7 Souped-Up Stress Busters

Seven new ways to take tension-taming to the next level.
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Do you have a go-to stress reliever? That one thing you know will mellow you out when you're frazzled, fried, or just plain overwhelmed? Some of us find comfort in a bowl of chocolate ice cream, others in a leisurely walk or brisk run. No matter what your favorite escape, chances are there's a way to make it even more effective. Here's how.

Stress Buster 1: "I go for a walk."
When tension strikes, you put on your sneakers and hit the pavement.

Even better: Self-talk while you walk.
You probably know that walking lowers stress levels significantly because the exercise causes our bodies to release endorphins (the brain chemicals that calm us). But researchers at the Rippe Lifestyle Institute, in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, have also found that repeating a positive phrase such as "I love my life" or "I am in control" while you're moving can help you chill out even more. Why? Reciting a mantra is a meditation technique that helps quiet the mind. Repeating the words over and over focuses you on that positive thought, and others -- like "I'm so stressed out!" -- get pushed out of your mind.

Stress Buster 2: "I watch Dancing with the Stars."
You forget your troubles by curling up on the couch to watch celebs do the tango and the cha-cha.

Even better: Take a dance class.
"Vegging out in front of a favorite TV show can distract you for a time, but this escape-from-reality approach, known as avoidance coping, offers no long-term stress reduction," says Claire Wheeler, MD, PhD, author of 10 Simple Solutions to Stress: How to Tame Tension and Start Enjoying Your Life. Dancing, like other forms of moderate exercise, will give you lasting relief. Research has shown that regular physical activity, in addition to causing the release of those feel-good endorphins, lowers anxiety by reducing the amount of stress hormones in the body. You'll miss out on both of these benefits sitting in front of the TV. One study suggests your basal metabolic rate (calories burned per minute) is even more sluggish when you're watching the tube than it is when you're just resting. Another reason to get with the beat? One study conducted at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, in Cleveland, found that exercising to music can boost your mood even more. You can reap the rewards even if you can't make it to a dance class. Just put on your stereo and move to your favorite tunes at home.

Stress Buster 3: "I spend some time alone."
Cooling off by your lonesome helps you clear your head and keeps you from lashing out at your husband or kids.

Even better: Hug your husband.
Your instinct to withdraw and hold your tongue when you're under pressure is smart, says Dr. Wheeler. That's because stress hormones target the part of the brain that controls language and speech (known as the prefrontal cortex), which lessens our ability to communicate effectively. But fuming alone isn't the best way to soothe jangled nerves. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that even just 10 minutes of hugging or other forms of affectionate touching with your partner releases oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. So the next time tension strikes, try holding your husband's hand -- and save the conversation for later.

Continued on page 2:  Stress Busters 4-6

 

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