Ways To Relieve Stress
Go for a Walk
Research has shown that daily stress and
anxiety can trigger headaches, tense muscles, and even raise
your blood pressure. Stress also suppresses the immune system,
making you more vulnerable to illness. Here are some easy-to-implement
lifestyle changes that can help bring stress down a notch.
Exercise clears your mind and returns the body to a more
healthful state. But you don't need to spend hours at a
gym to gain the benefits of exercise; even a 10-minute walk
can decrease anxiety.
When you exercise, beta-endorphins (the
body's natural relaxants) are released. Endorphins counteract
the stress hormones raging through your body. "That's why
we get a really mellow feeling at the end of exercising,"
says JoAnne Herman, PhD, an associate professor at the University
of South Carolina College of Nursing. When stress overloads
your system, the body converts to the "fight or flight"
Powered by a surge of adrenaline secreted,
your heart beats faster, pupils dilate, blood vessels constrict,
and muscles contract -- all physiological responses preparing
you to defend yourself.
Besides being a break in your daily routine,
exercise gets blood circulating, boosts your mood, and eases
tension. "Exercise rids the body of excess energy it really
can't do anything about," says Dr. Tara Cortes, clinical
director of primary care at Mount Sinai Hospital in New
York. Studies also show that active people have a decreased
risk of coronary heart disease, the number-one cause of
death in the United States.
Call a Friend
Have you ever wondered why things always
seem better after you talk to a good friend? Well, it turns
out that friendship is as good for your health as it is
for your spirit. Researchers have found that having good
friends helps lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety, and
may even help you live longer.
In a recent study of AIDS patients, Jane
Leserman, PhD, of the University of North Carolina, found
that men who were supported by good friends were better
able to fight the progression of AIDS. While Leserman was
not sure how a support network protected the patients' immune
systems, she credits friendship with helping them decrease
the stress of their illness.
Many experts list friendship as the key
factor in getting through stressful times. "If you can learn
to control the stress and speak to others about it, you
become able to deal with a lot more," says Dr. Edward Callahan,
a psychologist at the University of California at Davis.
One venting session with a good friend might be all that's
needed to make you feel better. But if you're going through
an especially rough time, a good friend will also be there
for continual reassurance. "Unfortunately, people under
stress may be more likely to isolate themselves," says Martha
Craft-Rosenberg, PhD, professor and chair of parent, child,
and family studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
When reaching out to a silent stressed-out
friend, keep things simple. Show your support through a
smile, a hug, or a note expressing how much you care. You
don't have to press them for a long talk if that's not what
they need right now.
Divide Household Chores
A century ago, it was the woman's duty to
take care of house and home. Thankfully, times have changed,
or have they? A study at Johns Hopkins University found
that working women who take on extra responsibilities at
home and receive no thanks for it are more likely to drive
aggressively, a behavior commonly referred to as "road rage."
The study, conducted by Dr. Barbara Curbow and Dr. Joan
Griffin, found that 56 percent of the women surveyed admitted
to driving aggressively during their commutes; 41 percent
yelled or gestured at other drivers; and 25 percent said
they took their frustrations out behind the wheel. Interestingly,
the study found less evidence of road rage among women who
received emotional rewards at home for their hard work.
Because you may not always get that needed
pat on the back, other tactics can help. One way to get
more help is to divvy up the chores. Dividing chores gets
the whole family involved in running the household, says
Craft-Rosenberg, the family studies professor from Iowa.
"The resilience of a family is related to how well they
can work together," she says. Even small children benefit
because contributing makes them feel needed. And when others
share the workload, there's less pressure to get everything
done at once. "It helps me remember that I do not have to
be the 'Supermom' I fantasize about," says Marti Rickel,
a clinical instructor at the University of Arkansas College
of Nursing and mother of a 3-year-old son. "I can be a good
mother and a good nurse and a good wife, but o n some days
I cannot be good at all of them at the same time."
Reduce Caffeine Intake
Drinking four or five cups of coffee every
morning does more than open your eyes. The caffeine raises
your blood pressure and increases secretion of adrenaline,
a stress hormone. In fact, the caffeine in your coffee cup
imitates and even exaggerates the body's response to stress,
according to James D. Lane, PhD, a professor of psychiatry
and behavioral science at Duke University in Durham, North
While your brain is pumping out more adrenaline,
Lane says, your heart is also working harder, causing a
three-point increase in blood pressure. A five-point increase
in blood pressure has been associated with a 21 percent
increased risk of heart disease and a 34 percent increased
risk of stroke. Although Lane is reluctant to link caffeine
intake and disease, he says that the mechanisms are there.
When all is working as it should, our nervous
systems have mechanisms that keep us from overreacting to
stress. But caffeine, which Lane calls the the most widely
used drug in the world, seems to inhibit that natural function
and leave the body in an agitated state for longer than
normal. And because the effects of caffeine last for hours
after intake -- it takes 4 to 5 hours to eliminate half
the caffeine present -- the body never really gets a chance
to function without caffeine.
The long-lasting effects of caffeine are
even greater for women taking birth control pills because
both estrogen and caffeine are broken down by the liver.
"It may take 10 to 12 hours for women on birth control pills
to lower their caffeine levels by half," Lane says. "So
by the time yesterday's caffeine is gone, they have already
started with this morning's coffee."
Slowly taper off caffeine by drinking a
cup of decaf or herbal tea to substitute for your caffeinated
cup. Or, try mixing regular with decaf beans at the grocery
store. If you take it slowly, your body will hardly notice
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