Shortcuts to Less Stress
Proven Quick Fixes
If misery loves company, then stress sufferers can take some comfort in the fact that they have plenty of partners: Seventy-five percent of Americans feel they have what they'd describe as "great stress" at least one day a week. Probably an equal number of us have tried some kind of de-stressing technique and have drawers full of lavender candles and relaxation CDs we were too busy to ever actually use to prove it. But what about all the other stress cures we keep hearing about? Should we try that yoga class? Splurge on a massage? Sit in a darkened room and meditate?
The answer is: Yes, yes...and yes. Many of these once-outside-the-mainstream practices are now proven, accepted stress therapies used in hospitals all over the country. Thanks to MRIs, EKGs, and brain mapping, researchers have been able to determine what effects these methods have on our minds and bodies. "We've seen heart rates slow, brain waves change, and hormone levels fluctuate," says Kathleen Hall, PhD, founder of the Stress Institute, based in Clarkesville, Georgia, and author of A Life in Balance. "These are truly proven medicine."
Most encouraging of all is the news that these techniques do not demand the kind of time commitment a stressed-out person can ill afford. "We used to believe that it would take six months or at least six hours to lower your stress level," says Dr. Hall. "But now we know that you can lower your heart rate, slow your breathing, and drop your stress hormone levels in as little as 30 seconds; with practice, you can de-stress in just six seconds. Your every thought, word, and action causes a related chemical reaction, so if you train your mind to relax, your body learns to respond immediately."
Nor do you have to stress out about which relaxation methods -- whether yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or others -- you choose. Research shows that what works best depends on the individual. "It's not how you get to the point of relaxation, but that you get there," says Mehmet Oz, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Institute and vice chair of surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, in New York City, and director of its complementary medicine program. "Find a method that works for you."
Once you discover a de-stressing strategy that you like, practice it regularly. "With time and experience, these methods work like dimmer switches that you can use to dial down your anxiety levels whenever you feel yourself tensing up," says Pamela Peeke, MD, assistant professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Maryland, in Baltimore, and author of Body for Life for Women. "Over time, you'll get really good at it." You can also boost your everyday level of happiness hormones, improve your immune system, help you sleep better, and decrease your risk of heart disease. Read on for the top tested techniques to try. One of them may help you discover a faster way to serenity and its benefits.