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11 Scientifically Proven Tips for Relaxing

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Constantly feeling stressed? You’re not alone. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, the percentage of Americans who reported that they dealt with at least one symptom of stress in the prior month increased from 71 percent in August 2016 to 80 percent in January 2017. Luckily, science is here to help. Here are 11 proven ways to help you relax.

1. CHEW GUM.

Strange as it may seem, chewing gum—not to mention the fun of popping bubbles—has been shown to improve reported mood as well as lower cortisol levels.

2. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PLANTS.

Immersing yourself in nature can make you feel happier, and even just a little exposure can help you relax. One study at Washington State University found that entering a room with plants can lower your blood pressure and increase your productivity. Plus, plants increase oxygen, helping you breathe easier.

3. MOW THE LAWN.

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A chemical released by a mowed lawn (think of that fresh-cut grass smell) causes people feel happy and relaxed, according to research. Another benefit? Getting a chore out of the way—and off your mind.

4. LISTEN TO CLASSICAL MUSIC.

Music can brighten up your day, but it turns out there’s also a physiological impact to listening to music: One study found that listening to classical music lowered participants' blood pressure, slowed their heart rates, and reduced levels of stress hormones.

5. PUCKER UP.

Sometimes feeling weak in the knees isn’t a bad thing. Kissing releases oxytocin, a chemical that reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

6. REDUCE YOUR SCREEN TIME, ESPECIALLY BEFORE BEDTIME.

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Spend the majority of your day sitting in front of a screen only to go home and stare at another screen (or two)? That artificial light can mess with your melatonin production and alter your circadian rhythms, which can impact your sleep. Young adults in particular are likely to be affected. Studies have shown that teenagers who use their phones late at night are more likely to be depressed.

7. DRINK TEA.

Scientists at the City University of London found that a single cup of tea reduces stress rates by as much as 25 percent. And certain types of herbal tea, like green tea, contain L-theanine, which has also been shown to reduce stress.

8. PUT YOUR HEAD IN A PAPER BAG.

It’s become a bit of a joke, but it turns out breathing into a paper bag will actually make you calmer—research suggests that since when people feel anxious they often breathe too quickly, their bodies build up an overflow of oxygen. Breathing into a bag for half a dozen breaths increases the amount of carbon dioxide in your body and helps you feel better.

9. GRAB SOME CHOCOLATE.

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It’s not your imagination. You do feel better after eating chocolate. Harry Potter got it right—even eating just 40 grams, the size of a regular Hershey’s bar, lowers your amount of stress hormones (and keeps the dementors away).

10. IF LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE LEMONADE.

If chocolate isn’t your thing, try citrus. Scientists have found that vitamin C helps regulate cortisol and prevent blood pressure from spiking.

11. SQUEEZE OUT A BELLY LAUGH.

Turns out that Grumpy Cat can help keep your crabbiness at bay. Watching funny videos—and laughing—physically helps you relax by releasing endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their happy fuzzy effect.

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Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too
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There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.

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Uncombable Hair Syndrome Is a Real—and Very Rare—Genetic Condition
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Everyone has bad hair days from time to time, but for roughly 100 people around the world, unmanageable hair is an actual medical condition.

Uncombable hair syndrome, also known as spun glass hair syndrome, is a rare condition caused by a genetic mutation that affects the formation and shape of hair shafts, BuzzFeed reports. People with the condition tend to have dry, unruly hair that can't be combed flat. It grows slower than normal and is typically silver, blond, or straw-colored. For some people, the symptoms disappear with age.

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Although there have been only about 100 documented cases worldwide, one of the world's leading researchers on the condition, Regina Betz, of Germany's University of Bonn, believes there could be thousands of others who have it but have not been diagnosed. Some have speculated that Einstein had the condition, but without a genetic test, it's impossible to know for sure.

An 18-month-old American girl named Taylor McGowan is one of the few people with this syndrome. Her parents sent blood samples to Betz to see if they were carriers of the gene mutation, and the results came back positive for variations of PADI3, one of three genes responsible for the syndrome. According to IFL Science, the condition is recessive, meaning that it "only presents when individuals receive mutant gene copies from both parents." Hence it's so uncommon.

Taylor's parents have embraced their daughter's unique 'do, creating a Facebook page called Baby Einstein 2.0 to share Taylor's story and educate others about the condition.

"It's what makes her look ever so special, just like Albert Einstein," Taylor's mom, Cara, says in a video uploaded to YouTube by SWNS TV. "We wanted to share her story with the world in hopes of spreading awareness."

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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