59 Seconds: Stress

More from the excellent 59 Seconds:

Excessive levels of stress are known to be extremely damaging (see the canonical survey: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers).

Defusing anger

Acting on anger doesn’t reduce anger (short term). It primes more anger. People were more cruel to innocents after being allowed to “vent” by wailing on a boxing bag with a picture of someone they hated.

Finding benefits (“silver lining”) to misfortunes definitely makes people feel better. It also makes you more likely to forgive. As sad as it seems to engage in biased thinking, it might be worth it for the health benefits, if you don’t have the will or way to exact revenge instead (I’m sure that’s also satisfying, but you’ll have a hard time finding psychologists wanting to show *that* in an experiment).

Example benefits - whatever you’re fuming about may also have helped you:

  • grow stronger or become aware of personal strengths that you didn’t realize you had?

  • appreciate certain aspects of your life more than before?

  • become a wiser person?

  • enhance important relationships or end bad ones?

  • become more skilled at communicating your feelings?

  • bolster your confidence?

  • develop into a more compassionate or forgiving person?

  • repair and strengthen your relationship with a person who hurt you?

  • identify any of your own shortcomings that may stand in the way of your happiness?


Praying for others (probably generalizes to spending time imagining/wanting good things for those you love) seems to defuse your own stress and worries. Probably by means of comparing your problems to others’, but perhaps also by some general positive-mood boosting that comes from caring. Or it could always be the magical power of prayer, I suppose :)

Classical music (at least, baroque) decreases blood pressure where nothing, pop, and jazz don’t.

If the weather is nice, spend 30 minutes outside in the sun. Mood and memory will improve. (because of walking, because of sun, because of seeing people, or because of scene? no idea why. probably sun.)

Use humor to cope with stress. Expose yourself to things that make you smile/laugh.


When treated with dog ownership (i.e. intervention, not correlation), blood pressure decreases. Dogs are more effective than blood pressure drugs. People with a dog and spouse performed better in the presence of their dog than their spouse. Possible mechanisms: daily walking, emotional attachment, silent “listener”, petting=happiness, socializing w/ people because your dog attracts them. Except for scary dogs, people will smile and chat more if you have one, than if you carry a teddy bear or plant.

Cats also made people less depressed but didn’t give the same mood-boosting effect as dogs. This inclines me to believe that socializing with humans is one of the most likely mechanisms behind the dog treatment.

Correlation: cat owners are more likely to die in the year following a heart attack. Dog owners are more likely to live (maybe not causation).

Females sitting with a dog get more passerby-attention in a park than those blowing bubbles or watching TV.

Seniors in retirement homes with a robot toy dog (AIBO) had their loneliness treated as well as by a real dog.

Videos of cute animals help people relax.


I’ve noted before that many studies show that drinkers live longer, and that it may even be causal (many, but not all, alternate correlated causes have been controlled for). One of the strongest uncontrolled-for confounds is that people who drink more tend to socialize more, which is known to be extremely health-promoting.

Further, part of the stress, insecurity, and inhibition reduction behind drinking is pure placebo effect and priming. A control group given placebo alcoholic groups at a bar showed similar (negative) drunk-markers as those given real alcohol. Presumably some of the positive ones hold as well (it’s well known that most uses of modern drugs are effective mainly as a placebo; the difference between traditional and modern medicine is that the modern procedure is sometimes actually necessary and effective beyond placebo).


It helps if you believe exercise helps.

Hotel employees who clean rooms get a decent amount of exercise. Telling them how many calories various activities burned caused them to lose weight (without making them report exercising more outside of their job, or changing dietary/drug habits). This is somewhat mysterious, but for sure they identified (compared to the control group) with being people who had all sorts of healthy exercise in their life, which either boosted their spontaneous physical activity (at job or otherwise), or otherwise acted as a powerful placebo medication promoting weight loss and lowered blood pressure (often considered a proxy for stress). It probably made them feel slightly better about their job.

So, you can make a list of time spent on average in various calorie-burning everyday activities. That might help you feel better about your life, or somehow derive more actual exercise benefits in your usual routine. e.g. walking, biking, housework, shopping, reading, sitting (yes, this burns calories; even sleeping does), sex, driving, talking on the phone, showering, standing, playing, etc (all of these are in the range of 1-10 cal/minute)