12 Healthy Ways to Relax
Belt Out Stress With Karaoke
Singing feels great: just ask the choir. A study of college choir members showed that students' stress levels went down when they joined a singing group. But you don't have to join a glee club -- or even have any talent -- to get the deep-breathing, stress-burning benefits. Do karaoke with friends and you'll also get the healing benefit of laughter, or just belt out your best American Idol rendition in the shower.
Research shows that being outside -- or even being able to see nature from your window -- is good for your emotions. Don't live in the country? Take some time to walk a few blocks from your bus stop or your parent's car, to school every day, or take your homework to the park. Or take a few minutes and look for shapes in the clouds just outside your door.
Laugh It Off
Research has shown that having regular LOL moments, and even thinking about laughing, can boost your immune system and lower production of the stress hormone, cortisol. So if you're going to kick back with some TV, make it a funny show. Or when you're sitting around with friends, see who can tell the dumbest joke. At home, ask your folks to get out their high school prom pictures -- that'll get everyone laughing.
Dance It Out
Research has shown that listening to classical music calms you down during stressful times. But choosing your own music -- and dancing to it -- can have stress-reducing benefits too, by helping you dance out tension. Ever hear that saying, "Dance like no one is watching"? Just shut your bedroom door, turn up the volume, and really go for it. You won't need to worry about your moves.
Find a Hobby
And no, video games don't count. In fact, one study shows that playing video games while also texting or having the TV on actually stresses your mind. So if you want to text, text. But turn off the games, and vice versa. Better yet, spend time on other hobbies: reading, photography, scrap booking, painting, sports, or music -- anything that helps your mind relax.
Talk To a Friend
Talking about stress can make your problems seem less daunting, and you might even find that the person you tell has gone through the same thing. If you don't feel comfortable talking to your mom or dad, talk to your friends, your favorite teacher, or even the family pet. Research has shown that people with pets have less stress. After all, cats and dogs are great listeners.
Think you have to be "deep" to meditate? Actually, you only have to breathe deeply. You can sit a certain way if you want, or you can just sit quietly and focus on slow, deep breaths. Try repeating one word as you breathe out -- any word that makes you feel calm: relax, breathe, peace. Or breathe deeply while you picture a relaxing place in your mind: the beach, the woods, your grandmother's kitchen. Try it for five minutes at first, and you'll see how your heart rate slows, and how it calms the rest of you, too.
Rev Up to Wind Down
Sometimes stress makes you feel so pent up that moving seems like the only way to release it. That's your body's flight-or-fight hormone adrenaline working. If you don't unload that pent-up stress, it can give you headaches, stomachaches, or sleeping problems. Getting a workout -- a jog, a walk, even tossing a Frisbee -- can help your body release stress.
People have been relaxing and stretching through yoga for thousands of years -- because it works, and it can be pretty easy. Never tried it? Start with the calming "child's pose": Kneel and sit back on your feet, then, lean forward as far as you can with your arms stretched out and sliding forward. The goal is to try to rest your forehead on the floor. Look for yoga classes at your gym or community center, videos or instructions for poses online, or check out a DVD from the library.
It may sound complicated, but progressive muscle relaxation is a simple, tried-and-true method for relaxing your body and mind. Start with your left hand -- tense it, then relax it. Do that three times with each hand, each arm, and then each leg. Why does it work? It kind of reboots your blood flow and forces muscles to relax. Can't fall asleep? Use this trick to help yourself nod off.
Tai Chi and Qigong
Tai chi ("tie-chee") and qigong ("chee-gong") are ancient Chinese practices that have been shown to help cut stress. The poses are called "forms" and involve slow movements that sometimes mimic nature, such as "White Crane Spreads Its Wings." Look for classes in your community or watch DVDs or YouTube videos to get an idea of how they work.
Smell Something Good
It's not just hype to get you to buy more bath products: Smelling certain scents -- lavender, rosemary, sandalwood, or bergamot -- can actually lower your production of stress hormones, according to research. Yes, you can find some of these scents in lotions and bath products. You may even be able to find dried rosemary in your pantry. Or try growing your own rosemary or lavender plant for a natural, stress-busting air freshener.