10 Surprising Stress Busters

·Special Contributor
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That is not the face of a woman under pressure. (Photo: Getty Images) 

Gaining control over external stressors starts with two things: accepting that they’ll always be there, and being confident that you can manage stressful feelings using an arsenal of mental and physical strategies. (Controlling self-induced stress is a little more challenging because it requires accepting yourself and learning to love your body, but in my new book 20 Pounds Younger I have a plan for that, too.) Let’s start with techniques for living effectively with chaos. 

1. Learn to say no. “Overcommitting reduces the time you have to tend to your own needs — like eating healthfully, sleeping an appropriate number of hours, or caring for your immediate family,” says Nanette Gartrell, MD, author of “My Answer Is No — If That’s Okay with You.” Not sure how to gracefully decline? “I simply cannot fit it into my schedule” — followed by an expression of gratitude — will suffice, says Dr. Gartrell.

2. Go to sleep earlier. Fatigue raises cortisol levels and exacerbates anxiety and feelings of being out of control. What’s too little sleep? Fewer than seven hours. Ideally, try to get seven or even eight. See how you feel after both durations, and from then on, try to get the right amount for you. Sleep is when your body repairs and rebuilds tissue. Cheat your body out of that essential process, and your skin will suffer. University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland found that women who slept five or fewer hours a night or who had poor-quality sleep due to tossing and turning had more signs of facial aging — like fine lines and uneven pigmentation — in just one week.

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(Photo: Getty Images) 

3. Sip a cup of tea. In a study from University College London, people who drank a cup of black tea before completing stressful tasks experienced a 47 percent drop in cortisol afterward, compared to just 27 percent in those who didn’t drink tea.

4. Have more sex. Scottish scientists found that people who got randy at least once every two weeks were better able to manage stressful situations, such as public speaking. Why? Possibly because orgasms trigger a relaxation response and bathe your body in endorphins and other feel-good brain chemicals.

5. Take a video break. At work, spend 60 seconds of every hour watching a funny video. Laughter is one of the world’s best stress relievers — and it’s free.

6. Meditate at work. In a recent study from Australia, workers who meditated in their office chairs for just 15 minutes showed a significant decline in blood pressure. Not sure where to start? Download a guided meditation app for your smartphone, such as Smiling Mind or the Mindfulness app. Hint: Squeeze in your downtime during your lunch hour, so you can switch off your office phone — and therefore eliminate distractions — as the study participants did. Learn four easy ways to build meditation into your day here.

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(Photo: Getty Images) 

7. Take guitar lessons. Plant a garden. Refinish an end table. Mastering a new activity can reward you with a rush of feel-good dopamine, sending your brain into a relaxing state called “flow,” where you totally lose track of time. This may explain why so many women find crafting to be cathartic.

8. Hug your mate. Turns out, love is a drug. Those who frequently hug their partners tend to have lower blood pressure than those in less-affectionate relationships, a study in the journal Biological Psychology suggests. The benefit may stem from oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which helps you feel calm and may dampen sympathetic nervous system activity — the fight-or-flight response — in your heart and blood vessels, says study author Kathleen Light, PhD.

9. Try the trickle effect. Studies show that being near water — or hearing the sound of flowing H2O — can lower your heart rate and stress levels and help you feel more serene. Even just looking at water can be soothing. So set up a plug-in tabletop fountain in your living room, arrange floating candles in clear water-filled vases, or buy a desktop fish tank filled with aquatic plants. Tight on space? Even hanging photos of ocean or river scenes — heck, just changing your computer’s screen saver to one with a water theme — can lend you some of water’s calming effects.

10. Create a quiet corner. There’s a reason spas set up hushed, low-lit lounge areas. “They’re designed to make you feel swaddled, to provide comfort and security,” says Simon Marxer, the spa director at Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson. Recreating this effect at home can be as simple as arranging a few plush pillows (cool green and blue are the most calming) in a dimly lit corner of your quietest room. 

Reprinted from 20 Pounds Younger by Michele Promaulayko with Laura Tedesco. Copyright (c) 2015 by Rodale Inc. by permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold

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