Live Right Live Well: Rejuvenation
Stress-Relieving Gadgets That Work
By Stacey Colino for Live Right Live Well
Rainforest CDs, tranquility fountains, relaxation balls ... If you’ve ever wondered whether such stress-relieving gadgets really work, experts say they can -- especially if they appeal to your senses. “Part of the effect could be memory-related, part of it could be anatomical in the brain, and part of it is just that these experiences are pleasant,” says Allen Elkin, director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York and author of Stress Management for Dummies. But whatever the reason, the right sensory stimulation can indeed calm your mind and help you relax, says Elkin, who holds a doctorate in psychology.
The first step in selecting the best stress-relieving gadgets is to think about which senses -- hearing, touch, sight or smell -- have the most relaxing effect on you. (But forget about taste, since eating in response to stress is not generally healthy.) Then figure out ways to build those calming experiences into your life. Some ideas to get you started:
“Listening to pleasant sounds can distract you from your stress, relax you and put you in a better mood,” Elkin says. In fact, a Japanese study found that when surgical patients listened to nature sounds while getting anesthesia, levels of a stress-related substance in their saliva decreased significantly. So if you’re particularly attuned to pleasing sounds, consider placing wind chimes on your porch, setting up a small tinkling fountain in your home or office or playing a CD of ocean waves or soothing classical music.
If you’re tactilely oriented, the repetitive act of manipulating worry beads or Chinese harmony balls can be relaxing and distracting, while squeezing and releasing stress toys can make you aware of the need to let tension flow out of your hands, Elkin says. In addition, a vibrating neck pillow or a handheld self-massage instrument (which can resemble a small octopus or an electric razor) can relax tense, achy muscles in a pinch.
If beautiful vistas soothe your soul, create a visual oasis in your home or office by setting up a mini Zen rock garden or displaying photos of loved ones or nature scenes. Or load a calming screensaver, like a moving aquarium, onto your computer. “It’s not just the picture that’s relaxing; it’s the memories that go with it that induce calm and distract you from the mind racing and useless worry that occur when you're stressed,” Elkin says.
“A soothing aroma can elicit feelings of calm and serenity, because the part of the brain that registers smell is linked to the part of the brain that experiences emotion,” Elkin says. Want proof? Researchers at Florida Atlantic University found that using sachets of lavender and rosemary essential oils reduced test-taking stress and pulse rates among graduate students. So if you have a penchant for relaxing scents, consider using an aromatherapy room diffuser, scented candles, sachets or potpourri.
If you’re not sure whether a sound, touch, sight or smell stress gadget will work best for you, give each a try when you’re feeling frazzled: It can’t hurt, and you might even find a new method to de-stress and reboot.
Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post's health section and many national magazines, including Newsweek, Woman's Day, SELF, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal. Stacey is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.
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