Somewhere between Week 1 A.C. (After Coronavirus) and Week Where Are We Now?, it became pretty clear the enduring pandemic was taking a toll on our state of mind. And—albeit helpful—there are only so many Headspace meditation tracks one can do. That’s why we reached out to mental health pros to share the tools of the trade proven to boost mood, calm anxiety, and alleviate stress.
11 Products Proven to Boost Mood, Calm Anxiety, and Alleviate Stress
1. Google Home Mini
Take the counsel of Solara Calderon, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in San Diego, CA, who uses this device every night to teleport herself away from the relentless news cycle and to a place of zen. “From ocean waves to crickets to pattering rain, I love soothing sounds,” she says. “I visualize myself at the beach, or sitting by a campfire stargazing, or watching rain fall outside my window. This combination of sound and imagery helps me distance myself from the mundaneness of quarantine life and reminds me of pleasant moments I’ve had in the past. It also reminds me these moments will come again in the future,” she continues. Studies have shown listening to nature sounds promotes relaxation, causing physiological reactions like a decrease in muscle tension and pulse rate. “One study in particular has attempted to explain why this is the case, noting that listening to nature sounds can impact brain activity and the autonomic nervous system for some individuals, particularly those who are experiencing high levels of stress.” So, “Hey Google, play country night sounds.”
2. Lavender Essential Oil
“Research indicates lavender does indeed have anti-anxiety and stress-reducing properties among other promising qualities,” says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, CA. We’ll take it. Manly also appreciates that lavender “evokes a sense of springtime, fresh air, and sunshine,” three things we could all use right about now. Keep a bottle on your desk and a spray bottle in your car. Reducing stress and improving your mood has never been easier.
3. Animal Crossing
Next time your partner yells at you for playing video games, let them know this one is therapist-approved. “There’s a reason why the Nintendo Switch has been sold out since last March—it’s a certified, blissful, calming escape from the current reality,” offers New York City-based therapist Taylor Orlandoni, LMHC. “To the surprise of anyone who has not played it yet, Animal Crossing is actually shown to boost mood and mitigate the experience of negative thoughts, emotions, and feelings. And if you’re skeptical about it, just check out Reddit for hundreds of personal anecdotes.”
4. How to Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh
“My favorite relaxation book—that I read frequently and recommend to clients—is a pocket-sized book called How to Relax by Thich Nhat Hanh, who’s an expert on mindfulness,” says Risa Williams, LMFT, therapist, coach, and author of The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit: 25 Ways to Worry Less, Relax More and Boost YourSelf-Esteem. “All of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books are good for gaining insight, however the simplicity of the writing in this particular book makes it especially easy to read when you’re stressed out. Hanh reminds us to stay in the present moment, to appreciate what we have, and to breathe through intense feelings in order to feel relaxed and calm.”
5. Alpha-Stim AID
Josh Briley, Ph.D., clinical psychologist licensed in the state of Texas and science and education director for Electromedical Products International, Inc., has used this FDA-cleared cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) device both personally and with his patients with much success. “Within a few minutes of placing the ear clips on your earlobes and setting the current to a comfortable level, you feel very relaxed and calm, as if your anxiety and stress have just melted away,” Briley says. The product is backed by 100+ clinical studies, demonstrating its effectiveness in treating anxiety, insomnia, depression, and pain. “I’ve used Alpha-Stim with veterans who have suffered with anxiety and depression for decades, and with patients in the midst of a suicidal crisis or panic attack. In my 17 years as a practicing psychologist, I’ve never seen anything work more quickly, effectively, or safely than Alpha-Stim.”
6. Anja Acupressure Mat
Dr. Brian Wind, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and chief clinical officer of JourneyPure based in Murfreesboro, TN, praises the humble yet effective acupressure mat. It provides relief at “the end of a long day when all you want to do is lie back and relax.” The mat works by stimulating pressure points throughout your back, neck, and shoulders to promote feelings of relaxation. Based on traditional Chinese medicine, there’s some encouraging published scientific research that acupressure works: “A 2015 review showed that acupressure was effective in relieving symptoms of anxiety, although it was only a temporary effect,” says Wind. “Another 2015 study found that acupressure helped relieve the anxiety of patients hospitalized for cancer treatment.”
This simple, age-old practice does the trick for Hannah Milford, LPC, at Happy Camper Counseling, in Austin, TX. “When I need to get myself in a better place, I turn to journaling. I find that expressing my thoughts and feelings through the written word, helps me externalize and let go of difficult emotions more quickly,” she says. Countless psychological studies show the benefits of journaling, from this research on expressive writing in helping with depression to writing about feeling and stress as a way to strengthen your immune system.
Try the A Year of Zen: A 52-Week Guided Journal.
Or The No Worries Workbook if you prefer prompts.
8. Succulent Plants
“The benefits of plants on our mental health have been well-studied, but if you’re limited for space in an apartment or don’t have the drive to become an in-home gardener, incorporating plants into your space can seem daunting,” says Orlandoni. That’s why her advice is to start with small and low-maintenance succulents for a mental health lift, pointing to studies like this one, which showed that interacting with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress.
9. Bubbles Bottle and Wand
This is a great one if you have kids: “I use bubbles with children and adults to help accomplish mindfulness in a fun way,” says therapist Stacy Haynes, Ed.D., LPC, ACS, founder of Little Hands Family Services in New Jersey. “Any brand of bubbles will work [for this science-based strategy]. Breathing regulates the mind and body and helps to calm the brain.” How can you not be in a better mood and alleviate stress after playing with bubbles?
“Not just another meditation app!” says April Brown, LMFT, marriage and family therapist and owner of Heard Counseling LLC, an online private practice in Florida. What makes Brown a fan of this free app is it uses cognitive behavioral therapy (a scientifically based strategy) to help manage anxiety and stress, and improve your mood. “It allows you to choose the kind of worry or low mood you’re feeling and tailors the tools to that specific type of concern. It offers quick solutions and tools to improve your mood when you’re feeling low,” she says. Brown also appreciates all the features on the app tie back to this therapeutic approach since “CBT has been consistently shown in research to treat anxiety and depression, and improve mood.”
11. Apollo Neuro
Dr. David Rabin, M.D., a neuroscientist, board-certified psychiatrist, and health tech entrepreneur based in Monterey, CA, was inspired to create this device after encountering countless patients who simply wanted to feel better, but found stress and insomnia holding them back. (Join the club.) He partnered with the University of Pittsburgh, and they found certain combinations of gentle vibrations could help improve mood and lower stress, as measured by heart rate variability. The result: Apollo Neuro, a wearable wellness device, which “trains your nervous system to recover from stress more quickly, proving to be extremely helpful for those who suffer from chronic issues like anxiety and insomnia.” Since its launch last year, studies have shown that it reduces stress in nursing staff by 40 percent in two weeks and may aid in recovery and performance of athletes.
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