Anxiety & Stress

3 Outside-the-Box Coping Skills for Reducing Stress 

3 unique coping skills for reducing stress 

It’s often said that we don’t choose the circumstances of our lives; rather, we choose how to deal with them. Coping with stressful situations can be a difficult skill to master, especially if we suffer from depression, anxiety, or other forms of emotional distress. Lucky for us, there are tools and strategies that we can use to facilitate healing from uncomfortable emotions, reduce stress levels and restore balance in our lives. Here are three somewhat unorthodox methods for coping with whatever life throws at you:

Cold-water therapy

Here’s one that may sound a bit counter-intuitive: being in cold water will help you feel better. Well, it’s true! A 2007 research study found that cold showers can help alleviate depression symptoms, and if done on a regular basis, may be more helpful than prescription medications in lifting low moods. A separate study that investigated the effects of regular cold-water exposure on the mood of swimmers showed that after four months of routine cold-water swimming, the subjects felt more energetic and active than those who did not take a daily polar plunge.

Why does it work?

The studies above identify two ways that cold-water therapy helps support a good mood. First, exposure to cold water stimulates the production of dopamine in the mesocorticolimbic and nigrostriatal pathways. For those of us who are not neuroscientists, that means exposure to cold water triggers a whole lot of chemicals in the brain that make us feel good. Second, cold water exposure stimulates the vagus nerve which triggers the body’s parasympathetic response. This response is responsible for returning us to a relaxed state after experiencing a stressor. The parasympathetic response triggers a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate, calms activity in the limbic system (where emotions are processed), encourages digestion to resume, and promotes an overall sense of calm and well-being.

How to try it 

  • Take a dip in chilly water.
  • Take a cold shower.
  • Dunk your face into an ice bath.
  • Hold an ice pack/bag of frozen veggies to your face, neck, and torso. Use a towel as a buffer for any exposed skin.

Safety tips

  • When it comes to cold water (70°-80° F or 21°-27° C) swimming without a wetsuit, enter the water gradually (no diving or cannonballs) and give your body at least a solid minute to adjust. Entering cold water gradually helps to avoid cold shock, which can cause breathing difficulties. 
  • Treat water below 70° F (21° C) with extreme caution or just say no unless you are a practiced professional. Keep your cold-water swims brief (less than 10 minutes) and warm up between dips. 
  • Last but not least, bring a buddy. They can cheer you on for moral support and intervene if conditions become unsafe. 

Spicy food

Humans have enjoyed eating spicy foods for thousands of years. This historical culinary fact begs the question, “…why?” Why would someone voluntarily cultivate and consume a plant that makes them feel like their mouth is on fire

In short, the answer is neurochemical. The burn we feel while eating something spicy is caused by compounds called capsaicinoids, namely capsaicin. Capsaicin is an active component within the chili pepper family of plants and is a chemical irritant for most mammals, often causing a burning sensation when it comes into contact with tissue. 

Why does it work?

What we consider “spicy” is not actually a taste but a sensation. When we eat spicy foods, our brain receives a false-positive signal for pain, specifically for burning heat. While there is no actual damage being done, our brain can’t tell the difference and responds how it usually does when sensing pain—by releasing a flood of endorphins and dopamine. All those chemicals being released create a pleasurable experience similar to a “runner’s high.” During this experience, our mood is lifted and our nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals to the brain is blocked, resulting in pain relief. This pain-blocking power is why capsaicin is a common component in many topical analgesics, especially for relieving nerve pain.  In short, eating spicy foods triggers a boost in mood and stimulates pleasure centers in our brain, making us feel good.

How to try it 

  • Add hot sauce or chili peppers to…well, anything. Use your best judgment and give yourself bonus points for creativity, e.g., chili-chocolate. 

Safety tips

  • Use caution when preparing spicy peppers. The oils that contain capsaicin can cause irritation to the skin and eyes. Avoid direct contact with them as much as possible. When working with fresh peppers, wear gloves.
  • If your bare hands touch the peppers, immediately wash your hands and nails well with soap and warm water.
  • Oils from chilis can transfer to knives and cutting surfaces, so make sure to wash tools and surfaces with warm, soapy water after use to prevent the oils from transferring to other foods.
  • Start low and go slow. If you are a beginner, start with jalapeños and gradually work your way up to cayenne, habaneros, etc. 

Break stuff

Sometimes your standard methods for expressing your emotions fall short of what you really need. This can be especially true with emotions in the anger family such as hostility, fury, and rage. If deep breathing, taking a walk, and counting down from ten just aren’t cutting it, consider paying a visit to a Rage Room. These establishments (also called Smash Rooms or Anger Rooms) offer guests the opportunity to go berserk on various breakable items using tools provided for them by the staff. Sledgehammers are among the most popular tools along with hockey sticks, golf clubs, and baseball bats. The items you get to smash range from kitchen flatware to old furniture to outdated electronics. Most rage rooms even allow guests to bring their own stuff to smash, provided it passes a safety inspection first.

Why does it work?

Emotions like anger can stem from a sense of powerlessness or injustice. For coping with situations that are unfair or outside our control, channeling feelings of anger into physical activity can provide a cathartic release. This release relieves some of the pressure and we can gain a sense of control for a period of time. Expressing the full extent of emotions like rage can remind us of our personal power and inspire us to not give up when confronted with challenges in our lives.

Catharsis can help individuals struggling with difficult or painful emotions break through (pun somewhat intended) to new understanding. This provides new insight into their experiences and can facilitate healing and problem-solving. Using rage room interventions for anger in conjunction with psychotherapy can further help to unpack and process emerging insights in a supportive, non-judgmental environment.

How to try it 

  • Visit your local rage room. Contact them ahead of time to make sure they have an opening and enjoy the destruction!
  • Not able to make it to a rage room? Try smashing some ice cubes against a brick wall or concrete sidewalk. Ice cubes too small for your big anger? Freeze Tupperware full of water into ice bricks and have a go at that. 

Safety tips

  • Check out the facility before committing to spending your money. Ask questions, look at reviews, and go over any information they have available online. Review the dress code (no open-toe shoes) and any other safety recommendations they have before your first visit.
  • If you choose to smash ice at home, make sure it’s your home or ask explicit permission for what you intend to do at someone else’s home. While ice is not as destructive as a sledgehammer, it is still a solid object and can cause damage to property when smashed against stuff. 
  • If you choose to smash stuff outside a rage room, this means that safety is now 100% your responsibility.  Gear up with safety goggles, gloves, and closed-toe shoes. Also, make sure there are no people or animals in the area to help avoid any unintended injuries.