Does Clenching Your Fist Really Make You Feel Better?

While clenched fists and gritted teeth may seem like the anger response of a toddler, new research suggests this reaction can set you at ease.

In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research that was conducted at National University of Singapore and the University of Chicago, participants were better able to withstand physical pain when clenching their muscles—squeezing their fists, clenching their teeth, or scrunching facial muscles. What's more, when faced with a particularly stressful dilemma, most participants firmed their muscles in order to exert inner will-power. 

Researchers believe this phenomenon is the physical manifestation of coping with inner turmoil. So, the act of biting your lip instead of lashing out at your boss when she chastises you in front of the office is really your subconscious' way of keep a cool head. 

Other Easy Means of Stress Reduction 

Scrunching, tensing, clenching, and gritting aren't the only simple ways to overcome momentary stressors. When faced with a predicament: 

1. Take a deep breath. When you're under stress, your breathing becomes shallow and quickened. Pausing and taking a few deep, lung-filling breaths will actually begin the body's relaxation process. 

2. Hug it out. Yes, this tip won't fit for every situation; however, research suggests that holding hands or hugging can greatly reduce stress. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison analyzed the stress levels of volunteers giving a presentation. Those who received a hug afterward were found to have less cortisol, the stress hormone, an hour later than those who did not. 

3. Talk it out. No, this doesn't mean losing your cool on coworkers or loved ones. The act of constructive communication, expressing your feelings of frustration, is essential to avoiding prolonged hostility and will provide you with a voice in the matter. 

4. Take a walk. Exercise has long been touted as a healthy way to cope with stress. Still, a three-mile stroll isn't applicable to most stress-inducing situations. Simply walking away from what's causing you anxiety can help. Removing yourself and being able to tackle the issue with a clear mind can work wonders when trying to put your mind at ease.

5. Write it down. Journaling is one of the most effective and most overlooked methods of coping with stress. Be it the stress of dieting or anxiety caused by work, writing down and thinking through your problems can help add clarity to any predicament.



Journal of Consumer Research, April 2011, 
By Iris W. Hung; Aparna A. Labroo; National University of Singapore and the University of Chicago, Illinois

University of Maryland Medical Center. "Stress-Lifestyle Changes."