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Renew - Relieve Stress

The irony of the stress response is that it evolved in physical environments very different from the social and psychological ones of today. Instead of being stalked by a saber-toothed tiger, today it's a tailgating SUV, approaching final exam, or the terrorist alert level rising to orange.

Your heart pounds, chest heaves, muscles tighten. Senses sharpen, time slips into slow motion, and you become impervious to pain. Under certain conditions, this would be an appropriate healthy reaction, because now you are prepared to do battle. The trouble is, however, that you are probably still sitting in your car or at your desk – stewing in your own juices.

It’s time to relieve your stress. Here you will find a variety of techniques and fascinating studies to help you manage stress in your daily life.

Relieve Stress Topics:
Relieve Your Stress Quick Lists
Relieve Your Stress Mentally
Relieve Your Stress Through Senses
Relieve Your Stress Physically
Relieve Your Stress in Other Ways

Relieve Your Stress Quick Lists

If you are too busy to look at all the ways you can relieve your stress you are probably too busy. Check out these quick lists for immediate relief.

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Relax Now List

The key to successful stress management is to keep a mild, healthy degree of stress in your life, in intermittent amounts. Each person has a unique response to stress, so experiment with techniques that help bring you back into balance, and learn what works best for you.

 

Visualize yourself in a tranquil place.

Gain control of your breathing .

Repeat a helpful quote or word.

Get away from the noise .

Use your imagination .

Use good scents .

Laugh.

Cry.

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A List of Relaxing Thoughts

See problems as opportunities.

Don't take it personally.

There is no right answer.

It's not a perfect world.

Let go, and let God.

 

This too shall pass.

Refute negative thoughts.

Stop overgeneralizing.

Control yourself, not others.

Be yourself.

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De-Stress List

Exercise .

Meditate .

Take a nap.

Get a massage .

Practice yoga or tai chi.

Listen to soothing music.

 

Use guided imagery tapes.

Take an aromatherapy bath.

Use biofeedback or hypnotherapy.

Take time-out: a short walk or a long vacation .

Take a news fast: stop being a receptacle for the world's problems.

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Let's Get Physical List

Do exercises that work your leg muscles, as in "Run away!"

Bounce on a rebounder or jog in place.

Climb stairs or use a stair-stepper.

Walk it off or run around the block.

 

Use a treadmill. (It works for lab rats.)

Use short bursts of muscular energy, as in "Put 'em up!"

Shadowbox or have a punching bag handy.

Do push-ups, sit-ups, and other upper body work with dumbbells.

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Relieve Your Stress Mentally

Don’t underestimate the amazing power of your thoughts. Just as thoughts can escalate your stress levels, they can also relieve stress levels. Discover some helpful techniques and fascinating studies about the potential for harnessing your mental capabilities.

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Derail your Train of Thoughts

Try to slowdown and stop the everyday onslaught of thought that wears you out – especially the kind of circular thinking that gets you nowhere.

 

Perhaps there's a simple thought or quote you can use to help you derail your train of thoughts and initiate your relaxation response.

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Biofeedback and Hypnotherapy

Some people benefit from more modern techniques of initiating the relaxation response. Biofeedback training uses sensitive electronic instruments that enable you to measure and eventually regulate bodily functions such as heart rate and blood pressure.

 

A qualified practitioner is essential, as it is with hypnotherapy, a procedure that accesses your unconscious mind. From this advanced state of relaxation, a posthypnotic suggestion is given that may help you deal more effectively with stress in your daily life.

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Biofeedback and Hypnotherapy-Studies

Chronic heart failure patients who used biofeedback in a UCLA study were able to improve their blood flow compared to patients who only rested. In the 20-minute sessions, patients increased their skin temperature by imagining their hands becoming warmer.1

 

Patients preparing for coronary bypass surgery who used self-hypnosis relaxation techniques were calmer and required less pain medication after their operations, compared to a control group.2

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Guided Imagery

For a quick shift into a calmer state of mind, simply imagine yourself in a favorite, tranquil place: a serene scene from your past or a hopeful one in your future. Close your eyes, relax your breathing, and try to see and feel your surroundings.

The key to successful visualization is to first practice with real objects until you can vividly see them in your mind's eye. Then you will be better able to visualize imaginary ones. You can start with images from books or listen to audio tapes, but the best images are the ones that your subconscious provides.

 

A skilled guided imagery therapist can facilitate the process of bringing these images into consciousness. Regular practice of visualization is important. Be sure to take advantage of the transition states between sleeping and waking, when the door to your subconscious mind is open.

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Guided Imagery-Studies

At the University of Miami, a form of music psychotherapy (Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music) was tested for its affect on the mood and cortisol levels of 28 healthy adults during six biweekly sessions. Significant decreases were reported between pre- and post-session depression, fatigue, and total mood disturbance. Also, significant decreases in blood levels of cortisol were measured – even six weeks after the study.3

 

Sixty-five patients who listened to guided imagery tapes for three days before and six days after surgery reported less stress and physical pain than a control group. Moreover, they requested only about half as many painkillers as those who had not listened to the tapes. The tapes helped patients imagine themselves in a beautiful and peaceful place, along with a person they cared for. They visualized their upcoming operation causing little pain or stress.4

Image therapy improved sleep and reduced nightmares and other symptoms in women who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from being sexually assaulted.5

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The Practice of Meditation

Unlike prayer, where you do the talking, meditation is more akin to listening. And, your breath is the most natural thing to tune in to. Just observe your breathing. Listen to the sound it makes and feel the sensation it creates. This leads you into a meditative state. If thoughts enter your mind, just let them go. Passively disregard them. Instead, stay with your breath. Let it settle into its own circular rhythm.

 

One or two daily sessions of meditation – preferably at the same time every day – will change the way your body responds to stress, because the effects of one session can last throughout the day. There are many nuances to meditation, and a qualified teacher may be advisable.

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Brain Mapped During Meditation-Studies

Harvard Medical School researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify and characterize the brain regions that are active during a simple form of meditation. Significant signal increases were observed in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and cingulate cortex. This indicates that "meditation activates neural structures involved in attention and control of the autonomic nervous system."6

 

In a study at the Medical College of Georgia, scientists discovered that the daily practice of transcendental meditation kept blood vessels open, thus significantly lowering the blood pressure of meditators compared to those who just relaxed as completely as possible.7

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Mindfulness Training-Study

"The purpose of mindfulness training is for participants to gain greater insight into their perceptions, reactions, and behaviors in life situations," says Kimberly A. Williams, Ph.D., at West Virginia University in Morgantown. "Through the practice of mindfulness, subjects are taught to consciously respond to stressful situations in their daily life."

 

When 35 "stressed-out" people underwent a "mindfulness training" program, they experienced an average 54% reduction in psychological distress. They also reported a 46% drop in medical symptoms, compared to the control group.

For about three hours a week for two months, participants learned stress-coping techniques that included yoga postures and four methods of meditation – and how to apply these techniques to their lives.8

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Relieve Your Stress Through Senses

In today’s modern world our senses are constantly bombarded with noises and smells. Some are pleasant and some are invasive. While much of this sensory input may be beyond our control, we can use these same senses to relieve our stress, including our sense of humor!

 
A Sound Way to Counter Stress

Find the muse whose music best conducts your endocrine ensemble of stress-relieving hormones. What ever kind of music soothes your savage beast – classical, Celtic, Celine – let it shift your brain into its parasympathetic symphony. (The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) promotes the relaxation response.)Toning, chanting, and other self-generated sounds have transforming effects on the mind and emotions. Augment sounds with mental images of stress being washed or blown away. Let your mind use all its resources to protect itself from stress hormones.

 

"The most powerful aspect of music is rhythm," says music therapy professor Ron Borczon. "Rhythm will help you get more excited when sped up; when slowed down, it helps the body calm down."

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Use Your Sense of Humor

Before you react to some stressor, first try becoming an observer whose job it is to find the humor in the situation. Seek belly laughs that release those pain-killing endorphins which make you feel good, as well as more stress-proof. The pioneering work of Norman Cousins demonstrated the value of laughter in stress-reduction.

The next time you feel road-rage starting to rear its ugly tail, just start making a funny noise. Such sounds are incompatible with anger.

 

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Your Brain Responds to Scents

Smell was the first sense that animal life developed and is the most nostalgic of all the senses. A certain fragrance can immediately remind you of an experience in your distant past. This is because smell takes a direct route to the limbic brain, where emotional memories are processed – and where stress hormones do their worst damage. Perhaps this is why the sense of smell is often the first to go in older individuals.

 

Aromas have an intimate and irresistible effect. Unlike other senses, molecules of the object detected actually come in contact with the brain. Olfactory receptors are the only area of the brain exposed to the outside.

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Aromatherapy

The all-encompassing word "chemistry" derives from the Greek khemeia – "the extracting and mixing of medicinal plant juices." The famous 16th century Swiss physician and chemist Paracelsus referred to the oils he distilled from medicinal plants as "quinta essentia," hence our modern term "essential oil." We obtain these unique compounds from the seeds and flowers, the roots and barks, and the fruits and resins of plants.

 

Essential oils added to bath water or massage oil are good ways to use aromatherapy, because heat helps the oils penetrate into the skin and bloodstream, as well as releases the oil's aromatic molecules for entry through the nose.

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Essential Oils and The Brain

Essential oils from plants are very powerful chemicals that influence brain chemistry, hormone production, and stress levels. Obnoxious smells certainly demonstrate this, but positive scents also have a subtle but powerful affect on emotional well-being.

 

It's not known for sure how essential oils work on the brain, but it's thought that they interact with certain membrane lipids as well as affect enzymatic processes.

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Aromatherapy-Study

A study of depressed men showed that citrus fragrance in their room reduced their intake of antidepressants. Lavender has a calming effect on many people. A few drops of lavender oil on a handkerchief can help suppress the distress of frustrating situations, like being stuck in traffic or on the runway. Vaporized lavender oil was used in a British nursing home to help residents relax into sleep. It worked as well as sedative drugs.9

 

Andrew Weil, M.D., mentions research showing that the essential oil of a tropical flower called ylang-ylang causes the pituitary gland to secrete more euphoric endorphins, while oil of grapefruit stimulates the brain to produce natural painkillers called enkephalins. The scent of oil of marjoram boosts production of the calming neurotransmitter serotonin.10

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Relieve Your Stress Physically

The "flight or fight" stress response is often triggered by perceived threats that leave you stewing in your juices of adrenalin and cortisol – still sitting in your car or at your desk. One of the best ways to defuse these hormones is to do what nature has prepared you to do. Move!

After you’re done moving you may want to get a massage or practice breathing techniques. No matter what physical methods you use, your body and brain will reward you with good health.

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Progressive Relaxation Techniques

If you're stuck in your car or at your desk practice progressive relaxation techniques. Tense, then release different muscles in a set sequence. It's easy to learn, simple to do, and it works.

 

In several studies, chronic headache sufferers experienced a 50% reduction in pain and frequency using this approach.11

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Four Studies About Exercise and Stress

Four related studies done in 1999 at the University of Colorado at Boulder looked at how regular exercise changes physiological responses to stress from the brain, hormonal system, and immune system.

 

"Our goal is to understand how regular, moderate, physical activity alters the stress response by examining the entire system, from the brain to the individual cells," said Assistant Professor Monika Fleshner. Doctors know that people who exercise regularly are less likely to get sick after stressful situations. On the other hand, exposure to mental or physical stress increases a person's susceptibility to illness or disease, she said.

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Study One-Active and Lazy Rats Respond to Stress

In first study, rats that ran on a wheel regularly for four weeks were compared to sedentary rats. In the first experiment, after experiencing 90 minutes of moderate stress, the exercise rats had lower amounts of a protein produced in stress-reactive brain areas, including the prefrontal cortex and amygdala.

 

"What these reductions mean to the animals remains unknown, although it could result in less of a sympathetic nervous system response to stress," Fleshner said. "It appears the stress circuit begins in the brain at the prefrontal cortex, and that after stress, wheel-running rats have less neural activity in this area than sedentary rats."

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Study Two-Active and Lazy Rats Release Hormones

In a second study, rats that ran on a wheel regularly for four weeks were compared to sedentary rats.

 

After experiencing 90 minutes of moderate stress, the exercising rats released less of the adrenaline-like hormone norepinephrine than did sedentary rats, when both groups were under stress.

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Study Three-Active and Lazy Rats Respond to E. coli Bacteria

In the third study, the rats were infected with E. coli bacteria. The exercise rodents had an increased migration of bacteria-attacking white blood cells to the infection site, and their healing time increased by three to four days.

 

"An analogy might be a sedentary person on a challenging mountain hike cutting his hand on a sharp rock and introducing bacteria into the wound," said Fleshner. "That person's body probably would not be able to 'clean up' the infection site as quickly or efficiently as an experienced, active mountain climber's body."

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Study Four-Active and Lazy Rats Respond to Negative Effect of Stress

In the fourth study, exercise rats were significantly less affected by the negative effect of stress, including the suppression of cell division, decreases in cytokines, and increases in the production of stress proteins.

 

In fact, the physically active rats had elevated levels of interleukin-2 and interferon-g, proteins essential for fighting disease.

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Exercise Combats Depression-Studies

Exercise not only defuses a stressful situation, it better prepares you to cope with future stress and helps to fight depression . The World Health Organization warns that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of death and disability in the world – primarily due to more stressful lifestyles, poverty, and violence.

When University of California at San Diego researchers kept track of more than 900 older adults whose average age was 70, they found that those who exercised regularly had the best moods a decade later. In contrast, men and women who never exercised, or quit during the study, were more likely to develop a depressive mood.

One of the study's authors, Dr. Donna Kritz-Silverstein, said this "shows there's a beneficial effect, but to reap the benefits you have to keep exercising" – especially with regular activities that break a sweat, such as brisk walking. But, she noted, "starting exercise at an older age can be just as beneficial."12

 

A Finnish study had similar results. When depressive symptoms were compared with exercise intensity in 663 elderly people over an eight-year period, active physical exercise was associated with better mental health. Paivi Lampinen and colleagues at the University of Jyvaskyla concluded that, "Age-related decrease in the intensity of physical exercise increases the risk of depressive symptoms among older adults."13

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Breathe to Relax

Nature has conveniently provided a perfect way to help activate your relaxation response, and it involves an involuntary bodily function that you can also consciously control – your breathing.

 

Nothing is more convenient than using your breath to bring yourself back into balance. Whether quieting a rapid fearful breath or boosting a shallow anxious one, just a few mindful breaths can shift your experience.

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A Breathing Exercise You Can Do Right Now

The first step is to bring your breathing under control:

Exhale completely.

Then slowly breathe in through your nose.

Expand your diaphragm/belly to bring air into the lower portion of your lungs.

As you gradually fill your lungs from bottom to top, expand your chest.

At the end, lift your shoulders for a last bit of volume.

Briefly pause your breathing (and your thoughts).

Then relax and let the air flow smoothly and fully out through your mouth.

 

Pull in your stomach at the end to expel the last bit of air (and stress).

Enjoy the emptiness for a few seconds.

Then begin another breath.

As you do this a few times, pay attention to the sound and sensation of your breath. If you get light-headed at first, then breath normally. Your brain is probably not used to all that oxygen.

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Rapid Relaxation Breath

The Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York recommends a breathing technique for rapid relaxation. According to program director and practicing psychologist Allen Elkin, Ph.D.:

 

"You take a deep breath, deeper than normal, and hold it in until you notice a little discomfort. At the same time, squeeze your thumb and first finger together (as if you were making the okay sign) for six or seven seconds. Then exhale slowly through your mouth, release the pressure in your fingers, and allow all your tension to drain out. Repeat these deep breaths three times to extend the relaxation. With each breath, allow your shoulders to droop, your jaw to drop and your body to relax."

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Breath Control Power-Studies

After individuals with normal blood pressure were subjected to mental stress for five minutes, it took an average of 3.7 minutes for their blood pressure to return to normal. But when they practiced deep breathing, it returned to normal in 2.7 minutes, a significant reduction in time.14

 

Loss of control is itself a principal cause of stress. For example, when hospital patients are allowed to administer their own painkillers as often as they like, they use less painkillers than patients who had no control over their medication. A study of coronary angioplasty patients found that ones who "perceive control over their futures by having positive expectations . . . seem to be at less risk for a new cardiac event."15

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Breath-A Gateway to Spirit

Breath is even more than a mind-body interface. It is the gateway to spirit. The ancients knew this, and their language underscores the connection. In Sanskrit, atman means "world soul" and atma is "breath." In Hebrew, neshama means "soul" and nieshema means "breath." The English word inspiration also hints at the spirit connection.

 

After years of studying meditation, Dr. Khalsa found that "the space between our thoughts – what the Asian healers call 'the sacred space' – is where most spirit-directed healing originates."

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Massage

Because mind and muscle are connected – the central and peripheral nervous systems communicate with each other – massage does more than just relax your muscles. It can sooth your mood as well as your mind.
Massage releases endorphins that calm the peripheral nervous system. It increases circulation and speeds up the removal of toxins from the body. Massage reduced levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in depressed mothers with infants. A study at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School found that massage therapy also improved sleep and reduced the mothers' depression.16

Preschoolers who received a 15-minute massage scored better on tests of cognitive performance, compared to children who just read stories with an adult for the 15 minutes prior to testing.17

 

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Infant Massage-Study

Massaging infants is a time-tested practice all over the world. "Traditional systems of medicine in India advocate oil massage as an integral part of infant care," says Dr. K. N. Agarwal of the University College of Medical Sciences in Delhi.

He and his team divided 125 healthy six-week old infants into several groups to compare effects of different oils: herbal oil, sesame oil, mustard oil, and a mix of mineral oil with vitamin E. (A fifth group received no massage.) For a month, mothers massaged their infants' legs, back, arms, chest, abdomen, face, and head (in that order), for a total of 10 minutes each day.

 

Results for all massage groups showed an increase in head circumference, body length, and weight, but sesame oil caused the most significant increase. Because massage increased arm and leg girth, blood flow through the legs' femoral arteries was significantly improved. Also, the infants slept better soon after their massage.

Agarwal and his colleagues concluded that natural vegetable oils such as sesame oil are best suited for massage as they have a beneficial effect on growth and blood flow, and are well-absorbed.18 (Note: Mineral oil is not recommended, because it is a petroleum product.)

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Infant Massage and IQ-Study

Benefits of infant massage could have far-ranging consequences, since research shows that birth weight and head circumference are related to better brain power later in life. Weight and head size at birth are associated with certain growth factors that may influence the development of the central nervous system and cognitive ability.19

 

A preliminary study that used standard tests to measure the intelligence of more than 3,400 children at age seven found a direct relationship between their IQs and birth weights. IQ scores rose by an average of 4.6 points among boys and 2.8 points among girls for every 2.2-pound increase in birth weight.20

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Foot Reflexology-Study

Reflexology is a form of foot massage that works with the thousands of nerve endings in the soles of your feet. A session with an experienced reflexologist can be a liberating experience. Simply rolling your foot over a golf ball can be a good way to reduce tension.

 

In a Chinese study of 86 individuals, blood tests were taken before and after reflexology sessions, ten days in a row. The results showed that levels of free radicals decreased while antioxidant enzymes increased.21

In a three-year study, Danish postal workers given access to reflexology therapy missed fewer days of work, saving thousands of dollars per month.22

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Relieve Your Stress in Other Ways

You may have some of your own ideas for relieving stress, but did you know that emotional tears actually release stressful chemicals and that friends can be your best medicine? You may also not be aware of the chronic stress you are having from information overload. Find out more about these stress related topics here.

 
Reduce Information Overload-Statistics

Stop getting caught in the avalanche information – much of it negative – that assaults you throughout the day. Go on a news fast for a day, or a week. Moderate your TV and Internet time.

Information-overload is an insidious source of chronic stress. When two professors at the UC Berkeley School of Information Management & Systems analyzed all new data produced worldwide in 1999 – on the Internet, in scholarly journals, even in junk mail – they had to use the term "terabyte." One terabyte is million megabytes, the text content of a million books.

 

They found that the directly accessible "surface" Web consists of about 2.5 billion documents and is growing at a rate of 7.3 million pages per day. Including the "deep" Web of connected databases, intranet sites, and dynamic pages, there are about 550 billion documents, and 95% is publicly accessible.

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Crying Relieves Stress-Chemistry

Crying is another one of nature's stress-relieving strategies. Psychiatric chemist William Frey, Ph.D., showed that not all tears are the same.

 

Unlike tears caused by eye irritants, emotional tears contain abundant amounts of adrenaline and other stress-related chemicals.

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Friendship Benefits Brain Health-Studies

Friends who make you laugh are one of life's greatest blessings. Here's where the right social network pays off. One of the most important anti-stress coping skills is to develop a social support system, including pets.

 

When 1200 septuagenarians (people in their 70’s) were studied over seven years, emotional support was significantly correlated with better cognitive function, such as language, verbal and nonverbal memory, abstract reasoning, and spatial ability. What's more, data from this MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging found that the unmarried participants, especially women, did better than married ones.23

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Friendly Interactions Release Hormones and Pheromones-Study

Hormones are potent "local" chemicals that travel throughout your body to help regulate metabolism and behavior. Hormone means to set in motion, excite, stimulate. You also produce similar "long distance" chemicals called pheromones, which work outside the body and can affect the hormones of others. Pherein means to bring, to bear along. Your pheromones can excite, or even calm, others.

Researchers at the University of Zurich observed that a friend's supportive presence may work with hormones in the body to reduce stress. Men were less stressed when their best friend was present or when they were given a nasal of dose of oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone. Just the presence of a best friend, however, was better than oxytocin alone at reducing stress.

 

The men who were given oxytocin while their best friend was also present showed significantly less anxiety and had lower cortisol levels.

"Oxytocin is a hormone well known for its role in facilitating the milk ejection reflex during lactation (breast-feeding) and in stimulating uterine contractions during parturition (childbirth)," Dr. Markus Heinrichs explained. In animal studies, oxytocin encouraged social attachment to others and protected against stress.
According to Heinrichs, oxytocin's calming effects are stronger when there's another person present.24

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