Between economic concerns and ongoing global conflict, the majority of Americans are at peak stress levels. Seventy-three percent of respondents to this year’s Stress in America survey, conducted annually by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), reported feeling overwhelmed by the number of crises facing the world right now, results the APA calls “alarming.”
Living in “sustained survival mode” for the past few years has definitely had an impact on our collective health, according to the survey results. Alcohol use is up, physical activity is down, and we’re not sleeping well.
These effects make sense, given what we know about how mental stress can affect physical health. Elevated stress hormones, especially cortisol, can increase inflammation, reduce immunity, and raise the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, chronic stress can negatively impact every aspect of your health and contribute to a wide range of problems, including:
- Sleep problems
- Mood disturbances, such as sadness, anger, or irritability
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Stress is a problem we clearly need to address, and there are numerous strategies that have been shown to be effective for relieving it, including eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, talking to friends or a mental health professional, and engaging in relaxation techniques and meditation, to name just a few.
Another, often-disputed stress-relief tool at your disposal? Dietary supplements. While none are a magic pill that will make stress disappear entirely, certain supplements claim to help lower anxiety levels, tame sleep troubles, ease depression symptoms, and more. While these claims are often overhyped, there is some evidence that dietary supplements can be part of a holistic approach to reducing stress, along with a healthy diet and other lifestyle changes.
It’s important to note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate supplements in the same way that it does medications, so you should talk to your doctor before taking any product. Additionally, robust research on herbal supplements and stress is lacking. Some studies have had promising findings, but the sample sizes were too small to make any definitive conclusions. Other studies have looked at larger groups of people but left out populations that face a higher risk of stress symptoms like anxiety — for example, women and young adults. Ultimately, more large, long-term studies that include a variety of populations are needed before health experts can recommend herbal supplements for stress.
That said, here is the evidence currently available on seven products with the potential to help curb stress (and one you’ll probably want to pass up) as you start your journey toward a more relaxed (and healthier) you.
Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke
When it comes to relieving stress, more giggles and guffaws are just what the doctor ordered. Here’s why.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Whether you’re guffawing at a sitcom on TV or quietly giggling at a newspaper cartoon, laughing does you good. Laughter is a great form of stress relief, and that’s no joke.
Stress relief from laughter
A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do.
A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:
- Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
- Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
- Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long term. Laughter may:
- Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
- Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
- Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
- Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your stress, depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier. It can also improve your self-esteem.
Improve your sense of humor
Are you afraid that you have an underdeveloped — or nonexistent — sense of humor? No problem. Humor can be learned. In fact, developing or refining your sense of humor may be easier than you think.
- Put humor on your horizon. Find a few simple items, such as photos, greeting cards or comic strips, that make you chuckle. Then hang them up at home or in your office, or collect them in a file or notebook. Keep funny movies, TV shows, books, magazines or comedy videos on hand for when you need an added humor boost. Look online at joke websites or silly videos. Listen to humorous podcasts. Go to a comedy club.
Laugh and the world laughs with you. Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away. Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
Consider trying laughter yoga. In laughter yoga, people practice laughter as a group. Laughter is forced at first, but it can soon turn into spontaneous laughter.
- Share a laugh. Make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh. And then return the favor by sharing funny stories or jokes with those around you.
- Knock, knock. Browse through your local bookstore or library’s selection of joke books and add a few jokes to your list that you can share with friends.
- Know what isn’t funny. Don’t laugh at the expense of others. Some forms of humor aren’t appropriate. Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad or hurtful one.
Laughter is the best medicine
Go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced. Once you’ve had your chuckle, take stock of how you’re feeling. Are your muscles a little less tense? Do you feel more relaxed or buoyant? That’s the natural wonder of laughing at work.
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- Lower stress: How does it affect the body? American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/lower-stress-how-does-stress-affect-the-body. Accessed March 30, 2021.
- Create joy and satisfaction. Mental Health America. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/create-joy-and-satisfaction. Accessed March 30, 2021.
- Savage BM, et al. Humor, laughter, learning, and health! A brief review. Advances in Physiology Education. 2017; doi:10.1152/advan.00030.2017.
- Yim J. Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: A theoretical review. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine. 2019; doi:10.1620/tjem.239.243.
- Lopes-Junior LC, et al. Effectiveness of hospital clowns for symptom management in paediatrics: Systematic review of randomized and non-randomised controlled trials. BMJ. 2020; doi:10.1136/bmj.m4290.
- Seaward BL. Comic relief: The healing power of humor. In: Essentials of Managing Stress. 5th ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2021.
- Van der Wal CN, et al. Laughter-inducing therapies: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Social Science & Medicine. 2019; doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.02.018.
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