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Healthy Living

How to Stop Stress in its Tracks

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 01/20/2011
Last Updated: 08/13/2012

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Maybe it’s that time of year. Another cloudy day…another snowstorm heading this way. Somehow the weather outside influences the way we feel inside. At least that’s what it does to me. My stress levels are rising but my coping mechanisms? They’re plummeting right along with the thermometer.

Even where it’s idyllically warm and sunny (like in Arizona), sadness and stress have just about obliterated the sun with the recent events of the horrendous shooting at Tucson’s Safeway (ironic that a supermarket - a place you’d never think of as unsafe - has the word “safe” right in its name).

Seems like there’s really no place in the U.S. devoid of stress-inducing stuff: Time.com reported at the beginning of this month that the only state in the U.S. that was not covered with snow was Florida.

Weather aside, I don’t have to tell you that stress is bad for your health. You probably already know how it hurts things like your immune system, your cardiovascular system, your sleep, insulin levels and even your weight.

But stress also is aging. Yes, that gray hair and haggard, wrinkled look…it can come from too much stress. How? When scientists at the D.C. San Francisco Medical Center studied the effects of stress on a cellular level, they found that stress grinds down the chromosome endings, which are telltale signs of aging. Just the perception of stress is enough to contribute to aging at a more accelerated rated, they found.

I say it’s time to figure out how to stress less. I mean, who couldn’t use this reminder? Some suggestions.

Breathe. Okay, it’s an automatic reflex, so why do you have to learn to do it “right?”  Because under times of stress, it’s common for your breathing to become shallow or uneven, limiting the amount of air you get into your lungs. (A surprising fact: most of us “shallow breathe” – and use only 20 percent of our lung capacity.)

Try something called diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing. By sticking out your belly – rather than your chest - when you inhale, your parasympathetic sympathetic nervous system is activated, leading to a more relaxed you.

Exercise. Maybe you’re getting tired of reading about how important exercise is – but truth be told, it’s one of the most effective stress-relievers out there. Some call it “meditation in motion,” and rightly so.  It decreases stress hormones like cortisol (which is also responsible for weight gain) and increases those feel-good chemicals that your body produces, known as endorphins.

Take out a pen. And write down all your worries. Psychologist James Pennebaker, a pioneer in the research of words, has found that writing about meaningful or traumatic events can have a profound impact on a person’s health, immune function, hormonal activity and other markers of stress or disease. More than simply venting your emotions, writing can help you reframe your reality and often lead to new understandings and insights into your situation.

Sniff some lavender (or your scent of choice). Dr. Alan R. Hirsch is a psychiatrist and neurologist who founded The Smell & Taste Research Foundation in Chicago. He says that certain smells can activate certain memories. So, pick a scent reminiscent of good times, and keep it close to your nose. For me, it’s the smell of roses, which used to grow outside the windows of my grandmother’s house where I spent so many happy times. Other scents that are associated with relaxation: ginger, vanilla, lemon, chamomile, bergamot and ylang ylang.

Talk to yourself. Instead of telling yourself “I’m so stressed,” which only serves to make the stress mount, try a positive affirmation, a strong positive statement that something is already so. It may feel a bit like trickery, but stick with it. It works. Some tips I’ve picked up: once you know what you want to say, try to put it as simply as possible. Always use the present tense (say “I feel relaxed and stress free” rather than “I want to feel relaxed and stress free”). Say what you want – not what you don’t want (rather than saying “I don’t want to feel any more stress say “I’m feeling relaxed and in control”). And, since it’s too easy to forget your intentions during a busy day, write them on post-its and stick them anywhere your eyes will catch a glimpse of them.

This Matters> The good news?  There are so many ways to stop stress. Yours may be yoga, meditation, listening to music, cooking, or something else.

But the key is to remember to use them.


The only way I fight stress is by exercising, it just makes me feel so much better.

Yes, and sometimes, like when you're in the middle of a deadline and disaster strikes, it's not like you can just do a downward dog. Or maybe that's really when you should step away from the desk and take a minute. Total stresshead over here this week and it's not pretty. Thanks for timely reminder.

I wrote dow my worries and now I'm facing it. I'll have to solve the concrete problems and forget the ones that I have no control over. Thanks for this good article.

January is TOUGH stress-wise. From what I've learned, stress raises cortisol levels for most people, and that's what does the damage to the body. I wonder if cold weather increases cortisol levels too.

Some recent books on stress I've found interesting...

Stress Less: The New Science That Shows Women How to Rejuvenate the Body and Mind by Thea Singer (she talks about telomeres and the UCSF studies you mention above)

So Stressed: The Ultimate Stress-Relief Plan for Women by Stephanie McClellan and Beth Hamilton

Are You Tired and Wired? by Marcelle Pick

Nancy, Thanks so much for these book recommendations. They sound like they are very helpful.

I love these tips. They're coming at a very timely moment for me. Thanks so much. I'm trying to become more conscious of when stress is building up and doing something to stop it in its tracks.

I hope you'll be able to incorporate these into your life so the stress does not build up!

Interesting! I do the lavender and walking, but didn't realize about writing, still it does make sense.

Breathing has always been helpful for me but I have to say intentions have never worked. If I am stressed out and I tell myself I am relaxed and stress-free, my mind screams back NO I"M NOT.

Sounds like your mind wants to speak up! Well, at least there's always breathing, right?

I love this advice. Exercise, Affirm, Smell lavender (my scent of choice) and write. I need to do all four today, since I have a Monday deadline, am sleep-deprived, and feeling unable to balance it all...

Good luck, Jennifer! I hope those four tips helped you get through your day and brought you some balance.

I like to exercise or lose myself in a good book. I've also been trying meditation but it's hard to keep my mind from wandering, especially when I'm already stressed.

All great ways to deal with stress. I hear that meditation takes practice; maybe in time your mind will stop its wandering. But I must admit that mine does the same thing when I try to meditate :)

I'm doing Julia Cameron's Artist's Way, and I have to tell you, those morning pages are an intense practice in meditation. First thing in the AM, I have to write three pages. They often start out as "God, I hate this, I'm hungry and why and I writing these damn pages..." But then inevitably, something of substance eeks out and I end up writing two and a half pages on how my parents and their relationship affected my own relationships. Interesting, and I might not have thought about it if I hadn't done the stream-of-consciousness morning pages.

How interesting. I have the book, yet never got that far. Maybe it's time to pick it up and do some work on myself!

This is such a good reminder for me. This is exactly what I needed for this week. Thanks.

Kristen, So glad - hope it helps you get through your week!

Timely as I am on day 16 of BEING SMOKE FREE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 32 YEARS!! Yea for me! (pat on the back) Stress is a trigger and I am really fighting it. Positive affirmation has helped and I have notes all around to remind me why I want to quit. Exercise - what's that?? REALLY need to get back into that but it's January in Ohio and I am not leaving the house - not even for a pack of squares! Just emptied the ab lounge and stopped using the stationary bike as a clothes hanger so no more excuses. I did not realize cooking was included in stress relievers but I do a LOT of that and yes, it does give me satisfaction! So I plan on adding exercise to what I don't already do. I was happy to see I am on the right track though!

Exercise, eating healthy and making most out of your day doing the things you love always take you away from feeling stressed. That is what I do. It can be very hard at first but it can become a good habit :)

Faye of http://www.enlightenmentgateway.com/stress-relief/


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