What's Your Stress Reflex?

When under pressure, do you fly into rages, eat yourself sick, or fall to pieces? If your signature response only makes things worse, learn how to get healthier relief.
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What Are Stress Reflexes?

Linda Spangle knew what was causing the major stress in her life and she knew that eating wouldn't solve it, but she ate anyway. "I used to have 20 to 30 pounds that I gained and lost over and over. Food wasn't what I wanted," says Spangle, a nurse in Denver, Colorado. What she wanted was to have a baby, but couldn't because of infertility problems. So she ate. She ate to fill an emptiness she mistook for hunger; she ate for the fleeting comfort that food provided. "Mother's Day was the most stressful -- I ate all day long," Spangle recalls.

All of us have characteristic ways we respond to stress -- a familiar pattern of emotional and behavioral responses we fall into when we are facing something stressful in our lives. It's our own personal stress reflex.

Stress reflexes, unlike physical ones, are not involuntary but are often automatic. Someone cuts you off while driving or your kids leave their dirty clothes all over the house again and boom, you're mad as hell, feeling the sting of tears forming or so anxious you can't catch your breath. The problem is that these typical reflexes don't always help and in the long run they may make matters worse. "Sometimes the way we cope with stress is worse than the condition causing it," says Kenneth R. Pelletier, PhD, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and author of 12 books including Stress Free for Good: 10 Scientifically Proven Life Skills for Health and Happiness (with coauthor Dr. Fred Luskin).

We have gathered stress researchers' top picks for solutions tailored to each reflex. Don't worry, you don't have to change who you are. For those aspects of your stress reflex that are useful, we offer keep-but-tweak fixes that allow you to simply modify your impulses to make the best of them. And for those other reactions that are doing you more harm than good, you'll find new stress relievers that will replace those impulses with healthier, more productive coping strategies.

Continued on page 2:  Stress Reflex #1: "I Blow My Top"


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