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I've Tried 100+ Stress-Relief Products — Here's What Actually Worked

Some of the best results came from the simplest tools.
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Don't hate me, but as a journalist, I get access to quite a lot of free products. Pre-pandemic that included luxury items including a Casper mattress and Carol bike. But since March 2019, all of the freebies have been gadgets and gizmos designed to help people "re-find joy in quarantine," "reduce stress through sex," and "beat the quarantine blues."

Being the stressed and selfless reviewer/writer that I am, I've given them all a whirl. Read on for a list of the best stress-relief products that actually work, based on my personal experience. I have high hopes they can help you, too.

For the Record: Everyone Is Stressed TF Out

First, know that if the pandemic has turned you into a Certified Stress Case, you're far from alone. "The novel coronavirus has been shown to be one of the most stressful times for people in our history," says Courtney Glashow, L.C.S.W., founder and psychotherapist of Anchor Therapy LLC.

Indeed, a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association reported the average stress levels during the pandemic have been higher than the previous year. More specifically, 84 percent of adults reported feeling at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress in a prior two-week period, including anxiety (47 percent), sadness (44 percent) and anger (39 percent). Two-thirds of adults reported feeling overwhelmed by the number of issues facing the country. (Related: A Grief Expert's Take On Pandemic Anxiety)

The reason these stats are so darn high is at least partially because we're not talking about regular old stress, folks. The pandemic has is the catalyst for a special kind of stress known as "survival stress."

"People have lost their jobs or are worried about losing their jobs," says explains Aimee Barr, L.C.S.W., Brooklyn-based psychotherapist. "People are worried about their ability to put food on the table. Many people have lost almost all semblance of normalcy." And stress around these essential needs can lead to survival stress, which is essentially stress to the nth degree, says Barr. (On another note, you may also be experiencing health anxiety.)

Now more than a year into the pandemic, people may have developed new routines around these circumstances, "but people's high-stress levels have not decreased — they're still at an all-time high," says Glashow. IDK about you, but that's certainly true for me… or, at least, it was until I tried some of these useful products. (See: Here's How Working Out Can Make You More Resilient to Stress)

Stress-Relief Products That Actually Work

Remember that "we're all different so the ways we manage our stress levels are likely going to be different," says Barr. Still, if you've been searching high and low for a way to manage your stress and anxiety, consider trying some habits or gadgets of your own. IMHO, most of the stress-relieving products I've tried during this past year did absolutely nada — but the below handful actually worked.

For a Dose of Dopamine & Oxytocin: A New Vibe

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Credit: Babeland

You bet your cute butt I'm talking about masturbating. Throughout the pandemic I've reinvested in my, ahem, "winding down time" — and not only because I'm my safest sex partner, as the New York City Health Department so eloquently put it.

"Masturbating can bring you pleasure and can bring you a rush of feel-good hormones and chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin" that give stress the finger, says clinical sexologist Megan Stubbs, Ed.D, author of the forthcoming book Playing Without a Partner: A Singles' Guide to Sex, Dating, and Happiness. While that feel-good rush can come whether you do it the old-fashioned way with your hand or get new-agey with a toy, using a vibrator can be a fun way to reinvent the wheel, adds Stubbs.

"After a year of masturbating the same old way, you may want to switch it up," she says. I jazzed it up by trying my hand (pun intended) at a variety of vibrators including the Lori DiCarlo Filare (Buy it, $170, babeland.com), Maude Drop (Buy It, $45, getmaude.com), and the Fun Factory Sun Daze Thrusting Vibrator (Buy it, $190, babeland.com).

But my favorite of all has been the Le Wand Petite Glimmer Limited Edition (Buy it, $175, babeland.com). Why? Mainly because it's sparkly and I'm a Glitter Gay (#ifyouknowyouknow). And also because the 10 different vibration settings span from oh-so-light to lawnmower level, and I personally love a vibrator with range. (Here are a few more wand vibrators that would also make excellent stress-relief products.)

For a Night of Stress-Relieving Romance: Massage Candle

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Credit: Maude

At the start of the pandemic when everyone was getting into sourdough starter kits and crochet hobbies, I tried getting into baths. After a lifetime of being Bath Neutral, I was convinced the pandemic was just what I needed to get into the whole "sitting in my own filth" thing.

But after nearly two-dozen baths cut short by my own impatience and boredom, I realized that it's not the bath I liked about these little self-care sessions (TBH, I hate bathing, in general). Rather, it's the post-bath rubdown with my Maude Moisturizing Candle: Burn No. 1 (Buy it, $25, getmaude.com) I enjoyed so much.

Blended with warming notes of amber, cedar leaf, lemongrass, tonka bean, and Medjool date, this candle-turned-moisturizing cream makes me smell like the kinda girl who lives in Park Slope and collects little baby cacti, and I'm OBSESSED.

Beyond just loving Burn No. 1, I also find that rubbing it on my body helps melt away stress. Stubbs says this makes sense. "Anytime we romance ourselves, we create an opportunity to relieve stress arises," she says. (See: How to Date Yourself During Quarantine — Or Anytime)

To Quiet Brain Chatter: A Blank Notebook

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Credit: Amazon

Shame has kept me from owning up to this until now: I'm a writer who doesn't keep a journal. But then the pandemic started, and in a moment of despair, I bought a notebook to brain-dump said despair into. And thank god I did because "for some people, journaling can make a significant impact on their mental health," says Glashow. Apparently, I'm one of those people!

If you're going to journal to free the stress or worries in your mind as I do, she recommends not re-reading it afterward. "This kind of journaling is to sort through what's on your mind, and then it allows you to dump it out so that you can move on with your day," she says. "You don't want to bring that back into your mind after this positive activity."

My go-to journal is the blank-paged Moleskine Classic (Buy it, $20, amazon.com). "But other people prefer guided journaling," says Glashow. If that's you, check out The Morning Sidekick (Buy it, $25, amazon.com) or the I'm So Freaking Freaked Out Knock Knock Journal (Buy it, $15, amazon.com). (See More: Bullet Journals That Will Make Your Type-A Heart Skip A Beat)

To Track Stress Levels: Recovery Fitness Tracker

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Credit: Whoop

Buy It: WHOOP Strap 3.0, $30/month (6-month minimum), whoop.com

Generally speaking, I love fitness trackers, and while I still love my Apple Watch, Garmin ForeRunner 645, and Garmin Fenix 6, there's one wrist gadget that's been essential for helping me manage my stress levels in quarantine specifically: WHOOP.

A high-end fitness tracker, WHOOP tracks most of the usual data you'd expect, such as heart rate, sleep, and calories burned. But the reason I love it is that it also measures something called "daily strain" and "recovery," which sets it apart from other trackers on the market. By compiling your heart rate variability (HRV), current heart rate, and sleep data, the wearable gives you a strain score of 1 to 21, designed to help you essentially quantify how hard the day/week/month has been on your body. It also gives you a recovery score of 1 to 100 to show you how prepared your body is for exertion, such as through exercise. (Learn more: Is the Whoop Worth the Big Price Tag?)

At the start of the pandemic, these metrics allowed me to see that even though my at-home workouts were less intense compared to my pre-pandemic CrossFit WODs, the overall day strain on my body was higher due to the amount of COVID-induced stress I was under. And that info ultimately encouraged me to do more things that lowered my strain, including going to bed at the same time every night. (Related: Why You Might Want to Cool It On High-Intensity Workouts During the COVID Crisis)

Kristen Holmes, the vice president of performance science at WHOOP says users noticed these benefits. "Generally speaking, folks got less healthy during the pandemic, but WHOOP users became healthier because they knew where their body stood due to data, and they were able to double-down on the behaviors that help them stay on track," explains Holmes.

I'd recommend WHOOP to any athlete or exerciser who is motivated by data and curious how stress (from the pandemic or otherwise) is negatively impacting some of their measures of health.

To Distract Yourself: A Puzzle Book

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Credit: Barnes and Noble

"We all need things to direct our energy to right now, " says Barr. For some people, that's been knitting and for others, that's been learning a new language, she says. But for me, that has been doing brain puzzles.

Instead of doomscrolling on Twitter or turning on CNN, every night before bed, I pull out a book of sudoku (Buy it, $13, barnesandnoble.com) and do a puzzle. Beyond just keeping me off my phone, I find this practice of repeating the number 1 through 9 over and over again beyond soothing.

It's worth mentioning that I've found jigsaw puzzles to be as helpful as sudoku puzzles, so if you're more of a picture person and less of a number person, give it a whirl.

Another Thing to Try? Therapy.

Products aside — because, I'll say it, you can't purchase your way to better mental health — another thing that's helped me get through the pandemic is therapy. (See: Why Everyone Should Try Therapy at Least Once)

"Therapy is a great place to process and come up with coping strategies to move through transition and periods of pain," says Barr. And, yes, the pandemic qualifies as a period of pain. "I'm not one to speak in generalities, but I really think everyone who's lived through the pandemic could benefit from working with a therapist right now."

I found my therapist by searching for queer-friendly therapists in my area on Psychology Today. But for people for whom therapy doesn't feel accessible to, there are plenty of more affordable offerings and apps