Stress and anxiety mean different things to different people. Stress is good up to a point – as long as it increases our productivity and motivates us. But for the most part, stress is less than desirable and we are always looking for creative ways to de-stress.
We start to feel stressed in school, before exams, then at work, before deadlines, and even at home, trying to maintain a strong marriage or dealing with mom guilt or other trauma. Companies spend up to $300 billion a year to implement stress management training but it might be inefficient since workplace stress is on the rise. Americans work 1,742 hours a year per person and when it comes to overall happiness, we are only on the 18th place in the 2018 World Happiness Report – way behind the Nordic countries. According to WorldAtlas, in Denmark, people only work 1,414 hours a year – that is two months less than Americans, while Norwegians work 1,429 hours a year. Moreover, Paychex found that 52% of America’s employees work overtime and 47% of them work non-required weekends. All these numbers make Henry Ford turn in his grave. After all, he invented the 40-hour work week. How come we couldn’t stick to it?
What causes stress?
You don’t need a college degree to answer this question. You’ve already experienced it and you know how it feels like. And you’re already spending money on creative ways to de-stress. Your job is definitely at the top of the list. Haven’t you complained about it lately? When you’re up to your ears in work, a huge pressure pushes down your shoulders and you know you’re stressed, so you’re tempted either to brag or to complain about it. You like it and hate it at the same time. Usually, stress is caused by more overlapping situations. For example, on top of your job, you have marriage or relationship problems, you’re grieving after the death of a loved one, you’re facing foreclosure due to late payments on your home loan, or you may have to move due to your job. That’s why we may feel that stress builds up towards a climax. But what if you looked at stress as if it were the ante-room to happiness or the clouds that cover the sun for a while?
Furthermore, there is the constant stress of being good looking. A recent report on stress in the United States published by EverydayHealth finds that 51% of women say they feel bad about their appearance every week while for 28% of them this feeling is stressful. Only 34% of men say they feel bad about the way they look. The fight with our craving for sweets is painful and often results in either anorexia if taken too far, or in obesity, when we succumb to our culinary temptations. Obesity is a global epidemic, but in the United States, the obesity rate is the highest among the OECD countries, at 38.2%. Mexico and New Zealand are next. Many studies point out the fact that obese individuals have poor health and lower subjective well-being that is amplified by the social stigma associated with it. But any health issues are stressful. Some conditions may be triggered by external stress. For example, in some individuals, stress manifests itself on the skin, like in psoriasis, pityriasis rosea, contact dermatitis, rosacea, or eczema.
The EverydayHealth report also points out that for 52% of respondents, financial problems are stressing them out. So, you may think that we go to work to accumulate stress and use our salaries to get rid of that stress only to be able to work more. The Easterlin Paradox is thought-provoking: our income has had a two-fold increase since 1972, yet we are not happier. Quite the opposite – our happiness declines and so does our life expectancy, which is shocking for the most developed nation on Earth.
Another source of stress for young adults in the US is safety. Generation Z is concerned about mass shootings and acts of violence – three in four say they feel stressed about their safety, according to Stress in America, a report published by the American Psychological Association. On top of their over-crowded curriculum, the possibility of a random shooting at school is stressful for 56% of Gen Zs.
What is anxiety?
Only a thin line separates stress from anxiety. Usually, they have similar causes, but anxiety is more powerful. Those suffering from anxiety are extremely worried or fear that the worst could happen. Different phobias are classified as anxiety disorders, too. For example, social phobia, water phobia, arachnophobia, agoraphobia, fear of seeing blood or fear of heights. Persons suffering from a phobia usually have an irrational fear that is greater than the danger posed by an object or situation. So, anxiety and stress go hand in hand.
Serotonin – the happiness hormone
Fortunately, stress is curable. The best natural medicine for the disease of the third millennium is serotonin – the happiness hormone. Together with dopamine, serotonin helps us to relax and wind down. What really increases our dopamine and serotonin levels? Eating chocolate, playing our favorite music and making love – either one by one or simultaneously. However, serotonin is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. So, to boost your serotonin levels naturally, you should eat foods rich in tryptophan. Have you ever felt sleepy after the Thanksgiving dinner? The tryptophan from your turkey meat is to blame. Besides turkey and poultry, other foods rich in this amino acid are:
- Seeds (Pistachio (29%), Sunflower Seeds(35%), Sesame Seeds (39%), Chia Seeds (44%);
- Cheese (parmesan and cheddar(56%), mozzarella (51%));
- Rabbit (133%), goat and beefsteak;
- Eggs (30%);
- Soybeans (Koyadofu (75%);
Most of the foods above will increase your dopamine levels too, however, you may want to look for foods particularly rich in L-Tyrosine: bananas, peanuts, almonds, and avocados. But dopamine increases whenever we get a reward in exchange for our actions. Think about the slot machines or the games on your smartphone – it’s the dopamine in your brain that keeps you addicted to them. Unfortunately, the US is the epicenter of the opioid epidemic,too – 63,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, according to CDC, while addiction to OxyContin and heroin is devastating.
Too much serotonin, though, may indicate the presence of the Carcinoid Syndrome – a type of cancer that starts in the digestive tract (particularly the small intestine) and may spread to other organs if the tumor is larger than 2 cm. Named so by Oberndorfer in 1907, carcinoid tumors are somewhere between carcinomas (cancers) and adenomas (benign tumors). These tumors grow slowly and are generally not lethal. These cells also produce serotonin. The 5-year survival rate is 90%. However, the Carcinoid Syndrome is quite rare – only 5 cases per year in 100,000 individuals in the general population.
Easy, cheap and fun ways to de-stress
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of de-stressing. And as Sia used to sing, you don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight! If you are into cheap thrills, here is how to de-stress yourself instantly and free.
- Create a daily schedule – you have to plan frequent breaks to relax and wind down. Set an alarm on your phone and create a routine, for example, you may stop in a nearby park for 15 minutes every day when you leave from work (without using your phone, obviously). Planning helps reduce stress because time is our most precious resource.
- Breath deeply – deep breathing exercises are known to reduce stress and anxiety. Deep breaths also provide more oxygen to your brain and muscles, thus improving metabolism.
- Walk – a free way to organize your thoughts, to meditate, to make plans and find creative solutions to your problems. When you walk, your brain releases endorphins which put you in a good mood.
- Start jogging or any physical activity – Paychex found that only 24.1% of employees take up a sport to relax. Any physical activity will boost your self-esteem and will make you feel in control of your body and weight.
- Sleep – If in 1910, people used to sleep 9 hours a night, now more than a third sleep less than 7 hours. According to the American Sleep Association, 37% of Millennials report short sleep duration. Take a nap during the day if you can or as soon as you get home. Daytime napping definitely has health benefits, that’s why more and more companies allow their employees to catch forty winks at work.
- Dedicate more time to your hobby – It could be knitting, quilting, paper crafts, painting, or even writing. Again, you have to decide how many hours a week you can spend in your she shed or away in your man cave. Of course, you can also join clubs or associations and attend their events dedicated to people who share the same passion.
- Start growing vegetables around the house – Gardening is also a very relaxing activity. Whether you live in a rural or urban area, organic gardening is more affordable than you think! You may start with a few pots, or if your HOA agrees, you can use the roof.
- Spend more time with family and friends – According to the World Happiness Report, Americans meet less often with friends and family than Latin Americans – only 45% say they gather with their friends several times a month. Keep your relationships alive by scheduling a lunch, dinner, or even a short trip with those who matter to you.
- Use aromatherapy – With essential oils being so trendy right now, why not use them to de-stress? There are diffusers who spread soothing vapors such as CBD oil, lavender, geranium, vanilla, rose, vetiver, ylang-ylang, jasmine, and sandalwood. You can also apply these oils directly on your skin (only diluted!) or add a few drops in your bathtub. Did you know that scents are so powerful and attractive that they can even trigger the buying decision in a store or during an open house.
- Take a long bath – Here, you can be as creative as you want! Don’t step in before you light some candles, throw in some rose petals, and bath salts. Or invite your partner, too! In case you were wondering how to de-stress before bed, you’ll sleep like a baby after a bath or shower, for sure.
- Play games on your smartphone or buy a new board game – Do you remember the action-reward pattern that increases dopamine levels? Well, we all need to feel like a child from time to time so forget your age for a while!
Home improvements that add more fun ways to de-stress
- Build a home theater – It could be a basement remodel or a complete living room makeover. Watching TV is still one of the most common ways to de-stress at home. But with the new smart TVs, you can also surf the internet on your TV or watch movies online.
- Install a wine cellar – According to Statista, each US resident drank about 2.94 gallons of wine in 2016, while the total consumption amounted to 790 million gallons. Wine is like a natural sedative. But it is also known that the older the wine, the better, so in order to keep it in the right conditions, you should install a wine cellar and proudly display your collection bottles.
- Build a home gym – Save time and money by exercising at home! You may find used sports equipment at garage sales nearby. Also, think about hiring a personal coach if you really want to lose a few pounds or to build your muscles correctly. After each training session, you may want to get a massage, so why not buy a massage chair? Relaxation chairs start at less than $2,000 and depending on the brand and complexity, could get close to $9,000. Moreover, you can even call a massage therapist using the Soothe app.
- Install a water wall or an indoor fountain – the sound of water is soothing and calming. If you’re not living by the beach, bring it closer to you by building a decorative water wall – there are even small installations that don’t cover an entire wall. Or you may want to go a step forward and install a rain shower! Wouldn’t it be great?
- Build a she shed – besides adding value to your property, this space allows you to relax and de-stress whenever you feel your head’s about to explode. You may have only a couch there and a shelf full of your favorite books, or it could be a studio for your hobby – you could use a she shed for your alone time. We all need time for ourselves every so often.
Stress is the last thing we should accept in our lives. Sometimes it costs us nothing to get rid of it, but sometimes, it’s worth paying to keep it at bay. Do you have another fun way to de-stress? Feel free to share it with us!