Stress is a natural (and important) part of the human experience. We all experience stress at some level on a regular basis. Some stressors are relatively minor (like realizing you left your full coffee on top of your car). Other stressors are more intense and have greater impacts on our lives (like the decade that was 2020). Because these experiences are both inevitable and - by their nature - surprises, how we deal with them is crucial to our overall well-being - both our physical and mental health.
Having a robust collection of stress-relieving practices is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and teach our students. The self-care movement has been underway for a while now, giving us plenty of ideas. But a group of researchers in the UK found that just six minutes of reading proved most effective at reducing stress - by over two thirds. Reading was better than playing video games, having a cup of tea, or even taking a walk!
A Little Science
If that first parenthetical above gave you pause, let's rewind to high school biology for a second. Cortisol is the body's primary stress hormone. That sounds like a bad thing, but cortisol actually does a lot of helpful things like regulating blood pressure, keeping inflammation in check, and helping to return your body back to normal functions after a stressful event. However, in times of high or sustained stress, cortisol levels can spike or remain elevated. In those cases, our carefully regulated bodies can get less comfortable, and sustained high cortisol levels can lead to some dangerous symptoms. Don't worry, these things are relatively rare, but even the average discomfort of elevated post-stressor cortisol levels is something most of us would like to decrease or avoid.
The Surprising Power of Stories
As mentioned, a quick Google of any number of stress related phrases will yield all kinds of suggestions for reducing cortisol levels and general stress management. One of the most frequent suggestions is reading. Getting lost in a good story helps your brain disengage from the stressful event - even if only momentarily. Taking that mental mini-vacation can be enough to reduce your heart rate, relax your muscles, and help you to refocus.
If the immediate physical and mental effects aren't enough to convince you, consider some of the longer term ways stories can support your well-being. Good stories stick with us and our brains revisit them, giving us fresh ways to perceive the world, and in the case of fiction - maybe entire new worlds. These help us to make different connections in our daily lives and even make new connections with others. We've written before about the link between fiction and empathy. Stories help us to see and feel the world through others' eyes. But even after we've set aside our stories for the moment, we can continue to engage with that content. Stories expose us to new cultures, cuisines, and customs we might not experience otherwise. The excitement of making new-to-us discoveries is a great way to reduce stress.
Choose Your Own
Reading to reduce stress should be fun. If you're a fiction lover, start with stories featuring familiar themes, settings, or characters. Series are great for stress relief because they generally incorporate many constants while introducing new elements of excitement in each installment. If you're more of a nonfiction fan, there are countless self-help and educational titles. Regardless of your stressor, there's sure to be a title that addresses it. Some of us are just looking for a little comfort, and for that there are nonfiction, feel-good stories of triumph, survival, and just people being kind to one another.
Here are some links to titles that might be good places to start your reading for stress relief journey. Let us know in the comments or on social media if you try any of these! We'd also love to hear your pro stress-relieving tips!
The Cookie Cobbler Caper by Amy Thompson
Christmas cookie baking and storytelling in July?! It's always a good time for a merry tale about a worried shoemaker who awakens one morning to find his luck has finally changed! How did a perfectly pair of stitched shoes magically appear on his workbench? When he and his wife hide in the cupboard to find the answer, they catch a glimpse of the clever cobblers: two tiny elves who are going through hard times too! Grateful for their new-found fortune, the duo devises a plan to create a holiday miracle for their crafty companions. This episode talks about gratitude, appreciating others strengths and generosity, and the benefits of collaboration.
Maybe A Mermaid by Josephine Cameron
A summer romp full of mystery, new friends, and maybe a mermaid! Eleven-year-old Anthoni Gillis is not the kind of kid who believes in fairies, unicorns, or even the word "maybe." She's more of a comic-books girl. So when her mom brings her to Thunder Lake for a summer at the Showboat Resort, she doesn't believe the local rumors about the Boulay Mermaid. Anthoni has bigger fish to fry. She's always wanted a True Blue Friend. But it's been hard to find one, since for the past five years she's been bouncing from town to town, helping her mother sell cosmetic products to keep them both afloat. This summer will be different, though. Anthoni has a plan - there won't be any maybes this time. But as she grows entangled in local gossip, and her mother stretches the truth, Anthoni must decide if she'll "stick to the plan," like always, or dive into a summer full of extraordinary possibilities.
Monday: Into the Cave of Thieves by Ralph Lazar
It REALLY annoys me when one gets into a Total Mayhem Situation before breakfast. Which is exactly what happened to me this morning. And I was still in my pajamas! When the forces of chaos interrupt the most important meal of Dash's day and conspire against him, his friends, his school, his town, and indeed the entire planet, Dash needs to take things into his own hands, and some crazy stuff starts to happen.
Magic Puppy (Books 1-3) by Sue Bentley
Storm is a magic puppy who uses his spells wherever they are needed most. Can one magic puppy make three wishes come true? Follow Storm and friends in this collection of the first three books in the series. In A New Beginning, Lily wants a pony of her own, but when she meets a golden retriever with sparkling midnight-blue eyes she soon embarks on an unexpected adventure. In Muddy Paws, a black-and-white collie pup turns Beth's bummer summer into a fun-filled vacation. In Cloud Capers, Jessica is really disappointed she can't sleepover with her best friend, until a fluffy Jack Russell puppy magically appears.
Death by French Roast (Book 8: Bookstore Cafe Mystery) by Alex Erickson
Krissy Hancock runs a bookstore-cafe in Pine Hills, Ohio, but she'll be setting up shop as a sleuth when she discovers a long-unsolved murder . . . Krissy's helping a friend clean out her late mother's house when she learns that although the deceased died peacefully at an advanced age, her brother did not. Wade was killed more than thirty years ago, and the case was never closed. What surprises Krissy even more is that she has a personal connection to the story-her friend Rita was seeing Wade at the time, scandalizing the town with the couple's large age difference. With an older Rita now part of Krissy's writing group-and another member with police experience-she starts digging up gossip, talking to the victim's local coffee klatsch, and trying to find real clues amid the old rumors. But things just seem to grow muddier as she fights to identify whodunit . . .
The Future of Science is Female by Zara Stone
Take a look at what the future holds-and how women are making it better. In The Future of Science is Female, author Zara Stone shares the fascinating, complicated stories of how a diverse group of powerful women got started-from the perspective of those still working it out as they go along. Take 22-year old Dominique Barnes, a female hero of the oceans. She was worried about all the dolphins and whales killed during shrimp farming, so the marine biologist created a tasty, affordable plant-based shrimp alternative. And she's just one of the sheroes you will discover in The Future of Science is Female. Real encouragement and inspiration for today's amazing girls. The Future of Science is Female inspires future female founders of the world to turn their dreams into reality.
From Fatigued to Fantastic! (4th Edition) by Jacob Teitelbaum
For the millions of Americans who suffer from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and other fatigue-related illnesses, there is only one bestselling guide - From Fatigued to Fantastic. Dr. Teitelbaum's integrated treatment program is based on the clinically proven results of his landmark study and on his more than thirty years of experience in working with patients to overcome their illnesses. Using the most current information, Dr. Teitelbaum helps his listeners evaluate their symptoms and develop an individualized program to eliminate them. Specific guidelines for diagnosis and care are clearly and concisely presented, along with supporting scientific studies and treatment recommendations that include the latest and best strategies for using prescription and over-the-counter medications, nutritional supplements, alternative therapies, and/or dietary and lifestyle modifications.
Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin - How to Recognize and Set Healthy Boundaries by Anne Katherine, MA
Have you recently walked away from a date or a conversation feeling uncomfortable or violated? Are you looking for ways to set limits with your spouse, kids, parents, or boss? This essential guide to setting and respecting boundaries is for anyone wanting to better understand themselves and others. Drawing on decades of personal and professional experience as a therapist-as well as stories from others who have learned how to heal from serious boundary violations-Anne Katherine, MA, brings us an invaluable, foundational guide on the who, what, and why of boundaries. With nearly 100,000 copies sold, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin has already helped thousands of readers stand up for themselves and nurture healthier relationship
In A Year of Living Kindly - using stories, observation, humor, and summaries of expert research - Donna Cameron shares her experience committing to 365 days of practicing kindness. She presents compelling research into the myriad benefits of kindness, including health, wealth, longevity, improved relationships, and personal and business success. She explores what a kind life entails, and what gets in the way of it. She provides practical suggestions for how each of us can strengthen our kindness muscle so choosing a life of kindness becomes easier and more natural. A Year of Living Kindly shines a light on how we can create a better, safer, and more just world-and how you can be part of that transformation.