All exercise can help reduce stress but researchers have found that practicing yoga seems to be the most effective. Yoga can change chemical levels in the brain more than walking and other forms of exercise (1). Researchers compared a group of participants who walked for one hour, three times per week, to a group of participants who practiced yoga for the same amount of time. The yoga group showed increased levels of brain gamma-aminobutyric, or GABA. Low levels of GABA in the brain are associated with anxiety disorders and depression. On self-assessments the yoga group noted lower anxiety levels and greater improvements in mood as compared to the walking group (2).
Yoga classes come in many varieties and range from very low impact to high intensity. Because of the recent increase in popularity, there is a good chance you have access to numerous yoga classes in your area. Here at Promega, we even have a dedicated yoga room within our ZenZone with classes several times a week taught by one of our very own research scientists.
Even just the anticipation of laughter can help reduce stress hormones in the body. Research participants were tested for cortisol and catecholamine, two hormones associated with stress, before and during a funny movie. Stress hormones decreased when participants were anticipating the funny movie and continued to decrease as they watched the movie. These results were statistically significant when compared to the control group who did not watch a funny movie (3).
So plan a night at the comedy club or at home with a funny movie. Don’t have time for that? Try watching a few silly videos on youtube.com and feel the stress melt away.
Listening to your favorite relaxing music or classical music can reduce your stress reactions. Researchers tested this by giving participants a stressful activity and then randomly assigning the participants to listen to classical music, self-selected relaxing music, silence, or heavy metal music for 20 minutes. They monitored the participants’ heart rate, respiration, and skin conductance throughout the experiment. They also gave the participants written self-report assessments that measure anxiety, anger, and relaxation. Participants who listened to self-selected relaxing music or classical music exhibited a decrease in stress and an increase in relaxation compared to those who sat in silence or listened to heavy metal. Participants who listened to heavy metal experienced an increase in anxiety and anger. Those who were able to choose their own music experienced the greatest reduction in stress and anxiety, probably because they had a feeling of control over the situation (4).
If you are having a difficult day, carve out 20 minutes for yourself to sit and listen to your favorite relaxing music, and try to avoid heavy metal music on stressful days.
These are just a few ways to increase relaxation and decrease stress. How do you decrease stress? Share your favorite techniques in the comments!
- Streeter C.C. et al. (2010). Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16, 11. Retrieved from http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2010.0007
- New Study Finds New Connection Between Yoga and Mood. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October, 27, 2011.
- Anticipating A Laugh Reduces Our Stress Hormones, Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2011
- Labbe, E., Schmidt, N., Babin, J., & Pharr, M. (2007) Coping with Stress: The Effectiveness of Different Types of Music. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback, 32, 163-168.