Four Silly Stress-Busters To Help You Relax

June 20, 2012 at 11:49 am , by

By Jeff Nelson and Allison Berry

Tell us if you agree: Reading about how all our stress is going to kill us only causes more of it. We get it. It’s no secret that too much stress is bad for the mind and body. And with the state of the world today, it’s also no surprise that women’s overall stress has increased 18 percent over the last 25 years. (Thank you, Carnegie Mellon University, for reminding us we’re more pressured than ever.)

Of course we’d all be better off living out our days in a peaceful little beach town where deadlines don’t exist and no one ever gets sick or needs a ride to soccer practice. But we all know that’s not going to happen. So we set out to find a few fun ways to take it down it down a notch.

Slam a Dammit Doll
Warning: This is not your daughter’s toy. Think Raggedy-Ann-meets-voodoo-doll for stressed-out grownups. The Dammit Doll is about releasing your pent-up negative energy. Just follow the instructions sewn onto the toy’s chest (“grasp it firmly by the legs and find a place to slam it”), preferably find an inanimate object and see how much better you feel. We did after trying them out, above!

Pop Bubble Wrap
The Sealed Air Corporation found that just one minute of popping Bubble Wrap has the same calming benefit as a 33-minute massage. Yep, and it’s cheaper, too. (That’s us, two very “busy” interns, right, going to town on some Bubble Wrap we found around the office.) If you don’t have any around, you can order some here. Need relief now? Pop some virtual Bubble Wrap here, or download the fun Bubble Wrap app for your iPhone.

Squish Some Putty
Sure, we all know the magic of a stress ball, but those dinky unforgiving globs of foam don’t offer quite the level of angst-busting as a handful of this therapy putty. Roll it into a ball, squish it between your fingers or throw it against the wall at full force. We won’t judge you.

Give In To A Cute Kitty Or Puppy Video
Studies show stroking your favorite pet releases feel-good endorphins, but not many people can bring Fluffy to work with them. A few minutes with a cute kitten video (such as the cat mom hugging her agitated kitten) can help when you feel overwhelmed. So can this puppy cam, fixed on a precious pack of Shiba Inus.

If none of these seem to help, do what we always do when we’re feeling undone: Eat chocolate.


Is Happiness A Skill?

February 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm , by

I was originally hired to be LHJ’s “psychology editor,” and over my four years here, much of my work has been about improving happiness and coping with stress. In fact, the first article I worked on was called “5 Habits of Truly Happy People.”  I joked at the time that after a few months on the job I’d end up being oh so enlightened. But you know what? Lately I’ve realized that I have picked up a few ideas that  help me through the hard times. Here are a few LHJ-article  tricks I’ve been using—all of which have a lot of university research proving that they’re effective. Plus two thumbs up from this test driver!

Do fun stuff. Sure, you need to take your problems seriously, eat your vegetables and keep up with the news. But not every minute of the day! Take time to click on that cute or funny Facebook link. Watch or read something that makes you laugh (here’s our article on how laughter releases stress), or indulge in some escapism. I’ve most recently been transported to the English countryside, watching Downton Abbey on my iPhone on my subway commute, and reading Plan C, an e-book that came out last week (see photo) that Vanity Fair‘s James Wolcott accurately called a “breathless romp.” The heroine, dressed in expensive stilettos, teeters back and forth between fabulous Manhattan apartments and celeb-filled cocktail parties, exchanging gossip and witty banter with her equally fabulous BFFs—about as far from my NYC life as you can get. Though my reality—being the single working mom of a five-year-old—does help increase the fun factor, I gotta say (check out our article on the psychological importance of play)—there’s usually a game of chase or something silly I can engage in the minute I come home at night.

Think happy thoughts. Even small ones, like, “The Chrysler Building really is beautiful.” Or, “my bum hip isn’t bothering me too much today.” Look for something to enjoy in the moment (for tips, read our mindfulness article), or something to look forward to, something that you’re grateful for, or find a happy memory and dwell on that. These small thoughts add up, boosting your mood and at least temporarily interrupting that endless loop of negativity.

Hug somebody. Thank goodness for my snuggly schoolboy! But if you don’t have a five-year-old or a husband or a friend handy, a pet will work just fine. The benefits of touch are well-documented, and can sometimes really work wonders, as “The Cuddle Cure,” a pet story I edited, demonstrates.

Get some exercise. I know, sounds like broccoli. But wow, does it work. It’s as close to a psychological cure-all as you can get. After 20 minutes of lifting heavy weights, whatever my heavy load is always seems a lot lighter. Hmmm. I think it’s time for a gym break.

What’s your favorite “happiness skill”?

Depression and Holiday Stress: Are You Overwhelmed?

November 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm , by

Got the blues? You’re not the only one. Every month our friends at Yahoo! send us a snapshot of the top-spiking health searches, and this month the term “antidepressants” came in at number three (behind the more surprising “listeria” and “ear-wax removal”—go figure). In fact, in the past few months depression-related terms have been consistently at the top.

Then there’s this: a new report from Medco Health Solutions, Inc. found that 21 percent of American women took antidepressants in 2010, a 29 percent increase from 2001. When you look at drugs for mental health conditions on the whole, including anti-anxiety, antipsychotics and ADHD meds, roughly a quarter of adult women are taking them, compared with 15 percent of men.

We’re not surprised that depression is on women’s minds these days, considering the state of the world. Plus, the holiday season always adds stress along with the joys. Are you feeling more like Charlie Brown’s sad little tree this year? We asked Jennifer Yashari, M.D., a psychiatrist in Los Angeles and a member of the LHJ Medical Advisory Board, to shed some light on why depression seems to affect women more than men, and how to know if you need help.

Read more

Can This Marriage Be Saved? His Awful Job Is Ruining Our Marriage

June 23, 2011 at 2:37 pm , by

We’ve all had our share of stressful days at the office, after which we’ve gone home to greet our hubbies with little more than a peck and a grunt. But for Jon, a 38-year-old chief financial officer at a small engineering firm, every day is sheer torture. And his wife, Lara, a stay-at-home mom to their 1-year old son, can’t deal with his stress any longer.

Lara’s turn Jon is completely shut-down, anxious and jumpy, and ignores her and their son. She wants to help ease his stress and empathize, but every time she asks a question about his day he snaps at her. He’d been out of work before he took this new job, so she understands he’s reluctant to leave it, but his boss is a raving tyrant. She did anticipate that Jon would work hard, but he’s doing more than that, keeping his phone on at all hours and skipping weekend activites. They haven’t been married very long and Jon didn’t work for much of the marriage, so she knows they’ll be able to survive if he gets out of this horrible situation. So why won’t he help himself?

Jon’s turn He’s so tense from the situation at work that he has no energy left for his wife or his son. He’d heard his new boss was difficult, but he had no idea it would be this bad. The man bullies everyone, berates his employees and calls Jon at 2 in the morning. He was happy at his former job but when the company moved to a new state and Jon didn’t go along, he thought he could find something else he liked just as much. Now, he feels stuck and he’s not sure why – maybe because he was recently unemployed or because his own father unhappily stayed at the same company his whole career to provide for the family. Jon plans to stick it out and learn to deal with his ogre of a boss, but he’s resigned to a life of misery that his wife can’t accept. Read more

5 Reasons the Holidays Are Good For You

December 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm , by

The holidays get such a bad rap for being the time of year when overwhelming stress and irresistible, fattening treats lurk around every corner. Yes, it’s stressful and double yes, it’s hard to resist the myriad cookies and candies and cocktails just begging to be consumed. But there are things about the holidays that are good for you—as long as you remember to rein it in and relax.

So we say enjoy! Here are some healthy tidbits about five of our favorite holiday staples.

  1. Holiday Cocktails
  2. Alcohol in moderation (no more than a drink or two a day) has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and possibly even diabetes. In fact, moderate drinkers live longer than those who don’t drink at all, so you can feel good about imbibing a bit. Just be sure to designate a non-drinking driver!

  3. Shopping
  4. The stress from packed malls and frantic fellow shoppers is enough to make you want to give up on gift-giving altogether. But remember this as you’re doing that last-minute buying: Exchanging gifts makes you happier by strengthening bonds and evoking gratitude, which studies show makes for a longer, healthier life.

  5. Chocolate
  6. There’s no replacement for fruits and vegetables, but chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is packed with some of the same antioxidants found in plants that protect against heart disease and cancer. Sure, even the darkest chocolate has some sugar and fat, so savor it slowly and you’ll feel satisfied.

  7. Family Time
  8. Getting together is so much more fun if you can forget about expectations and enjoy your loved ones, quirky as they may be, for who they are. If you feel a conflict coming on, take a few deep breaths and just let go. You’ll find a kind of liberation in compromise and acceptance. You don’t always have to be the peacemaker, either.

  9. Nuts
  10. When in doubt, reach for the nut bowl—all types of nuts are rich in the monounsaturated or “good” fats that are crucial for heart health. Walnuts in particular are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce your risks for a whole host of health problems, from high cholesterol to arthritis. Nuts are crunchy and loaded with fiber so you’ll feel full on a small handful and maybe even not as tempted by the other goodies.

Happy, healthy holidays to all from your LHJ health editors!

Photo via Fashion&Style

25 Secret Weapons to Stamp Out Holiday Stress

November 16, 2010 at 4:47 pm , by

Why is it that time always seems to speed up during the holiday season (does everyone else realize that Thanksgiving is next week?!)? It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it goes so fast, and it gets more than a little hectic.

Our friends over at The Motherboard put together this holiday survival guide. It’s got 25 sneaky ways to shop smart, reduce the stress, and get ready for a happy, healthy holiday. Read it now and hopefully it’ll help you slow down the season.

Are Long Hours At Work Killing You? Maybe.

May 13, 2010 at 3:15 pm , by

work stressThe upside to working overtime: time and a half (if you’re lucky) and a few nice words from your boss (also if you’re lucky).

The downside (besides having to stay at work): increased risk for coronary heart disease.

People who work more than 10 hours a day are at a 60 percent greater risk for heart attack, angina and other heart-related conditions, compared with those who log in seven-hour days, according to a  new study in the European Heart Journal. One explanation for this association: type-A personalities—folks who tend to be anxious, competitive and tense—are the ones who are more likely to spend the extra hours behind the desk.

The study looked at over 4,000 men and 1,700 women, with an average follow-up of 11 years. While men were more likely to report working overtime, we’d be willing to speculate that the women felt the stress more acutely. Yes, men are pitching in, but women still tend to have more responsibility in the home. So the next time you’re thinking of spending a late night at the office, ask yourself if you really need to stay or if you can finish the task in the morning—your heart might thank you for it.

Photo courtesy: stuartpilbrow

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