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Healthy Activities Proven to Help You Relax - Writing and Wellness

Last updated: 06-14-2020

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Healthy Activities Proven to Help You Relax - Writing and Wellness

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has increased stress and anxiety for pretty much everyone this year. We’re all feeling it. And that’s on top of the anxiety many writers feel on a pretty consistent basis.

Creativity, in general, has been linked with anxiety in several studies. Researchers noted in one that “anxiety was greater for situations that required creativity than similar situations that did not.”

We all need to incorporate stress-relieving activities into our lives. Below are five easy ones you can do anytime that are proven to not only help you relax but to create other health benefits as well.

You may already be a fan of hot baths, but did you know that regularly taking one could help reduce your risk of heart disease?

Researchers examined data from over 30,000 people gathered over nearly 20 years. They found that the more often the participants took a hot bath, the lower their risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.

More specifically, a daily hot bath was associated with a 28 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 26 percent lower risk of stroke. The researchers believe the effect was due to the ability of a hot bath to help lower blood pressure.

Tub bathing is known to help improve “hemodynamic function,” or the ease with which the heart can pump blood to all the areas of the body. Like exercise, a hot bath makes the heart work but relaxes the blood vessels to get blood to other parts of the body.

Other studies have found additional physical and emotional benefits to bathing. In addition to improving blood flow, for example, a warm water bath can improve mental and emotional health while lowering stress and anxiety.

Light a candle if you like, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the water, and sit back and relax.

Most of us find the beach relaxing. A 2013 study showed that individuals living nearer the coast reported significantly better general health and mental health than those living in other areas. It doesn’t have to be a beach, though. Any body of water will do.

“People can experience the benefits of the water whether they’re near the ocean, a lake, river, swimming pool or even listening to the soothing sound of a fountain,” marine biologist and author of the 2014 book Blue Mind, Wallace Nichols, tells Quartz magazine. ”Most communities are built near bodies of water not just for practical reasons, but because as humans, we’re naturally drawn to blue space…but even if you aren’t in an area where there is easy access to water, you can still experience [its] emotional benefits.”

If you don’t have a body of water nearby, check to see if the spas or other businesses in your area offer flotation tanks. These are a recent health tool promising total relaxation through sensory deprivation. American neuroscientist John Lilly invented flotation therapy in the 1960s after he discovered that placing people in a dark, enclosed pod of warm water helped them reach deep levels of relaxation.

Even just listening to water can be enough to put you in a calmer state of mind. After assigning 60 women to three conditions—listening to water sounds, a relaxing piece of music, or no sounds at all—scientists found that only those listening to water sounds experienced a reduction in stress, as measured by levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“Research has shown that being near, in, on or under water can provide a long list of benefits for our mind and body,” writes Nichols in his book, Blue Mind, “including lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts.”

A bonus? Research shows that being near water can improve creativity, too.

Forest bathing is a Japanese form of therapy (Shinrin-yoku)that involves simply walking through the forest and inhaling the scent of the trees. Studies have shown that this form of therapy can reduce stress and anxiety (via lower cortisol levels), lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and lower sympathetic nerve activity. Those who walked for only 15 minutes in a forest experienced these benefits.

In one study of nearly 100 volunteers, researchers found that hostility and depression decreased significantly after a forest walk, while “liveliness” scores increased significantly. The higher the stress levels in the volunteers to begin with, the greater the therapeutic effects of the forest.

You can read more about forest bathing in our previous post,“Forest Bathing—The Secrets of Writers and Trees.”Meanwhile, when you’re feeling stressed and you can’t find water, maybe you can find a clump of trees to walk through. Even a park is likely to help, though the main goal with forest bathing is to inhale the scent of the trees’ leaves and bark.

If you don’t have a forest around you, try using aromatherapy. Diffuse some pine, cedarwood, sandalwood, or silver fir essential oils and inhale deeply.

This is so interesting that I’m coming across this research now, as my dishwasher recently died. I’ve been washing dishes by hand for a couple weeks now while waiting for the new machine to come in, and I have to say I agree with the studies: washing dishes can help you relax.

I’m sure the warm water is a big part of it. As noted above, it’s soothing to us no matter how it’s applied. But scientists have also found that doing mundane chores like washing dishes can reduce stress.

After assigning 51 college students to mindful dishwashing or a regular dishwashing practice, researchers found the mindful dishwashers—those who focused on the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water, and the feel of the dishes— decreased their feelings of stress by 27 percent while increasing feelings of inspiration by 25 percent. The control group didn’t experience any benefits.

I’ve noticed some writers on Twitter displaying their new knitted or crocheted creations. Have you picked up the needles recently to help fill in the time at home?

If you have, you’ve done yourself a favor. Mental Health America notes that knitting can help reduce depression and anxiety, distract from chronic pain, and increase well being. In one national survey of about 3,500 knitters, researchers found a strong connection between knitting and feelings of calm and happiness.

“Knitting has significant psychological and social benefits,” the researchers wrote, “which can contribute to well being and quality of life.”

In an earlier study on women with an eating disorder, patients reported a subjective reduction in anxious preoccupation when knitting. More specifically:

Odds are that other similar activities could provide similar benefits, so if you’re not a knitter but a quilter, you are still likely to enjoy the relaxation.

What activities do you use to relax?

Sources Clave-Brule, M., A. Mazloum, R.J. Park, E.J. Harbottle, and C. L. Birmingham. “Managing anxiety in eating disorders with knitting.” Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity 14, no. 1 (2009), e1-e5. doi:10.1007/bf03354620.

Daker, Richard J., Robert A. Cortes, Ian M. Lyons, and Adam E. Green. “Creativity anxiety: Evidence for anxiety that is specific to creative thinking, from STEM to the arts.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 149, no. 1 (2020), 42-57. doi:10.1037/xge0000630.

Goto, Yasuaki, Shinya Hayasaka, Shigeo Kurihara, and Yosikazu Nakamura. “Physical and Mental Effects of Bathing: A Randomized Intervention Study.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2018 (2018), 1-5. doi:10.1155/2018/9521086.

Hanley, Adam W., Alia R. Warner, Vincent M. Dehili, Angela I. Canto, and Eric L. Garland. “Washing Dishes to Wash the Dishes: Brief Instruction in an Informal Mindfulness Practice.” Mindfulness 6, no. 5 (2014), 1095-1103. doi:10.1007/s12671-014-0360-9.

Limcaoco, Rosario S., Enrique M. Mateos, Juan M. Fernandez, and Carlos Roncero. “Anxiety, worry and perceived stress in the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, March 2020. Preliminary results.” 2020. doi:10.1101/2020.04.03.20043992.

Livni, Ephrat. “Blue Mind Science Proves the Health Benefits of Being by Water.” Quartz. Last modified August 5, 2018.

Mental Health America. “The Mental Health Benefits of Knitting.” Mental Health America. Last modified 2019.

Morita, E., S. Fukuda, J. Nagano, N. Hamajima, H. Yamamoto, Y. Iwai, T. Nakashima, H. Ohira, and T. Shirakawa. “Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction.” Public Health 121, no. 1 (2007), 54-63. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2006.05.024.

Park, Bum J., Yuko Tsunetsugu, Tamami Kasetani, Takahide Kagawa, and Yoshifumi Miyazaki. “The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan.” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine 15, no. 1 (2009), 18-26. doi:10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9.

Riley, Jill, Betsan Corkhill, and Clare Morris. “The Benefits of Knitting for Personal and Social Wellbeing in Adulthood: Findings from an International Survey.” British Journal of Occupational Therapy 76, no. 2 (2013), 50-57. doi:10.4276/030802213×13603244419077.

Thoma, Myriam V., Ricarda Mewes, and Urs M. Nater. “Preliminary evidence: the stress-reducing effect of listening to water sounds depends on somatic complaints.” Medicine 97, no. 8 (2018), e9851. doi:10.1097/md.0000000000009851.

Ukai, Tomohiko, Hiroyasu Iso, Kazumasa Yamagishi, Isao Saito, Yoshihiro Kokubo, Hiroshi Yatsuya, Isao Muraki, Ehab S. Eshak, Norie Sawada, and Shoichiro Tsugane. “Habitual tub bathing and risks of incident coronary heart disease and stroke.” Heart 106, no. 10 (2020), 732-737. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2019-315752.

White, Mathew P., Ian Alcock, Benedict W. Wheeler, and Michael H. Depledge. “Coastal proximity, health and well-being: Results from a longitudinal panel survey.” Health & Place 23 (2013), 97-103. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2013.05.006.

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