11 Drug-Free Ways to Feel Better

Incorporate these drug-free strategies into your daily treatment regimen to help relieve arthritis symptoms and improve your overall wellness.

Drug-free Ways to Feel Better
Many choices you make for comfort or pleasure – such as tuning in to music or hugging your partner – can significantly impact how you feel and function, according to research. Tapping into the five senses you rely on every day – sight, touch, sound, taste and smell – can help relieve arthritis symptoms and improve your overall wellness. These drug-free strategies make a welcome addition to any treatment regimen.
1. Picture of Happiness
Looking at favorite photos is an instant mood booster. A study published in the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine found that even critically ill patients have less anxiety when they regularly see pictures of scenes and people they love.
2. Topicals
Over-the-counter topicals can help to ease joint pain. Popular ingredients include capsaicin, menthol and camphor. Capsaicin topicals produce a mild tingling, burning sensation. It works by blocking pain signals to your nerves and is recommended for knee pain. Menthol and camphor products don’t affect pain signals or inflammation, but rather work by producing a cooling sensation to distract from pain.
3. Let the Sun In
People exposed to natural sunlight after surgery used 21% less pain medication than patients in sunless rooms, according to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine. “It isn’t just vitamin D or warmth,” says Judy Fulop, an integrative medicine specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “Seeing sunlight causes chemical changes that thwart stress and decrease pain.”
4. Here’s the Rub
A30-minute massage can lower the body’s levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can increase inflammatory response. Also, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed other benefits: People with knee arthritis had more flexibility and range of motion and less pain after once- or twice-weekly Swedish massages for a few months.
5. Hug Somebody
“A firm hug stimulates pressure receptors in the body that reduce levels of stress hormones,” says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Lowering your body’s stress hormones helps reduce your risks of getting sick or having an arthritis flare.
6. Silent Serenity
Try to avoid loud, jarring or consistent, irritating noises, which increase cortisol levels, according to a study published in Noise & Health. Some hospitals are paying attention to the research and have adopted “quiet halls” policies to reduce unnecessary noise.
7. Soothing Sounds
Individuals with chronic pain who listened to an hour of music daily experienced as much as 21% less pain and 25% less depression, and they felt 18% less disabled than they had before, according to a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
8. Good-mood Food
“Foods associated with good memories – like soup that your mother would prepare when you were sick – can trigger the release of pleasure-inducing brain chemicals such as endorphins, which may also facilitate healing,” says Marcia L. Pelchat, PhD, a sensory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Don’t overdo it with your sister’s macaroni and cheese, though. Let small servings do the trick.
9. Tasty Treats
Research presented at a 2012 American Chemical Society conference revealed that chemical compounds that give flavor to chocolate, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and other berries are structurally similar to valproic acid – a common prescription mood-stabilizing drug. But tasty foods can’t replace your prescription meds and other recommendations from your doctor.
10. Fragrant Relief
Dozens of studies have shown that the scent of lavender reduces stress, in part by lowering cortisol levels in the body. “The best exposure is by sniffing a fresh sprig of lavender or a few drops of essential lavender oil on a cotton ball for two to three minutes,” says Susan M. Shields, a registered nurse and certified aromatherapy expert at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth.
11. Mint Condition
In ongoing studies, researchers have tied peppermint to greater alertness and energy, which might be especially helpful for people dealing with fatigue of fibromyalgia fog. “Inhalation of peppermint causes [an] increase in activity in the part of the brain that puts us to sleep at night and wakes us up in the morning. Thus, the greater amount of stimulation leads to more attention and energy,” says lead study author Bryan Raudenbush, PhD, Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

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