The 2018 survey into stress by Cigna has shown that eight out of ten of us are experiencing it, while one in five suffer from unmanageable stress – it’s a scary figure and the UK actually fares worst out of all Western countries for wellbeing. So, we need all the tactics we can muster to fight the tide of tension – here are ten surprising wellness hacks…
1. Get More (Amazing) Sex Spending more time getting busy between the sheets is going to improve your mood, obviously, but a new study has shown that great sex gives you more than a fleeting boost. Researchers at George Mason University found that sex on one day improved wellbeing on the next, and that the more pleasurable and intimate the sex was, the greater the effect. And the closer the relationship was, the greater levels of meaning in life were felt.
Even 20 minutes at a gig gives you a 21% boost in wellbeing compared to 10% for yoga
2. Go To Lots Of Gigs If you’re smashing yourself with yoga to improve your wellbeing, you might want to consider ditching today’s session to go to a gig. A new study by O2 and Patrick Fagan, expert in behavioural science and Associate Lecturer at Goldsmith’s University, found that even 20 minutes of time at a live music event gives you a 21% boost in feelings of wellbeing, compared to 10% for yoga and a measly 7% for walking a dog. The best results were seen in people who go to concerts once a fortnight were most likely to score their happiness, contentment, productivity and self-esteem at 10/10.
3. Download A Meditation App The measurable benefits of meditation on the brain are well understood – Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar showed that people with no experience of it could alter the structure of their brains in the space of an eight-week course. The volunteers brains became larger in the areas that affect learning, memory and emotion, and smaller in the area that deals with your threat response. Getting into meditation can be a pain though, which is where a smartphone app can deliver guided meditations into your hand, and help you structure your new daily habit, to fit into your life. Try the Insight Timer app for its massive library of free guided meditations, some as short as one minute.
4. Catch Some Rays… Whatever you do this summer, don’t spend all of a sunny day indoors. Not only does exposure to sun boost levels of happy chemical serotonin, but a University of Edinburgh study from 2013 showed that just 20 minutes a day of sunlight is enough to lower blood pressure for the following hour, and reduce the risk of heart disease. The turnover of serotonin in the brain is affected by the sunlight on any given day, and levels of the chemical were higher on sunny days than overcast ones. Just make sure you slap the sunscreen on after a few minutes of exposure.
5. …But Keep Your Cool In our warming world, heatwaves are going to be more frequent and longer lasting – which isn’t great news for mental health, apparently. Make sure you make the most of all the air con on offer to avoid being oppressed by the heat, because Marshall Burke at the Stanford University in California analysed more than 620 million US tweets and found that depressive language was used more often when the mercury was rising. What’s more he analysed public health data on more than 850,000 suicides over 36 years in the US. For each degree of average monthly temperature increase, they found that suicide rates rose by an average of 0.7%.
6. Wear A Headband Dreem is a brain-hacking headband that uses bone induction to send sounds into your brain, bypassing your ear, in order to help you get to sleep faster, by synchronising your heart rate and breathing, Even more cleverly, it then uses sensors to wake you up when you’re in a lighter phase of sleep. This avoids jarring you out of wellbeing-boosting REM sleep. The idea is to increase the time you spend in deep sleep, every night. It’s a bit pricey right now (€499) but the technology is likely to come down in price…
7. Get Your Hands Dirty Being outdoors is generally good for your wellbeing, if only to get a different view than your desktop monitor, but a study performed by the University of Westminster and University of Essex, found that getting dirt under your fingernails is even better. In fact, just 30 minutes a week spent gardening can have a positive effect on your mental health. Of course, many of us would have trouble digging for vegetables in a 5th floor apartment, but wherever you live there is likely to be a conservation project that requires some green fingers, even in inner cities, so get volunteering.
8. Reclaim Your Daily Agenda Hands up if the first thing you reach for in the morning is your smartphone? It might start with switching off your alarm but before you know it you’re scrolling Instagram or debating transfer windows on Twitter with some random. The problem with this is that you’ve just begun your day in default ‘react’ mode, rather than with focused intention. Technology has just hijacked your attention and you’re going to have to fight not to get drawn into other people’s issues. Instead, follow your morning routine and then begin the day with the ‘One Big Thing’ that you need to achieve before the sun goes down. You’ll have more energy and focus for it at the start of the day, and you’ll finish the day with more meaningful progress.
The adrenaline from a fight over email is chemically identical to the stuff you get in a bear attack
9. Set Fire To Your Adrenaline The funny thing about adrenaline is that the kind you get from a bad-tempered email exchange is chemically identical to the type that hammers around your head during a bear attack. Unfortunately, emails don’t respond to fight or flight, so the adrenaline isn’t discharged. You can finish the day with a stress-magnifying adrenaline load by doing nothing more than emptying your inbox. So, put it to good use with adrenaline-fueled exercise to bust stress – but it should be intense. That means swapping your steady state run for a HIIT session, or ramping up the intensity of your weights workout by sticking to timed rest periods and pushing yourself to progress in each workout.
10. Ditch Sugary Snacks It turns out that crumbling in the face of cookie temptation is expanding more than your waistline. Men who eat high levels of sugar from snacks and drinks are increasing their odds of developing depression or anxiety by a startling 23%, says a 2017 study by Anita Knuppel at University College London. There may be several things causing this: high-sugar diets have been shown to reduce levels of a protein that influences neuron growth in the brain, possibly resulting in depression and anxiety. And these diets are inflammatory, which has also been linked to depression.
WHAT NEXT? Build some happy habits courtesy of Bhuddist monk Mattheiu Ricard’s Ted Talk.
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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