Thanksgiving is a time of gathering, and gathering means people, and people — particularly close friends and family — can often mean stress.
But there are faster and healthier ways to relax than emotionally eating leftover pie, or downing one too many hard ciders — eesearch suggests that the simple acts of chewing gum or humming, perhaps to your favorite holiday tune, can quickly reduce stress.
That’s because they both stimulate the vagus nerve, which has the ability to relax the body, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Psychology Today cited a study that revealed chewing gum could reduce exam anxiety in students and allow them to perform better on tests, while a review of eight different studies concluded that it was a safe and “effective” stress reliever.
The psych periodical also pointed to a 2017 study linking humming to a reduced heart rate and blood pressure.
Relieving stress isn’t just vital for smooth-sailing festivities this holiday season — calming the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body that runs from the brainstem to the gut, has been shown to have beneficial effects.
This is because the vagus nerve is responsible for our “fight or flight” response in an unsafe situation, triggering a physical reaction when you’re stressed or scared.
According to Psychology Today, “stimulating the vagus nerve helps restore calm and allows access to problem-solving, creativity, and other higher brain functions whenever a person feels anxious, lost in uncertainty, or out of control.”
Chronic stress can potentially cause vagus nerve dysfunction, resulting stomach issues and pain, heartburn, depression and more, according to VeryWellMind, but it can be remedied by engaging in exercise, meditation, deep breathing and other relaxation techniques, such as a massage or yoga.
Experts also advise stress-prone people to submerge their face in ice cold water, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases arousal, due to the lack of oxygen and cold water.
And if you’re not headed home for the holidays this year, counteracting loneliness by getting outside and interacting with others — yes, even strangers — also has stress-relieving effects.
Stress also has the ability to affect the whole body, causing digestive issues, eating pattern disruption and inflammation. It can even elevate the risk of heart disease.