Outside the Box Methods to Decrease Stress
Most of us could use a little help creating a more positive, healthy mindset, especially in times of challenge or overwhelm. This is true for all of us, but it’s especially those of us who struggle with depression, anxiety, or PTSD. It’s important to take what mental health experts call intentional time to nurture, and at times reset, your frame of mind — creating change for the overall wellbeing of both mind and body.
These days, there are many techniques and practices available to help people cope with stress and the repercussions of our busy lifestyles. There seems to be endless apps, books, podcasts and video programming designed to help alleviate stress. Some people practice deep breathing or yoga, while others may hit the gym for a few hours, paint, or sign up for a cooking class. Still others prefer to simply take a walk outside in nature to unwind, or take a hot bath.
Others, however, are looking for methods that are a little less conventional. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of these unique, but often very effective, ways to reduce stress and get into a calmer head space.
Using therapy animals might not be very unconventional when it comes to helping people relax or de-stress, but it’s the choice of animals that you might find strange. The most common therapy animal, of course, is a dog. It’s important to note that therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs (more on this below). It’s much easier to qualify a dog, or other animals, as therapy animals than it is to certify a service dog or animal.
A therapy dog simply needs to be well-trained, well-mannered, and at least one year old. Therapy dogs are used to provide affection and comfort to people in retirement homes, hospitals, schools, airports, prisons, and mental health institutions. Therapy dogs are allowed to go anywhere that is dog-friendly or where there is a therapy dog program in place. However, they have no special rights at restaurants, hotels, and other places, like a service dog does.
Therapy/Emotional support animals can provide the following benefits:
- Decreases anxiety
- Helps children overcome emotional and speech disorders
- Decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Reduces depression symptoms
- Increases socialization
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Diminishes physical pain
- Lowers blood pressure
- Releases endorphins that produce a calming effect
- Petting an animal has shown to create an automatic relaxation response which can often help reduce the amount of medication needed
Now that you see how many benefits therapy animals have to lift the spirits, it’s important to note that dogs are not the only effective therapy animals. Another popular choice for people is chickens.
Chickens are known for being calm and docile. They also love sitting on people’s laps and being petted, making them a great therapy animal. Chickens react very similarly to dogs when they are shown love and affection. Chickens are capable of forming emotional connections and can help people with their mental health. For example, a person suffering from Alzheimer’s might practice feeding chickens for its calming effect, which can help boost their cognitive function.
Experts agree that chickens have the capacity and intelligence to become therapy animals and they are used all around the world to help combat anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. However, chickens and dogs aren’t the only animals that have been used as therapy and emotional support animals. Some of the craziest support animals that have been documented include kangaroos, pigs, peacocks, ducks, goldfish, and others.
As noted above, therapy animals are different than service animals. According to the National Service Animal Registry, “a psychiatric Service Dog is simply a service dog for a person with a psychiatric impairment, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These dogs are individually trained in obedience, performing tasks, and working in distracting public environments to mitigate their handler's psychiatric disabilities. Their function is not to provide emotional support, but to perform tasks which enable their partner to function in ordinary ways the non-disabled take for granted.”
Another new, innovative, and avant-garde way that people are coping with stress and anxiety is through a form of yoga that many haven’t heard of before (it was certainly new to us), called Rage Yoga. When most people think of yoga, they think of a calm, peaceful, meditative practice that helps us destress, unwind, and get a good workout. Rage Yoga is quite the opposite, except for the workout part.
During a Rage Yoga session, participants will shout, and vent while stretching and practicing real yoga poses. The entire practice is meant for people who want to do yoga, but also want to get their inner frustrations and anger out at the same time. This practice is not for everyone, but some of the people who have tried it out say it’s done wonders for their mental health and they swear by it. They feel calm, clear, and collected after a typical session, having released more than they might from just a typical yoga class. We haven’t tried it, but if you do please give us your feedback!
Sensory Deprivation Tanks (also called Float Tanks)
What if you were told that you could temporarily “lose” your senses (at least the typical way you experience them) if you climbed into a small water-filled tank? Sounds pretty terrifying, right? Well, actually, it’s often touted as one of the most zen-inducing practices you can participate in. A sensory deprivation tank also called an isolation tank or flotation tank, is used for a practice called REST — Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy. It’s a soundproof, dark tank that has a foot or less of saltwater inside.
The water inside the tank is heated to body temperature and is saturated with enough Epsom salt to support your body weight so that you float effortlessly. You enter the tank fully nude or in a swimsuit and float weightlessly while you’re cut off from all sound and sight once the tank’s door is closed. Most people choose to spend a minimum of one hour in the tank but can go for up to as many as 8 or 10 hours. This is one that some of us at Smarter Nutrition have actually tried, and it does have a surprisingly calming effect. You might even fall asleep, and when you emerge, you’ll feel super relaxed.
There are many proven medical and psychological benefits to using isolation tanks for conditions such as stress, chronic pain, and anxiety disorders. Practicing REST has been shown to decrease anxiety, relieve pain, improve cardiovascular health, and boost mood.
Have you ever gotten a tingle up your spine or goosebumps just from hearing a certain sound? Particularly a soft, gentle sound like whispering, scratching, or the tapping of fingernails on a table? It might sound strange to many, but for some people, certain sounds purportedly help them cope with stress, anxiety, and depression on a daily basis – it’s called ASMR.
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and it is a pleasant sensation that people feel after hearing particular sounds. These tingles start in your brain and then move down your entire body. New research has shown that this effect can have significantly positive effects on your brain and body.
Studies have shown that those who listened to or watched ASMR videos experienced increased calmness, a lifted mood, and decreased stress and sadness compared to those who were not exposed to these videos. Researchers also found that people who watched ASMR videos had a lower heart rate than those who did not experience any of the brain tingles.
Bottom Line: Don’t Be Afraid to Think Outside the Box and Try New Things
If more traditional stress-reduction techniques don’t seem to be doing the trick, maybe it’s time to try some less conventional ways to achieve comfort and relaxation. For many, walking in the park or a hike in the woods, a simple yoga class or breathing app helps them find stillness and calm their central nervous system. But if these are becoming less effective, or you simply need a reboot, try these fun alternative therapies. When you find the one that works, make it a consistent habit to keep your stress levels to a minimum for your body’s and mind’s sake.