Dialing back stress with a bubble bath, beach trip and bees

Standing in the middle of a swarm of bees might not be your idea of stress relief, but it works for Ray Von Culin. He's a beekeeper in Washington, D.C., and he says caring for bees is one of the most relaxing things in his life.

We ran into Von Culin as we were canvassing the National Mall, microphones in hand, asking people how they deal with stress. The responses ran the gamut: from bubble baths to recreational drug use, from "staring at candles" to "hiking the entire Appalachian Trail."

Everyone had some sort of answer for us. Everyone — regardless of age or origin — had a strategy for getting rid of stress.

Of course, scientists are quick to point out that banishing stress entirely would be a big problem. "Our bodies respond to stress in order to literally keep us alive," says Bruce McEwen, head of the neuroendocrinology laboratory at Rockefeller University. Stress raises our heart rate and ramps our immune systems to prepare for injury and danger. "The problem is if we don't turn those responses off efficiently when the danger is over ... they can cause damage," McEwen says. So how do people turn off their stress response? We heard from a few people out on the National Mall, but we also took a more rigorous scientific approach. NPR teamed up with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health to ask more than 2,500 Americans about the ways they relieve stress.

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Socializing topped the list of stress reducers for those dealing with a great deal of stress, with about 7 in 10 respondents saying they spend time with family and friends to deal with stress. Just under 6 in 10 said they regularly prayed or meditated. And about half of respondents also tried exercising, eating healthful food and playing with pets.

According to the poll, spending time outdoors wasn't the most popular chill pill, but it was the most powerful for those with a high level of stress. Ninety-four percent of those who spent time outdoors said it was an effective way to reduce stress. That rang true for the people we met on the National Mall. They mentioned trips to the ocean, naps by a lake and watching the leaves change color in the fall.

Only 46 percent of those surveyed said they pursued a hobby to try to relieve stress, but 93 percent of those who did said it was effective. Many on the Mall endorsed the calming power of hobbies including beekeeper Von Culin.

We handed his answer (and a few of our other favorites) over to animator Avi Ofer. He brought their anecdotes to life in the video at the top of this page. We hope it inspires you to find new ways to beat the stress in your life. And don't worry. Not all of the stress-relief strategies in the video involve stinging insects. Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.