Escape from Stressville
Simple Stress Escape 1: Take a Siesta
A number of exercises have been scientifically proven to fight stress and boost the immune system. Moderate exercise is one of the best, but taking an hourlong walk at the height of your crisis may be unrealistic. Here's welcome news: You don't have to exercise in big blocks of time. "If you can de-stress several times a day for even a few minutes at a time," says Dr. Sternberg, "you will have a better chance of keeping your levels of stress hormones in balance and lessen your chances of getting sick." And though physical activity is a great choice, there are effective exercises you can do without even getting out of your chair. These simple, do-anywhere de-stressors have all been shown not only to lower stress, but to reduce risks of related illness.
Recently doctors at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who nap at least 30 minutes a day are significantly less likely to die from heart attacks than those who don't. Why the heart-healthy effect? "It's possible that sleep helps lower heart attack risk by reducing stress," says lead study author Dimitrios Trichopoulos, MD, professor of epidemiology and cancer prevention there.
That stress-reducing siesta may also keep you from getting sick. A sleepless night -- the kind you're more likely to have when you're stressed -- results in a high level of cortisol, which weakens the immune system. Taking even a 20- to 30-minute nap in the afternoon can help bring those cortisol levels back into normal ranges. How to make it happen? Some companies now offer napping rooms, and if you work at home or if you're your own boss, it's relatively easy to take a quick snooze.
For those of us who work in a traditional office, however, sneaking an on-the-job siesta may require some serious creativity. It is doable, insists William Anthony, PhD, director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University and coauthor of The Art of Napping at Work. "In our surveys, women shared several strategies. Some say they go out and nap in their car during their lunch break." Others, who worked in doorless cubicles, learned to take catnaps leaning back in their chairs, holding a bottle of eyedrops. "If anyone comes in, you can say you were just leaning back to put drops in your eyes," explains Dr. Anthony.
If a nap is a total non-option, see if you can find ways to get more nighttime shut-eye. Sleep is a crucial part of defending yourself against stress-induced illness.