8 Ways to Destress So You Can Live a Longer Life
Stress has become a very common part of the everyday normal routine and can stem from several different problems such as at work or in your personal life. Stress is a force to be reckoned with, and if you don’t manage it, you may find it doing some damage to your body. This includes headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, upset stomach, and sleep problems, which may also result in a weaker immune system and becoming sick. In fact, chronic stress can become serious to the point where it may even shorten your lifespan, according to a 2021 Yale study published in the Translational Psychiatry Journal. Thankfully, there are ways to relax your mind and body to slow down the ticking clock. Here are some ways to destress to live longer, according to the experts.
1. Integrate adaptogens
A natural way to destress to live longer is by incorporating adaptogens into your lifestyle – plants that support your body’s ability to handle stress.
According to Poon, adaptogens that help stress relief and balance include Tulsi (which is holy basil), ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea, ginseng, jiaogulan, licorice root, and Schisandra.
2. Get social
No, we’re not talking social media where you can sit behind a screen and scroll through Instagram all day. If you want to destress to live longer, we’re talking about actually communicating face-to-face with people to help boost your spirits.
“Building and maintaining positive social connections can provide emotional support and a sense of belonging, reducing feelings of stress and loneliness,” says Dr. Menka Gupta, MD, a medical doctor and functional medicine practitioner at Nutranourish. “Strong social ties have been associated with lower levels of inflammation”
3. Indulge in dark chocolate
Chronic stress has been found to drive the brain to crave comfort food, according to a 2023 article published in the journal, Neuron. While it’s best to avoid junk food for fear it will lead to other life-shortening conditions, there’s a sweet treat that’s beneficial to destressing to live longer.
“Multiple studies link dark chocolate consumption with reduced emotional stress,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RDN, Cleveland Clinic, and co-author of Regenerative Health. “A 2009 study associated dark chocolate consumption with lower rates of stress hormones in the body.”
Kirkpatrick also states a 2014 study published in the Journal of Proteome Research found that both dark and milk chocolate helped in reducing stress over two two-week periods, and a 2022 randomized control trial in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that chocolate consumption (85% cocoa) improved mood in healthy adults.
“Chocolate is derived from the cocoa bean – a flavonoid-rich plant high in antioxidants thought to help in reducing inflammation and enhancing gut microbial diversity,” Kirkpatrick explains.
4. Find ways to play
Unleash you’re inner kid, do something that will make you smile or laugh so hard you begin to cry. That feeling seems to get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
“Life is stressful. Getting wrapped up in the seriousness and professionalism required in life can be very easy, especially during work days,” says Joel Frank, Psy.D, owner of Duality Psychological Services. “For many adults, the concept of ‘play’ can feel foreign, and finding time within their busy schedules to play can feel like a waste of time or unfeasible, given what else they have scheduled during the week.”
While play can seem like an activity reserved for childhood, Frank suggests balancing out the serious components of life with fun and creative play opportunities is an invaluable dynamic to promote stress regulation.
“Some examples of play activities can include reconnecting with a childhood hobby, taking a class promoting creativity, such as art or Improv, participating in activities encouraging imagination, and searching for new and exciting experiences,” Frank suggests.
Instead of your brain focusing on what’s stressing you out, have it focus on your breathing and relaxation.
“Scientific studies consistently highlight the efficacy of mindfulness-based practices in stress reduction,” says Dr. Ryan Sultan, MD, a teaching psychiatrist and researcher at Columbia University. “Research, such as a 2014 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation interventions can lead to significant improvements in symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
Dr. Sultan goes on to say that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have shown alterations in brain activity associated with stress and emotional regulation after regular mindfulness practice.
“The practice of mindfulness, whether through meditation or other techniques, appears to induce structural changes in the brain’s regions linked to self-awareness and emotional processing, promoting a more adaptive response to stressors,” he says.
6. Tune in to yourself
You know your body better than anyone else, which means you can pinpoint the causes of your stress as well as how to unwind in ways that work for you.
“One of the best ways to mitigate stress is to be able to understand your personal triggers and responses,” says Poon. “If you are entering a particularly busy time at work or you have a stressful family event that you know will cause you psychological stress, it’s important to have a toolbox of resources on hand to help you ease stress at the end of the day (or throughout the day).”
Some practices that Poon suggests include a warm bath at the end of the day, practicing yoga and/or meditation, exercise, or spending time with a good friend.
7. Sip some tea
Tea has some amazing benefits, and there are many to choose from. Overall, tea has the power to help you destress to live longer.
“Drinking tea has been associated with reduced stress levels, attributed to its content of l-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid,” says Sara Chatfield, RDN at Healthcanal.com. “Other beneficial antioxidant compounds in tea may also contribute to its stress-reducing effects.”
8. Seek professional help
Life can be stressful, but that doesn’t mean you have to deal with it alone.
“Seeking support from mental health professionals has a robust empirical foundation,” says Dr. Sultan. “Evidence from randomized controlled trials, such as those reviewed in the 2018 Journal of Clinical Psychology supports the effectiveness of psychotherapy in managing stress and improving overall psychological well-being.”
Dr. Sultan suggests that therapeutic approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), offer evidence-based strategies for stress reduction, emphasizing the development of adaptive coping mechanisms and emotional regulation skills.