6. Animal Companionship
If I were going to name the reasons why I love the company of my cat, Sara, I would list her affection, her funny antics, and her general adorableness. But it turns out that, also spending time with her is also useful for my health.
Specifically, animal companionship can reduce pain, lower stress and improve mood in people with chronic pain. These benefits are experienced not only by pet parents but by anybody who spends time with an animal.
If adopting a cat or dog is not feasible for you, consider regularly visiting with a friend or family member's pet. You can also talk with your doctor about clinics or organizations that provide therapy dog visits – even a couple of short sessions per week can make a difference!
7. Commune With Nature
Getting out into nature lowers stress levels and boosts mood. It helps us to get out of our heads, stop ruminating about our worries and pay attention to the here-and-now.
One study showed that walking in a forest lowered blood pressure and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. You don't have to be able to hike to enjoy nature. As long as you are in a natural setting – sitting on a bench, enjoying a picnic, or lying back with the car doors open– are all ways to enjoy the benefits of relaxing outside.
Recently, I researched accessible parks and paths in my area and have been able to spend several lovely afternoons relaxing in nature – I always feel better for several days afterward!
8. Tune in to Music
Listening to music is a powerful way to de-stress. Music directly impacts our feelings via the unique effect listening to it has on the functioning of our brains and bodies.
Research has demonstrated that listening to music, particularly calming classical music, causes lower blood pressure, reduced heart rate and a drop in stress hormones. Music acts as a positive distraction, while also anchoring us in the present moment.
The benefits don't stop there.Tuning in for an hour a day has been found to reduce pain and depression by up to a quarter.
In this study, it did not matter whether participants listened to their favorite relaxing music or music chosen by researchers. I've found that listening to music when I'm having trouble sleeping or experiencing a lot of fatigue is very renewing.
9. Try Probiotics
Could the way to mental health be through your stomach?
An emerging field of research has found links between probiotics–the healthful bacteria that live in the digestive tract–in the gut and brain function. Some probiotics produce neurotransmitters–chemicals that regulate the nervous system– such as serotonin, that affect mood.
When probiotics secrete neurotransmitters in the digestive tract, they may trigger the complex nerve network in the gut to signal the brain in a way that positively affects emotions.
In some studies, specific probiotics have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, including Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Probiotics can be taken as a supplement or eaten in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso and kimchi.
10. Laughter is the Best Medicine
We've all heard that laughter is the best medicine, but we feel stressed it can be hard to find the humor in things.
However, laughter is one of the best antidotes for stress and anxiety – just five or ten minutes can reduce muscle tension, increase endorphin levels, lower blood pressure and regulate levels of stress hormone cortisol.
Rather than hoping something funny will happen on a stressful day, take advantage of the benefits of laughter by watching your favorite comedy show, sitcom or stand-up comedian. I find it hard to stay in a bad mood after watching late night TV, and who doesn't love being able to say that you have to watch another episode of your favorite sitcom because it's good for your mental health?