foods include bananas (triptophan), dates, and healthy, Omega-rich foods like cashews and avocado. Try a 1/2 tbsp of raw cashew butter spread on a date for a quick stress relief treat.
Bonus tip: Snap a rubber band on your wrist (touch, sound): This one is courtesy of my mom, a wellness expert at a nonprofit health organization. When you really have trouble turning yourself around, put a rubber band on your wrist. Snap it while saying to yourself, “Stop!”–meaning, stop stressing. Combining the sense of touch (feel of rubber band snapping) and sound (your own voice, and the noise from the snap) sends a clear message to your brain that stressing has to end.
What is your favorite, quick stress remedy?
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Photo: Dirk Dallas via Flickr; Mary Hood;