The coronavirus pandemic shutdowns and restrictions continue to disrupt almost every aspect of life, despite the millions of shots being doled out. And people report feeling more stressed than ever.
That’s a serious concern, as stress plays a major role in the development of chronic health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and Type II diabetes.
Fortunately, new research shows that you can significantly reduce your stress by enjoying just 10 minutes of rest and relaxation per day…
Resting and touching linked to lower stress levels
Psychologists from the University of Konstanz in Germany recently assessed the effect of a short massage—or short period of rest—on stress.
First, they divided the participants into three groups.
The first group received a 10-minute, head–and–neck massage, designed to apply moderate pressure on the vagus nerve (often called “the wanderer nerve”). This nerve travels the whole length of the body and helps control the body’s response to stress.
The second group received a gentler, 10-minute, neck-and-shoulder massage—without direct stimulation of the vagus nerve. (The researchers designed this part of the experiment to test the effects of simple touch on relaxation.)
The third group served as the control, and didn’t receive a massage. Instead, they just rested and sat quietly for 10 minutes.
Next, the researchers gauged physiological responses by measuring the participants’ heart rate variability (HRV). (The better the participant’s HRV, the more relaxed the body.)
The researchers also measured psychological responses by asking the participants to describe how relaxed (or stressed) they felt following their massages or rest period. (As I regularly report, studies show that simply asking people how stressed they feel provides a surprisingly accurate and the best overall measurement of the condition for health purposes.)
Just 10 minutes makes a difference
Well, it turns out, all the participants in all three groups showed significant improvement in their HRV after just 10 minutes of massage or rest.
The men and women who received either type of massage experienced the biggest improvements in HRV. However, there was no difference between the two massage groups on HRV. So, apparently, the body doesn’t need direct stimulation of the vagus nerve to lessen stress and tension. Instead, just simple touching does the trick.
All three groups also reported feeling similar improvements in relaxation.
Make it a priority to take breaks
As this study shows, just resting your body, quietly, for 10 minutes effectively induces the body’s physical and mental relaxation response. And having someone stroke your neck and shoulders adds to the benefit.
In the meantime, I encourage you to make resting a priority during the day. Perhaps even sit down and listen to the jazz composition “Take Five,” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. If you haven’t heard the piece, I suggest giving it a whirl. It’s relaxing, transporting, and transcendental.
Composed by the quartet’s saxophonist Paul Desmond, the song exemplifies post-bebop, “cool jazz.” And the title references the song’s distinctive 5/4 time signature.
In fact, “Take Five” was one of the first jazz songs to deviate from the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time. Brubeck had the idea to try the deviation after hearing unusual meters on his trip to Turkey. (Beethoven, Mozart, and others also experimented in composing in the “Turkish style” in their own day.)
Of course, the colloquial phrase “take five” also refers to taking a short, quick break from work. But since the study I mentioned above noted stress-reduction benefits after 10 minutes, and Desmond and Brubeck’s masterpiece is exactly five minutes long—you might want to listen to it twice.
P.S. For another simple, effective way to lower your stress, check out the March 2020 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“The simplest way to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and ward off cancer—naturally”). Not yet a subscriber? All it takes is one click!
“Standardized massage interventions as protocols for the induction of psychophysiological relaxation in the laboratory: a block randomized, controlled trial.” Sci Rep, 2020 10(14774). doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-71173-w