If you’ve been feeling more stressed recently, you’re not alone. In the annual Stress in America survey conducted by The Harris Poll, researchers noted that the level of stress in America is reaching unprecedented levels. “Essentially, we are walking, talking pressure cookers of stress with no outlet of release,” says Matt Cardone, a Palm Beach Gardens–based meditation expert. “Anytime we are unable to adapt to a demand in a real-time circumstance, we incur stress. It can be tremendously destructive.” Everyone responds to stress differently, and finding the right therapy to help relieve your stress is key to good mental and physical health. Luckily, new methods are popping up all the time, and many of these therapies are offered right here in our area. Here are seven alternative stress relievers to try today.
For Barbara Spaulding, a Stuart-based master sound healer, relieving stress is about changing our brain rhythms. Spaulding uses sound therapy to realign brain waves on a cellular level. “Everything in the universe is vibrating, and everything has its own unique frequency,” Spaulding explains. Sound therapy uses musical instruments, sounds, and vibrations to adjust a person’s brain waves to an optimal level. Says Spaulding: “Our goal is to train the frequencies of body and brain to a healthy level.”
Keith Cini, owner of Agape Healing Arts in Tequesta, describes sound therapy as “harmonizing the vibration in our own body.” Lately, he says he has seen an influx of people looking for stress relief. “People are trying to gather tools to help themselves,” says Cini, who uses items such as tuning forks and Tibetan healing bowls in his practice.
Spaulding and Cini encourage patients to use sound therapy at home. “Once we determine a person’s home note or soul note, they can buy a bowl that plays that note,” says Spaulding. Over time, the stronger, more consistent frequency will overcome the lesser, weaker frequency that leads to stress.
At Hopes, Dreams, and Horses in Jupiter, founder Susan Copeland helps with stress-related issues using equine psychotherapy known as the EAGALA model. This team approach pairs Copeland, an equine specialist, with Jennifer Castellanos, an EAGALA-certified therapist, to help people work through life struggles by
interacting with horses.
Copeland explains that since horses communicate mainly through body language, they are highly in tune with emotional vibrations. “They seem to know exactly how to behave to open up one’s own ability to find solutions to troubling conditions,” she says. Copeland recalls a woman who suffered from PTSD and severe anxiety. Shortly into her session, the horses started exhibiting behavior reminiscent of the woman’s life. “I remember all three of us having goosebumps and her asking, ‘How do you make them do that?’ Our answer was, ‘We don’t.’”
At Harmony Hope Stables in Palm City, founder Kristi Huddleston harnesses the power of horses and combines it with music to help children. She started the Harmony & Horses program after experiencing the healing power of horses and music firsthand. “Both have played a role in my own journey in life,” she says, noting that something as simple as grooming a horse can have a calming effect on a child.
“Horses are highly intuitive around humans and their emotions,” she explains. “If you’re stressed, a horse will reflect that back at you. Horses need humans to be calm.” Music is integrated into the program through group music therapy, music classes, and daily music experiences that even the horses get in on. Huddleston recounts the story of how one horse helped a child who was having trouble calming down. “I called [our horse] Harmony over, and she went right over to one of the guitars and started strumming the strings with her teeth,” she says, noting that the child immediately started laughing.
In addition to horses, all kinds of animals can play a big role in stress relief—especially dogs. At Jupiter-based Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch, they offer a program called Shelter to Service Dog, which provides canine companions to veterans to help with issues like PTSD. “With dogs, there is no judgment,” says Curry Krasulak, Furry Friends’ director of development. “Whether you leave the house for five hours or five days, it’s the same to them. They give unconditional love.” Krasulak says their dogs are trained to meet the needs of each individual veteran. For example, a dog may be trained to stand behind its owner or “block” to prevent people from getting too close, a big cause of stress and anxiety in many people with PTSD.
Tisha Knickerbocker, dog training coordinator for the Shelter to Service Dog Program, has a service dog herself. “She has literally saved my life,” she says of Cuse, the German Shepard who has been at her side since 2013. Knickerbocker served as a U.S. Marine from 2010 to 2014 and now trains dogs at the Furry Friends 27-acre ranch in Palm City. “Petting a dog lowers cortisol (the stress hormone), so just the presence of a dog makes a vet feel comforted,” she says. “I give back now hoping to give others the same experience I’ve had.”
Comfort and relaxation are two of the biggest benefits of float therapy, a sensory deprivation experience that takes place in a float tank. Matt Ringler, owner of True REST Float Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, has been reaping the benefits himself for years. “I began floating five and a half years ago for my own stress and sleep issues,” he says.
Floating at True REST involves entering a “float pod” filled with water and dissolved Epsom salts. You control your own experience, choosing silence or music, darkness or light, and closed lid or open lid. The goal, explains Ringler, is to reduce external stimuli to lower the brain’s production of stress hormones, allowing for increased production of hormones like melatonin and neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins that make you feel good. Float pods are low-gravity, so the near-weightlessness of the environment relaxes the body as well as the mind, elongating the spine and easing neck and back pain. “I find stress, pain, and inflammation often go hand in hand, and if you can reduce one, chances are you’ll reduce the others as well,” says Ringler.
“We are in a more stressful time in the world right now,” says Jamie Gonzalez, owner of The Salt Suite in Palm Beach Gardens. Gonzalez says that engaging in salt therapy increases the negative ions in our bodies. She explains: “Negative ions are the happy ions. Positive ions are things like dust and pollutants, and they knock out the negative ions.”
At The Salt Suite, pharmaceutical-grade salt is blown into a room by Halo generators during a 45-minute session. The salt air reduces inflammation and detoxifies the body, causing an antidepressant effect. Salt therapy also increases oxygen in the body and improves sleep, both of which reduce stress.
“What truly makes the salt room relaxing is the quiet space, no technology, and just focusing on breathing,” says Laura Barnes, owner of Southern Salt Therapies in Port St. Lucie. “Our far infrared–heated mats also tone down anxiety, soothe, and calm.” Far infrared is a type of heat that is distributed beyond the top tissue layers of skin and works with the circulatory system. Barnes takes salt therapy one step further, offering restorative salt yoga classes. “Breathing in pure salt air while moving through a restorative practice brings a double dose of healing,” she says.
As people are focusing more on holistic outlets to combat stress, the little-known practice of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is gaining in popularity. Loosely translated to “taking in the forest,” this practice emerged in Japan in the 1980s and eventually evolved into guided experiences and forest therapy, a passion of Sara Piotter, senior environmental educator at the Environmental Learning Center in Vero Beach and a certified forest therapy guide. “What I love about forest therapy is that it’s about giving people ideas for taking a moment out and slowing down,” she says.
During a forest therapy session, participants take a very slow walk through a forest with a guide like Piotter. During the walk, the guide gives prompts to encourage people to focus on certain things, such as “what’s in motion” in the forest.
“I’m a facilitator,” says Piotter. “I provide challenges and opportunities for a deep connection with nature. Everything is a suggestion. It’s about having hours of fresh air, releasing everything, and experiencing all of your senses.” A number of scientific studies have shown that forest bathing has positive effects on the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the ability to relax.
Piotter offers forest therapy walks about once a month, as well as private experiences—but you can also try it on your own. “You can do this anywhere,” she says. “Just head out to your backyard.”
While float and salt therapy promote the benefits of quiet and relaxation for stress relief, dance therapy uses movement to treat the mind and body in conjunction. Marian Chace pioneered this form of therapy in the early twentieth century. A dance instructor, Chace encouraged her students to express emotions and unburden themselves through dancing, which resulted in increased feelings of well-being in her students. Chace’s discovery eventually led to the formation of the American Dance Therapy Association, which provides training and certification for dance movement therapists like Alexia C. Ioannides. A licensed psychotherapist, Ioannides has been using dance therapy to help patients in her Palm Beach practice since 2014. “Dance movement therapy is about how mind, body, and spirit are interconnected,” she says. “Changes in the body affect the mind, and vice versa.”
Dance therapy is not dance in a traditional sense—it’s not performance based, but more about the act of movement. Ioannides explains that a dance movement therapist will mirror a patient’s movements, creating kinesthetic empathy. “Basically, I feel what you are feeling,” she says. “It’s extremely powerful.”
Agape Healing Arts: Sound therapy, Tequesta, agapehealingarts.com
Alexia C. Ioannides: Dance movement therapy, Palm Beach, islandcounselinggroup.com
Barbara Spaulding: Master sound healer, Stuart, asoundhealing.com
Environmental Learning Center: Forest therapy, Vero Beach, discoverelc.org/wellness-programs
Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch: Shelter to Service Dog Program, Jupiter/Palm City, furryfriendsadoption.org
Gina Kearney: Herbal therapy, Jupiter, herbsandowls.com
Harmony Hope Stables: Music and equine therapy for children, Palm City, hhstables.org
HI Mindfulness Forums: Sound healing/moon ritual events, Stuart, soundvibration.net
Hopes, Dreams, and Horses: Equine psychotherapy, Jupiter,
Matt Cardone: Meditation, Palm Beach Gardens, mattcardonemeditation.com
Southern Salt Therapies: Salt therapy, Port St. Lucie, southernsalttherapies.com
The Salt Suite: Salt therapy, Palm Beach Gardens, thesaltsuite.com
True REST Float Spa: Float therapy, Palm Beach Gardens, truerest.com
Incorporating routine practices into your life can help calm your mind and body
Starting your day with a short meditation can keep your mind focused on the present. Meditation expert Matt Cardone tells us how: Find a comfortable seated position with back support, then close your eyes and take three to five deep breaths. Invite your awareness to the senses, first by focusing on the sounds you can hear. Next focus on smell and the air entering and filling your body with a warm, healing light and emptying back out with ease. Now shift your attention to taste. Lastly, begin to bring awareness back to your body. Take one more deep breath and slowly open your eyes.
Bedtime: Herbal elixir
The right herbal tea mix can alleviate stress, anxiety, and sleep problems. Jupiter-based registered herbalist and flower essence practitioner Gina Kearney says to look for teas with herbs such as reishi, ashwagandha, skullcap, holy basil (tulsi), licorice root, and schisandra. These herbs contain adaptogens that help the body adapt to and moderate stress and nervines to nourish, support, and restore the nervous system. For a restful sleep, choose a tea with herbs such as chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, licorice root, passionflower, hops, and linden.
Monthly: Full moon ritual
A full moon ritual is about dedicating yourself to your own healing. Deena Rahill, creator and owner of Stuart-based HI Mindfulness Forums, explains: Each month, on the new moon, set an intention for yourself—basically, a new beginning. Then, on the full moon, let go of what no longer serves you, letting the moon’s power allow you to release what you need to and then restore you.