10 Favorite Anti-Anxiety, Stress-Relief Products
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
Stress management training and therapy are great long-term helps, but most folks are looking for quick pick-me-up or calm-me-down resources. There are countless products made for stress and anxiety relief, and the following ten are the ones most commonly chosen by my clients.
1. Worry beads and Fidget Toys
A traditional stress reliever in Greece (for hundreds of years), komboloi worry beads started as prayer-counting beads for Greek monks. They have made their way into everyday use around the world. They were originally used primarily by men, but today many women have adopted them as stress toys and for both men and women, they have become fashion accessories in a number of places internationally. There are usually 16-23 beads on a knotted string. Basically you just hold them in your hand so that they encircle you fingers and "count" the beads by pulling them downward with your thumb. It doesn't matter if you count numerically or just say a mantra or affirmation with each count. In fact, you can just fidget with them without thinking about them at all. There are also two-handed counting methods and flips.
Another form is called mala and is from the buddhist tradition. They can be strung as small as item fit for your wrist, or as long as more than a hundred beads. Malas are still used as prayer beads, but they work just fine as "worry beads" as well.
There's actually been some research that shows how such distractors are comforting in stressful times: http://www.apa.org/releases/traumamemory.html.
You can find some beads at http://dharmashop.com/display.mgi?CAT=ml&T=Mala%20Beads.
Fidget toys do the same job and are exactly what the name implies -- tiny toys and objects that give you something to fidget with to relieve some of the physical tension associated with your anxiety. You can stretch them, twist them, turn them, click them, bounce them, squeeze them or whatever they're made to do.
You can find fidget toys at: http://officeplayground.com/stressreliever.html.
2. Music/Nature Sound Effects/Combo of Both
Congreve's famous poem said music has charms "to soothe the savage breast."
Berthold Auerbach said, "Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Henry Ward Beecher proclaimed, "Music cleanses the understanding; inspires it, and lifts it into a realm which it would not reach if it were left to itself."
For music to be stress reducing, it must be a gentle and calming style. No pop, rock, rap, country/western, reggae, etc. I recommend new age style. Steven Halpern and Kitaro are both masters of this genre and are a good introduction to new age music. Gregorian chants also fill the bill. ( I'd recommend classical style, but I'd have to specify particular pieces, considering the breadth of the genre.)
You can download some free Steven Halpern sounds at http://www.innerpeacemusic.com/index.html.
The sounds of birdsong, a gentle rain, waves lapping at the shore, even without the matching sights, can transport us in imagination and in feeling to quiet gardens, unspoiled beaches and other magically relaxing places.
You can get fine nature sound effects (e.g. waterfall, ocean waves, rain forest) from sound machines and from CD's and mp3's. Some free ones are available at http://www.partnersinrhyme.com/(free sound effects) and free samples at http://www.naturesounds.ca/.
An aquarium, a beach, a forest, a waterfall -- in the real world many folks are glad to simply gaze for hours on the mesmerizing beauty of such scenes. Bring 'em home on videos and visit them whenever you need a stress-break.
You can get a 30 second clips of scenes at http://www.powerfloe.com/ and 1 minute clips at http://www.exterpassive.com/content.htm and 20sec clips at http://www.cedarlakedvd.com/
4. Biofeedback Devices
Biofeedback may have passed its popularity heyday, but it is as effective as ever and research continues to find more and varied uses for it. See the following Wikipedia article if you are unfamiliar with biofeedback: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofeedback.
In particular I like the GSR devices. They're easy to understand and use, they are reasonably-priced, and they do the primary job of biofeedback: giving the user a measure of his/her progress. Other devices, such as brainwave monitors are best for deeper, more specific and more professional work. They are more expensive than GSR's and unnecessary for most folks outside the lab or professional office.
Specifically, I like the GSR2 from Thought Technology. They don't sell them directly anymore, so you'll have to search for "GSR2" on your favorite search engine to find a vendor.
5. Posters/Art Prints
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but as with the videos recommended, photos and illustrations of nature such as landscapes and seascapes are universally effective in calming.
There are so many sources I'll just recommend that you search with your favorite search engine. Try search terms like "prints posters." And if you want something more creative than what you find on the larger commerical sites, try Zazzle.com and CafePress.com.
Don't laugh. I know aromatherapy sounds bogus to many people. Nevertheless, research has well established the emotional effects in stimulating our senses of smell. But you don't need lots of research to realize that what you smell can instantly evoke powerful feelings. For example, smell pine and think of Christmas trees or a walk in the forrest.
I found a number of misters, essential oils and other related products on Amazon.com.
7. Tabletop candle or tea light garden
The reason that candles are used for romantic settings is quite simply because looking at them is comforting and relaxing. Also, since they come in various scents, they can provide aromatherapy. Don't use candles or tea lights in the office; you might start a fire or at least set off smoke alarms and sprinklers.
8. Desktop (tabletop) water fountain/waterfall
Falling water and it's accompanying sounds have well-documented soothing effects on the human psyche. And the sounds help provide a masking effect for other office or household noises. Some come with built-in planters to give a greater illusion of having brought a garden inside.
9. Computer background pictures or screen savers of nature (some fractals are good, too).
Just like the videos recommended above, animated aquarium, beach, forrest, waterfall and landscape screen savers do an excellent job of calming, and background pictures or screen saver slideshows are electronic equivalents of prints and posters. Great for taking a five-minute meditation break.
Just search for "wallpaper desktop pictures" and you'll find plenty of freebies.
10. Foot massage
A good foot massage does wonders for relieving stress and tension. It's better to get a full massage, but just doing the feet goes a long way to restoring energy. Massage balls -- spiky or nubby or Goosebumps -- can be used even in the office or on an airplane. Just slip off a shoe, put the massage ball on the floor and roll your foot around on it. I found some at Amazon.com.
If you want a demo of how to do a foot massage by hand, try http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-give-a-stress-relieving-foot-massage.
The ten products I've listed may not solve your worries and woes, but they will feel pretty good while you're using them!