Give ‘peaceful’ a chance
A pressure-filled life is about as American as apple pie and Friends reruns—so much so that many of us wear our stress as a badge of honor, accepting the cranky impatience, throbbing headaches and sleepless nights as the price we pay for how in-demand our time is.
1. TAKE A MEDITATION BREAK.
Whether or not you’re seeking spiritual enlightenment, a few calming moments of silence can have a wonderful soothing effect.
The jury’s still out on just how health-promoting meditation is, but some studies have found it reduces blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels. A recent report published in the American Journal of Hypertension, for instance, found that people at risk for hypertension who practiced 20 minutes of meditation daily lowered their blood pressure significantly and reduced by 52 percent their risk of developing hypertension in the future. Experts suspect that meditation brings benefits by quieting the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for our “fight-or-flight” response) and amping up the parasympathetic nervous system (which slows heart rate and breathing and improves blood flow), notes the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health. The result: more day-to-day serenity.
Techniques vary widely, but most involve finding a comfortable position in a quiet spot, then either focusing on your breathing or repeating a mantra. You might begin with just five minutes a day, gradually working up to 20 minutes or more. A wide variety of get started manuals can be found at your local bookstore.
2. SMELL THE ROSES.
It’s not just their pretty petals that cause flowers to brighten your mood—their fragrance may actually calm tensed-out nerves. In Japanese research published last year, mice exposed to stress-inducing situations had lower levels of neutrophils and lymphocytes—two types of stress-related immune cells—when they sniffed linalool, a scented compound found in blooms. They also showed reduced activity in more than 100 genes linked to the stress response. With additional research, this demonstrated physiological reaction may add credence to the therapeutic claims long made by proponents of aromatherapy.
3. PUT THE KETTLE ON.
You’ve probably heard that a spot of hot tea can soothe frazzled nerves—now there’s research to support the claim. British investigators (of course) divided 75 men into two groups, one of which sipped black tea daily for six weeks, while the other drank a caffeinated placebo. After this period, the men were asked to complete a stressful task. Researchers took blood samples an hour later and found that the tea drinkers had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, indicating that they recovered from the stress more quickly than did the tea-free group.
4. GET SOME EXERCISE.
It’s well-documented that physical exertion can help alleviate stress, so why not try something new? Setting a goal for yourself can help you stay motivated, and Cool Running’s “Couch to 5K” plan (go to www.c25k.com and click “Cool Running”) is a great place to start. Designed for the non-runner, this nine-week program eases you in (you’ll do no more than 60 seconds of jogging at first), but gradually gets you race-ready for a 5K competition.
Those with more of a techie leaning might opt for iFitness, a $1.99 iPhone app that offers detailed instructions (in pictures, text and video) on some 230 exercises. Choose the area of the body you want to target, and pick the move you like best; design your own workouts by combining individual exercises into different routines. Just slip your phone into your gym bag and you’re ready to go! (Be sure to consult with your doctor or other healthcare professional before embarking on a new exercise program.)
There’s good reason why your mood improves when you’ve been giggling over 30 Rock or scanning The Onion’s headlines. The Mayo Clinic reports that laughter has a positive impact on your stress response, leading to a more relaxed feeling. Chuckles can also stimulate your heart, lungs and muscles and even ease stomachaches, thanks to their positive effects on digestion. Personally, we love any medical advice that deems watching Animal House (Bravo’s top pick on its “100 Funniest Movies of All Time” list) time judiciously spent.
6. GO HIGH-TECH.
Sure, venting on your cell phone or zoning out to your iPod might make you feel better, but what about a handheld device designed to help you chill? HeartMath’s emWave Personal Stress Reliever ($199) has a sensor that measures your stress
levels based on breathing and changes in heart rhythm. The device then guides you through reducing your stress via breathing exercises and other techniques. A colorful display shows your progress as you go so you can adjust as needed.