You Can Overcome the Effects of Stress (<i>cont'd</i>)
- Relax. "Sure," you're thinking. "Somebody says relax and that's going to solve everything?" Perhaps not. But, as with deep breathing, it can help. Get comfortable, close your eyes, fold your hands on your lap, take slow, deep breaths and repeat the word "relax" to yourself as you focus on different parts of your body — first the head, the neck, then move down. Don't move to the next area until you feel that part has relaxed. If you have trouble imagining the area you're focusing on, tense those muscles and then release them.
- Meditate. Don't worry — you don't have to give yourself over to some religious philosophy or New Age attitude. The point is to stop the mind from wandering to anxieties or other negative feelings. First, relax your body as described above, then start counting backward from 10. Breathe between numbers. Pick a word to say now and then — any word. Imagine yourself descending through air, or going down an escalator. Picture the number you're saying. Tell yourself when you get to the bottom — to zero — you'll be relaxed. Whenever those negative thoughts intrude, repeat the word to yourself. After 15 minutes of this, open your eyes. You'll see!
- Visualize. Imagine a scene or experience you enjoyed and found serene. It should be a relaxing place or experience. After relaxing your body as described above, picture the place — but go beyond just the way it looks. Try to smell the air or taste the food or feel the texture involved. Tell yourself how this makes you feel. While this may sound like so much bunk, medical research has shown that when people visualize they trigger nerves similar to those affected during the original experience — so your mind really is affecting your body.
- Exercise.Without wooly mammoths to chase or tigers to flee, exercise is probably the best way to use up that extra stress-related energy — the more aerobic the better. Studies are now suggesting it's even better than some pills for fighting depression. The physical benefits — stronger lungs, heart, lower fat, better blood flow — also will help you fight stress. Recommendation: At least 20 minutes of exercise four times a week — but even less is beneficial. And you don't have to join a health club — walk the dog, take the stairs, push the mower!
- Eat right. People tend to eat the wrong foods when under stress — coffee, for instance. Caffeine, a stimulant, actually helps create a stress response. Chocolate has even more caffeine, and soda may as well. Smoking, meanwhile, may feel relaxing — but the chemicals in cigarettes and marijuana also make the heart beat faster and actually stress your body. Sugar? Studies show it's a fix that too quickly replaces a rush with low energy. A better boost comes from protein in food such as peanut butter.