11 Scientifically Proven Tips for Relaxing

KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock via Getty Images
KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock via Getty Images

Feeling stressed? You’re not alone. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, 75 percent of Americans reported regularly feeling at least one symptom of acute stress in the month prior to the survey. Luckily, science is here to help. Here are 11 proven ways to help you relax.

1. Chew gum.

Strange as it may seem, chewing gum—not to mention the fun of popping bubbles—has been shown to improve reported mood as well as lower cortisol levels.

2. Surround yourself with plants.

Immersing yourself in nature can make you feel happier, and even just a little exposure can help you relax. One study at Washington State University found that entering a room with plants can lower your blood pressure and increase your productivity. Plus, plants increase oxygen, helping you breathe easier.

3. Mow the lawn.

lawnmower
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A chemical released by a mowed lawn (think of that fresh-cut grass smell) causes people to feel happy and relaxed, according to research. Another benefit? Getting a chore out of the way—and off your mind.

4. Listen to classical music.

Music can brighten up your day, but it turns out there’s also a physiological impact to listening to music: One study found that listening to classical music lowered participants' blood pressure, slowed their heart rates, and reduced levels of stress hormones.

5. Pucker up.

Sometimes feeling weak in the knees isn’t a bad thing. Kissing releases oxytocin, a chemical that reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

6. Reduce your screen time, especially before bedtime.

Teenage girl looks at her phone while in bed
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Spend the majority of your day sitting in front of a screen only to go home and stare at another screen (or two)? That artificial light can mess with your melatonin production and alter your circadian rhythms, which can impact your sleep. Young adults in particular are likely to be affected. Studies have shown that teenagers who use their phones late at night are more likely to be depressed.

7. Drink some tea.

Scientists at the City University of London found that a single cup of tea reduces stress rates by as much as 25 percent. And certain types of herbal tea, like green tea, contain L-theanine, which has also been shown to reduce stress.

8. Put your head in a paper bag.

It’s become a bit of a joke, but it turns out breathing into a paper bag will actually make you calmer. Research suggests that since when people feel anxious they often breathe too quickly, their bodies build up an overflow of oxygen. Breathing into a bag for half a dozen breaths increases the amount of carbon dioxide in your body and helps you feel better.

9. Grab some chocolate.

chocolate
iStock

It’s not your imagination: You do feel better after eating chocolate. Even eating just 40 grams, the size of a regular Hershey’s bar, lowers your amount of stress hormones.

10. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

If chocolate isn’t your thing, try citrus. Scientists have found that vitamin C helps regulate cortisol and prevent blood pressure from spiking.

11. Have a laugh.

Watching funny videos—and laughing—physically helps you relax by releasing endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their happy fuzzy effect.

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Winter is Coming: Why Some People Seem to Feel Colder Than Others

Work blanket? Check. Hot tea? Check. Writing gloves? Check.
Work blanket? Check. Hot tea? Check. Writing gloves? Check.
shironosov/iStock via Getty Images

For a few weeks a year, as winter turns into spring, or summer gives way to fall, people in heavy coats coexist with those in sandals and shorts. Similarly, in an office where the thermostat is set at 74°F, some workers will be comfortable in short sleeves, while others will be wearing sweaters and scarves.

Underlying this disagreement are the different ways people perceive cold—and scientists are still trying to understand them.  

Men, Women, and Metabolism

In work settings, men and women often have different opinions about the ideal temperature. A 2019 study found that women performed better in math and verbal tasks at temperatures between 70°F and 80°F, while men did better below 70°F. The researchers proposed that gender-mixed workplaces might boost productivity by setting the thermostat higher than the current norm (which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests should be between 68°F and 76°F).  

The discrepancy has a known physical basis: Women tend to have lower resting metabolic rates than men, due to having smaller bodies and higher fat-to-muscle ratio. According to a 2015 study, indoor climate regulations are based on an “empirical thermal comfort model” developed in the 1960s with the male workers in mind, which may overestimate female metabolic rates by up to 35 percent. To compound the problem, men in business settings might wear suits year-round, while women tend to have more flexibility to wear skirts or sundresses when it's warm outside.

Culture and the Cold

Cultural factors are also involved. European visitors are habitually alarmed by the chilly temperatures in American movie theaters and department stores, while American tourists are flabbergasted at the lack of air conditioning in many European hotels, shops, and offices. The preferred temperature for American workspaces, 70°F, is too cold for Europeans that grew up without the icy blast of air conditioners, Michael Sivak, a transportation researcher formerly at the University of Michigan, told The Washington Post in 2015.

The effects of cultural change on the human ability to withstand extreme temperatures can be dramatic. In the 19th century, 22 percent of women on the Korean island of Jeju were breath-hold divers (haenyeo). Wearing thin cotton bathing suits, haenyeo dove nearly 100 feet to gather shellfish from the sea floor, holding their breath for more than three minutes in each dive. In winter, they stayed in 55°F-57°F water for up to an hour at the time, and then warmed up by the fire for three of four hours before jumping back in.

In the 1970s, haenyeo starting wearing protective wet suits. Studies conducted between the 1960s and the 1980s showed that their tolerance for cold diminished [PDF].

Blame Your Brain

Beyond the effects of cultural practice and body composition, scientists have started to identify the cognitive factors that influence our temperature perception. It turns out that what feels unpleasantly cold versus comfortably chill is partly in our own minds.

One example is the phenomenon described as “cold contagion.” A 2014 study asked participants to view videos of people immersing their hands in visibly warm or cold water. Observers not only rated the hands in cold water as cooler than those in hot water, but their own hands became cooler when watching the cold-water videos. There was no comparable effect for the warm water videos, however. The findings suggest that we may feel colder when surrounded by shivering people at the office than if we're there by ourselves, even when setting the thermostat at the same temperature in both cases.

Other studies highlight the psychological aspects of temperature perception. Experimental participants at the Institute of Biomedical Investigations in Barcelona, Spain, watched their arms become blue, red, or green by means of virtual reality, while the neuroscientist Maria Victoria Sanchez-Vives and her team applied heat to their actual wrists. As the temperature increased, participants felt pain earlier when their virtual skin turned red than when it turned blue or green.

Subjectivity in temperature perception has led to some creative treatments for burn patients. In the 1990s, Hunter Hoffman, David Patterson, and Sam Sharar of the University of Washington developed a virtual-reality game called SnowWorld, which allows patients in hospital burn units to experience virtual immersion in a frozen environment. Amazingly, playing SnowWorld counteracted pain during wound care more effectively than morphine did.

“The perception of temperature is influenced by expectations,” Sanchez-Vives tells Mental Floss. “Putting one’s hand inside a virtual oven is perceived as ‘hot,’ while sticking one’s hand into a virtual bucket filled with iced water is perceived as ‘cold,’ despite being at room temperature in each scenario.”

In other words, if you expect to feel cold walking into the office or out on the street, chances are that you will.