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Women, let it go. We tend to dwell on the things we believe we should have done better, but agonizing about them can make us more vulnerable to stress. Instead, take a look at how you're managing your life, "admitting to your foibles, failures, losses, and pain," write Dennis S. Charney, MD, and Charles B. Nemeroff, MD, in The Peace of Mind Prescription. Decide how you can do better next time, make a plan of action, then take a cue from men and let it go.
Men, let it out. Men are vulnerable to what's called "emotional flooding," says John Gottman, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, in Seattle. When they are flooded by intense emotions, as when under stress, they can only think in terms of defense and attack. There may appear to be comfort in denial, for example, but instead of pushing problems aside, men should try to accept that their life may feel out of control and talk about it. "Find someone who will listen to you and let you talk it out," says Marianne Legato, MD, medical adviser to Ladies' Home Journal. "A conversation with a patient, empathetic friend may help you begin to formulate solutions."
Find someone to connect with. Relationships are important stress reducers, and they help us live longer, too. Studies conducted by Lisa Berkman, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, and colleagues have found that both men and women who have no emotional support are at an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke, and suicide.
And a report from the Harvard Nurses' Health Study shows that women who have close friends are less likely to develop physical impairments as they age. Contact with a friend or even a casual acquaintance at work confers health benefits, says Shelley Taylor, PhD, author of The Tending Instinct. "My bottom-line message is to make absolutely sure you have plenty of time for friendships and social activities with people you care about," she says. "Don't use stress as a reason to cut those relationships short."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, May 2004.