Before we had modern luxuries such as television, warm baths and queen-sized beds, we were living in caves, hunted by dangerous animals and fighting the elements. We didn’t have mirrors, so we didn’t really care about what we looked like, we were much too busy trying to survive to worry about bullying and the only time we were in a state of stress was when we were running away from danger. Which is where our ‘fight or flight’ response was born.
During a bout of panic, our hypothalamus tells our adrenal glands to release the stress hormones - adrenaline and cortisol, to help our muscles and important organs to get our bodies moving, so we can run away from the threat.
When the fear is gone, our hypothalamus tells our system we can go back to normal, and we calm down.
In the modern world, danger and fear can come in many forms and that sudden fight or flight response can continue for hours, maybe days. While the response was built in to assist us in fighting fear, it wasn’t meant to be a part of our everyday life, which is why stress is so dangerous for our bodies and minds.
With our increasingly connected world, we are now more aware than ever about what people think of us (thanks social media) and how we are perceived by the rest of the world. Life has become increasingly more stressful and more people are taking stress leave or anti-anxiety medication, in order to try and get back on track.
While there are many reasons why people get stressed, there are many ways to combat or at least assist with calming the nerves down, including yoga, pilates, massages, a good holiday and participating in an enjoyable activity. In a world where stress is one of the major reasons behind many of our health issues, it’s worth having a look at alternative ways to deal with it.
Fighting stress around the world
For centuries, people have been trying to find ways to combat stress and countries all over the world have very interesting and, in some instances, downright strange ways to deal with their emotions.
Travel to Japan and you might be interested in giving Shinrin-yoku (the art of forest bathing) a try. Forest bathing is an incredibly popular way of destressing and getting closer to the earth mother. In order to partake in Shinrin-yoku, all you need to do is walk through a forest and deliberately breathe in the air. It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and researchers from Japan and South Korea believe the chance to reintroduce yourself into nature is an excellent way to reduce stressors.
Everyone knows that laughter is the best medicine and in the mid 1990s, Doctor Madan Kataria took the idea that step further, with the invention of laughter yoga (Hasyayoga). The idea began in a park near his home in Mumbai, where he invited four complete strangers to join him and tell jokes and funny stories. Within a few weeks, more people joined the group and it quickly became a popular pastime all over the country and once the rich and famous got interested in it, the idea spread all over the world.
And if you are stuck for things to make you laugh, why not take a trip to the United Kingdom and check out the ‘World Gurning Championships’, which has been celebrated since 1267. The competition includes a group of participants trying to make the most grotesque face possible. In fact, four-time world champion Peter Jackman even removed all of his teeth, in order to really do the job well.
While most of us have been in a spa, or bath at least once in our lives, there are some countries that take the concept a step further. While in Scandinavian countries, you might find people enjoying saunas and spas in the freezing cold, there are spa lovers in Japan who love nothing more than to sit in hot wine or coffee and relax the day or night away. Yunessun is a resort near Mount Fuji, in Japan and is renowned for its amusement baths which are filled with a range of different liquids including red wine, sake, coffee or green tea. Obviously, the contents of the baths are not meant for drinking but a fun way for people to relax and enjoy the benefits in a weird and wonderful way. Korean Han jeung mak is also a popular way to chill out, where you are given a potato sack-like blanket to wear, then told to sweat out your worries in a stone hut.
Beauty treatments with a difference
Japanese Geisha girls are renowned for their beauty, but you may not be so keen to emulate them when you hear their beauty routines included massaging the droppings from a Nightingale bird all over their face. In China, it is also popular to use sheep placenta to reinvigorate ageing skin.
While acupuncture is becoming more and more popular in the western world, other relaxation techniques might take a while to catch on. These include Gua Sha, which is practiced in China, Vietnam and Indonesia. The practice involves the practitioner scraping a spoon or similar implement down your back, which leaves bruising that is said to release toxins. Shirodhara is another interesting relaxation technique which involves dropping hot oil into the ‘third eye’ or on to your forehead. While it might seem like a torture technique, it is actually meant to open the third eye and release tension.
Hanging out with friends and family
In Sweden, it’s popular to enjoy ‘fika’ which translates to having coffee with friends. Many warmer European countries, like Spain and Italy are often very quiet during lunch hours, with many shops closing for an hour so that families can relax together and enjoy a siesta. Meanwhile in the Pacific Islands, the chance to relax while enjoying Kava, which is prepared by chewing or drinking the Kava root. In Vanuatu, a strong kava drink is normally followed by a hot meal or tea, which absorbs the psychoactives that are part of the food. Fijian people share the drink in the half-shell of a coconut and refer to the drink as ‘grog’.
So next time you’re feeling the pressure of modern life, and the thought that summer holidays are 10 months away!, give thought to these strange and wonderful practices from around the world, they might just be the key to a more relaxed and healthy way of life.