More

6 scientifically proven ways to have a better day.

Life can be a little overwhelming at times. Fortunately, science has your back!

6 scientifically proven ways to have a better day.

We all experience stress, and it can actually be a good thing. But too much can take a pretty big toll.

A recent video from TED-Ed explains what happens to your body when its exposed to too much stress for too long. Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist lays out the ins and outs of chronic stress. Long story made short: Too much stress can have potentially deadly effects on the body.

Chronic stress can lead to hypertension, cholesterol plaque buildup, increased chance of heart attacks, increased chance of stroke, irritable bowel syndrome, a weakened immune system, and even DNA-level changes that can shorten your lifespan.


But there's no need to worry! Here are six scientifically-proven methods to reduce stress.

1. Breathe deeply.

Stress causes you to breathe shallower and quicker. Luckily, your body is gullible — you can actually trick it into calming down by breathing more deeply and slowly. Taking slow, deep breaths can help temporarily lower your heart rate and blood pressure!

In. Out. In. Out. Illustrations by Kitty Curran/Upworthy.

2. Squeeeeeze ... and relax.

Subconsciously tensing your muscles is not only a common reaction to stress, but it can also make you feel worse. The key here, then, is to take control of this reaction by clenching and releasing your muscles. A few seconds at a time, go through each area of your body, from head to toe.

Make a fist. Release that fist. Repeat!

This will keep your muscles from straining for an extended period of time and will bring you closer to relaxation. By doing this, you can experience improved mood and lower stress levels.

3. Listen to classical music.

Classical music featuring slower rhythms was found to reduce stress and promote long-term heart health! It's not really super surprising to learn that soothing music can have soothing effects on your well-being, so go on and give it a shot.

Here I am! Rock you like a stress-reducing hurricane!

4. Go for a quick stroll.

Moderate exercise like walking has been shown to significantly reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Too much cortisol, as we learned in the TED-Ed video above, is no good.

The same study found that practicing moving meditation like tai chi has similar benefits!

Around four miles per hour is ideal (just keep it brisk).

5. Grab a book (and read it).

Reading is fundamental! It's also a great way to relax your mind and body. So if you're feeling stressed, try grabbing a book, curling up in a comfy chair, and giving your mind a quick distraction from whatever's got you feeling tense. Go on, give it a try!

You're always welcome to read longer than six minutes.

6. Make friends with your stress.

If you can't beat it, join it! As we learned in the video above, stress doesn't have to be a bad thing.

A recent Harvard study showed that participants who were taught that stress could actually help them complete tough tasks were less anxious and more confident than a control group. Physically, their blood vessels remained relaxed — a much healthier state.

Or, if not friends, then at least frenemies.

If you're finding yourself overwhelmed on a daily basis, though, please see a doctor.

These tips are meant to help out if you're having a rough day and need to feel better quickly. If you're experiencing severe anxiety or depression, it's best to make an appointment with your doctor to come up with a long-term stress-reduction plan.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less