Defuse Stress for a More Enjoyable Day

Some days it seems as if life throws you stress left, right, up, and down. It can drain your energy, destroy your good mood, and challenge your outlook. Those are the obvious mental repercussions.

But science has shown that stress is not merely a metaphysical thing. We have discovered that stress causes your body to release hormones that raise blood pressure, speed up your heart and breathing, halt digestion, cause a surge in blood sugar, and more. When stress is ongoing — such as the stress caused by money problems, bad relationships, or an overburdensome job — this constant physical reaction can significantly raise your risk of colds, diabetes, heart disease, back troubles, and almost every other major health concern. Indeed, stress is emerging as one of the principal contributors to poor health in modern countries.

There’s more. On a daily basis, stress often leads to unhealthy habits. A really bad day pushes you to the nearest doughnut or ice-cream store. It saps your willingness to exercise or eat well or have fun. It causes you to tune out the world, to sit in front of the television and ignore your relationships.

And yet stress can be relatively easy to manage. All it takes is a mental commitment to it — and an open mind. Old-fashioned thinkers scoff at things like deep breathing, positive thinking, and guided imagery. Some are also put off by the openness and public display of emotions involved in some stress-relief methods. But these are scientifically proven to work, doctors endorse and recommend them, and the benefits are fast and real. These proven approaches to stress management work. Give several a try.

1. Embrace the number one truth about stress: Only you create it. Stress isn’t defined as a large workload, a difficult child, or a rise in terrorism. Stress is your physical and mental reaction to these external stimuli. Remember the truism about alcoholism? The one that says admitting you are an alcoholic is more than 50 percent of the cure? The same is true for stress: Embracing the fact that stress is your reaction to external stimuli — and not the stimuli themselves — is half the battle toward managing it. You can’t change a crazy world. But you can learn to handle it with humor, humility, and hope. Not coincidentally, virtually every stress-relief method that follows is about how to improve your reaction to external factors.

2. Give your partner a hug every day before work. It’s so simple, yet so often overlooked when you’re trying to make your lunch, find your shoes and keys, and get on the highway before rush-hour gridlock. Research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the few seconds it takes to hug your partner can help you remain calm as chaos unfolds around you.

3. Buy yourself flowers once a week and display them prominently on your desk. Women who sat near a bouquet of flowers were more relaxed during a typing assignment than women who didn’t have flowers, according to a Kansas State University study of 90 women.

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