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
BrianAJackson/iStock via Getty Images

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.

Why Thousands of 'Penis Fish' Washed Up on a California Beach

Kate Montana, iNaturalist // CC BY-NC 4.0
Kate Montana, iNaturalist // CC BY-NC 4.0

Nature works in mysterious ways. The latest example materialized at Drakes Beach near San Francisco, California, in early December, when visitors strolling along the shore stumbled upon what looked to be the discarded inventory of an adult novelty shop. In fact, it was thousands of Urechis caupo, a marine worm that bears more than a passing resemblance to a human penis.

The engorged pink invertebrate, which is typically 10 inches in length, is native to the Pacific coast and frequently goes by the less salacious name of “fat innkeeper worm.” Burrowing in sand, the worm produces mucus from its front end to ensnare plankton and other snacks, then pumps water to create a vacuum where the food is directed into their tunnel. Since it builds up a small nest of discarded food, other creatures like crabs will stop by to feed, hence the “innkeeper” label.

You can see the worm in "action" here:

Because the worms enjoy a reclusive life in their burrows, it’s unusual to see thousands stranded on the beach. It’s likely that a strong storm broke up the intertidal sand, decimating their homes and leaving them exposed. The event is likely to thrill otters, as they enjoy dining on the worm. So do humans: Penis fish are served both raw and cooked in Korea and China.

[h/t Live Science]

The Horrors of Anglerfish Mating

Masaki Miya et al. "Evolutionary history of anglerfishes (Teleostei: Lophiiformes): a mitogenomic perspective," BMC Evolutionary Biology 10, article number: 58 (2010), Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Masaki Miya et al. "Evolutionary history of anglerfishes (Teleostei: Lophiiformes): a mitogenomic perspective," BMC Evolutionary Biology 10, article number: 58 (2010), Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

When you think of an anglerfish, you probably think of something like the creature above: Big mouth. Gnarly teeth. Lure bobbing from its head. Endless nightmares. 

During the 19th century, when scientists began to discover, describe, and classify anglerfish from a particular branch of the anglerfish family tree—the suborder Ceratioidei—that’s what they thought of, too. The problem was that they were only seeing half the picture. The specimens that they were working with were all female, and they had no idea where the males were or what they looked like. Researchers sometimes found some other fish that seemed to be related based on their body structure, but they lacked the fearsome maw and lure typical of ceratioids and were much smaller—sometimes only as long as 6 or 7 millimeters—and got placed into separate taxonomic groups.

It wasn’t until the 1920s—almost a full century after the first ceratioid was entered into the scientific record—that things started to become a little clearer. In 1922, Icelandic biologist Bjarni Saemundsson discovered a female ceratioid with two of these smaller fish attached to her belly by their snouts. He assumed it was a mother and her babies, but was puzzled by the arrangement.

“I can form no idea of how, or when, the larvae, or young, become attached to the mother. I cannot believe that the male fastens the egg to the female,” he wrote. “This remains a puzzle for some future researchers to solve.”

When Saemundsson kicked the problem down the road, it was Charles Tate Regan, working at the British Museum of Natural History in 1924, who picked it up. Regan also found a smaller fish attached to a female ceratioid. When he dissected it, he realized it wasn’t a different species or the female angler’s child. It was her mate.

The “missing” males had been there all along, just unrecognized and misclassified, and Regan and other scientists, like Norwegian zoologist Albert Eide Parr, soon figured out why the male ceratioids looked so different. They don’t need lures or big mouths and teeth because they don’t hunt, and they don’t hunt because they have the females. The ceratioid male, Regan wrote, is “merely an appendage of the female, and entirely dependent on her for nutrition.” In other words, a parasite.

When ceratioid males go looking for love, they follow a species-specific pheromone to a female, who will often aid their search further by flashing her bioluminescent lure. Once the male finds a suitable mate, he bites into her belly and latches on until his body fuses with hers. Their skin joins together, and so do their blood vessels, which allows the male to take all the nutrients he needs from his host/mate’s blood. The two fish essentially become one.

With his body attached to hers like this, the male doesn't have to trouble himself with things like seeing or swimming or eating like a normal fish. The body parts he doesn’t need anymore—eyes, fins, and some internal organs—atrophy, degenerate, and wither away, until he’s little more than a lump of flesh hanging from the female, taking food from her and providing sperm whenever she’s ready to spawn.

Extreme size differences between the sexes and parasitic mating aren’t found in all anglerfish. Throughout the other suborders, there are males that are free-swimming their whole lives, that can hunt on their own and that only attach to the females temporarily to reproduce before moving along. For deep-sea ceratioids that might only rarely bump into each other in the abyss, though, the weird mating ritual is a necessary adaptation to keep mates close at hand and ensure that there will always be more little anglerfish. And for us, it’s something to both marvel and cringe at, a reminder that the natural world is often as strange as any fiction we can imagine.

Naturalist William Beebe put it nicely in 1938, writing, “But to be driven by impelling odor headlong upon a mate so gigantic, in such immense and forbidding darkness, and willfully eat a hole in her soft side, to feel the gradually increasing transfusion of her blood through one’s veins, to lose everything that marked one as other than a worm, to become a brainless, senseless thing that was a fish—this is sheer fiction, beyond all belief unless we have seen the proof of it.”

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