It's hard to say, exactly, what the worst part about stress is. Is it the tightness that starts somewhere around your solar plexus, then extends out to your toenails, earlobes, and cerebellum? Is it randomly snapping at innocent and, occasionally, quite guilty coworkers and loved ones? Is it sobbing quietly behind the closed door of a men's-room stall? [via menshealth]
Uh, sorry, did we say that last one out loud?
The point is, stress attacks in all sorts of ways which means that if you want to control it, contain it, conquer it, you need to fire back in kind. That's why we've spent the past several months devouring studies and cross-examining experts to find the 31 best stress-busting tips of all time. We won't lie it was a bear of a job, and there were desperate moments when we thought we actually smelled smoke coming from the old cerebellum (see quiet sobbing in men's room, above). But when we sat down and read the advice we'd compiled and then started following it we suddenly felt much, much better.
Soon you will, too.
1. Drink More OJ
Researchers at the University of Alabama fed rats 200 milligrams of vitamin C twice a day and found that it nearly stopped the secretion of stress hormones. If it relaxes a rat, why not you? Two 8-ounce glasses of orange juice daily gives you the vitamin C you need.
2. Put a Green Dot on Your Phone
This is your secret reminder to take one deep breath before you answer a call, says Susan Siegel, of the Program on Integrative Medicine at the University of North Carolina school of medicine. Not only will you feel better, but you'll sound more confident.
3. Spend Quality Time with a Canine
Yours or someone else's. According to research at the State University of New York at Buffalo, being around a pet provides more stress relief than being around a two-legged companion. As if we needed a study to determine that.
4. Go to Starbucks with Your Coworkers
Researchers at the University of Bristol in England discovered that when stressed-out men consumed caffeine by themselves, they remained nervous and jittery. But when anxious men caffeine-loaded as part of a group, their feelings of stress subsided.
5. Shake It Out
When you're facing that big-money putt, shake out your fingers, relieving the tension in your forearms, hands, and wrists and shifting your focus to the only thing you can control: your preshot routine. You won't think about making or missing the shot, says Alan Goldberg, Ed.D., a sports-psychology consultant in Amherst, Massachusetts.
6. Listen to Music at Work
And make it the blandest playlist you can create. According to a study at Pennsylvania's Wilkes University, Muzak lowers your stress levels at work, while also reducing the risk of the common cold. We knew Celine Dion had a purpose.
7. Shut Up and Smile
Freaking out about a speech? Smile, look at the audience, and keep quiet for 2 seconds, says T.J. Walker, president of Media Training Worldwide. It'll slow you down and create the impression that you're relaxed and in control. The audience will then feel more comfortable, leading you to actually be relaxed and in control. Now start talking. Unless you're a mime. In that case, as you were.
8. Talk with Your Hands
To keep calm in a job interview, rest your arms on your lap, with your elbows bent slightly, and have your fingers almost touching, says Walker. This will keep your body relaxed, which will keep your tone conversational.
9. Run Fast
Bike hard. Punch the heavy bag. And we don't mean your mother-in-law. A University of Missouri at Columbia study found that 33 minutes of high-intensity exercise helps lower stress levels more than working out at a moderate pace. What's more, the benefits last as long as 90 minutes afterward.
10. Hit the Sauna After Your Workout
In an Oklahoma State University study, those who combined sauna use with group counseling had greater stress relief, feelings of relaxation, and sense of accomplishment compared with those who only had their heads shrunk.
11. Remember the Lyrics to Your Favorite Song . . .
. . . name at least 30 states, or assemble the All-Time Band of Guys Named James (the James Gang doesn't count). In other words, give your mind any all-consuming challenge, as long as it has a definite finish ”unending problems cause more stress, says Toby Haslam-Hopwood, Psy.D., a psychologist at the Menninger Clinic in Houston.
12. Lay The Journey to Wild Divine
It's a CD-ROM game that works like this: Three biofeedback sensors worn on your fingers sense your stress level and translate it into your ability to perform tasks such as levitating virtual balls or controlling birds in flight. The more you play, the more mastery you gain over your emotions. Go to wilddivine.com for more information. It sells for about $300.
13. Find a Breathtaking View
Now take a breath and a good long look. You'll walk away from the brink with a sense of context and a bigger perspective, which will make the 5,000 things on your to-do list seem less daunting, says Allen Elkin, Ph.D., director of the Stress Management & Counseling Center in New York City.
14. Imagine You're on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
When dealing with a screaming child in a car or any other acutely stressful situation, ask yourself how long you could listen to it if someone gave you $100,000, suggests Elkin. Suddenly, it's not so awful, is it?
15. Say You're Sorry
What, now the kid is screaming on a crowded airplane? Immediately apologize to everyone around you. By acknowledging that you may have made a mistake or hurt someone else, you can help clear the air, and that will reduce your stress level, says Charles Emery, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
Now someone else's kid is screaming on a crowded airplane? And the mom is too wrapped up in this week's People to do a thing about it? Let it go, says Carl Thoresen, Ph.D., a psychologist at Stanford University. Realizing that you can't control someone else's behavior is difficult, but it's one of the best ways to destress.
17. Add Trees to Your Commute
Even if it takes you out of your way, it may make your ride less stressful. An Ohio State University study found that scenic drives were more calming than those involving strip malls and endless, disheartening asphalt.
18. Water a Plant
It's nurturing, it doesn't take up much space, and for 10 seconds, the world is not about you, which can be a huge psychological relief, says Elkin.
19. Ditch the Dingy Shower Curtain
And hang up something in a cool color like green or blue. According to Leonard Perry, Ph.D., an extension professor at the University of Vermont, cool hues are more soothing.
20. Schedule Medical Tests for Early Morning
Rather than spend the entire day anxious about an afternoon DRE, get fingered first thing in the a.m., when your cortisol levels are already naturally elevated, says David Spiegel, M.D., medical director of the Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine.
Researchers at West Virginia University found that 35 participants who underwent "mindfulness meditation" saw a 44 percent reduction in psychological distress over 3 months. Just sit quietly for 10 minutes a day and focus on your breathing.
22. Find a Shoe-Shine Guy When Your Flight's Delayed
Walking lessens the frustration, and having a destination keeps your mind busy, says Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D., a psychologist in Brewster, New York. You'll also have fine-looking shoes. And if this magazine has taught you anything, it's that ladies notice fine-looking shoes.
23. Call Your Travel Agent When the Boss Calls You on the Carpet
Not only will you see the calming light at the end of a stressful tunnel, but your work will improve, says Srini Pillay, M.D., director of the Panic Disorders Research Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Schedule the trip far enough ahead so it doesn't look like a reaction to the blowup.
24. Put a Hole in a Tennis Ball and Squeeze
Let the tension build up in your hand and the rest of your body, then release. This increases relaxation, Elkin says. Tennis balls are those yellowy things people hit around in the '70s and '80s.
25. Have Sex
Either with or without a partner. An orgasm releases beta-endorphins, the body's natural, less punk-rock version of heroin, so you'll definitely be feeling no pain, says Nuccitelli.
26. Play in the Dirt
Want to be the MVP of your softball league? When you're batting with the winning run on base, step into the box, pick out a mark in the dirt, and rub it out with your foot, says Goldberg. By symbolically "rubbing out" the past, you'll focus on the now and not the last three times you struck out.
27. Stop Checking Your Portfolio
A study of Hong Kong investors found that those who keep a close eye on their stocks are more likely to be stressed out. Instead, get educated at a site like fool.com. Those who saw the bigger financial picture felt better.
28. Call a Friend on the First Day of a New Job
And take several brief breaks throughout the day. By slowing things down, you'll feel as if you have more control in the new work environment, and that will ultimately reduce your stress level, says Emery.
29. Add 10 Minutes to Your ETA
When you're stuck in traffic, call whomever you need to and tell them you'll be late but add 10 minutes to your revised arrival time, says Dr. Pillay. Missing deadlines is stressful. Avoid missing another one.
30. Hold Your Girlfriend's Hand for 10 Minutes
A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study found that loving contact lowers blood-pressure and heart-rate responses in stressful situations. In the study, those who experienced contact were nearly twice as relaxed as the unloved, untouched group.
31. Give Up the Butts
Researchers on the European Board for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco found that nicotine suppresses the stress-fighting hormone serotonin. It also triggers the release of the chemical dopamine, which stimulates pleasure centers in the brain. The problem: Dopamine levels soon drop and leave the body craving more, making you incredibly anxiousâ€”and jonesing another smoke.
32. Remember, It's Not About You
Before you fire someone, depersonalize the situation. He's getting axed because he screwed up or the company has to shed weight. It's not your fault, Nuccitelli says. Give yourself 15 minutes beforehand to say this, until it becomes foremost in your thoughts.
33. Eat a Small Bowl of Whole-Wheat Pasta 1 to 2 Hours Before a First Date
A study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research shows that taking in complex carbohydrates can help boost the brain's levels of the hormone serotonin. Impaired serotonin levels can lead to depression, anxiety, and aggression none of which is attractive on a date.
34. Resand that Old Dresser
Harness your excess stress by tackling a large project that requires a lot of physical energy. "Next time you start thinking, I'm stressed, replace that thought with I have a high energy level then use the energy," says Jay Winner, M.D., author of Stress Management Made Simple. Note: Foreplay counts as a large project requiring a lot of physical energy.
35. Press Your Dress Shirts
The repetitive motions of ironing can send you into a trancelike state, which puts your brain on autopilot and helps block out stressful thoughts, says Dr. Winner. And no more unsightly wrinkles!
36. Turn It into a Game
When you sense customer service/human resources/the insurance company starting to screw you, say, "Oh, I get it. They're trying to screw me. Let's see what happens." Now it's a game, not a personal attack. Your stress will go down with the shift in perspective, says Reef Karim, M.D., a psychiatrist at UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.
37. Predict the Future
Whether it's a woman you have to dump or a coworker you have to confront, anticipate all the outcomesâ€”tears, screaming, excuses. Familiarity prevents surprises, and that slashes stress, Dr. Karim says.
38. Make a Schedule
If the boss suddenly dumps a big project on you, try not to say, "I can't do this. I'm gonna get fired." (Try particularly not to say this in front of your boss.) Instead, present him with a schedule outlining when things can be done. What was overwhelming is now under control and open to negotiation, says James Blumenthal, Ph.D., a psychologist at Duke University.
39. Stay Awake Till 3 a.m
Too stressed to sleep? Vow to stay awake for 30 minutes. You've removed the stress of not being able to fall asleep which may relax you enough that you will fall asleep, says Bill Roedel, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington.
40. Get Out of Debt Denial
Maxed-out MasterCard? Do the no-duh obvious: Meet with a financial planner. According to a Virginia Tech study, those who received credit counseling saw their overall stress level move from "severe" or "overwhelming" to "moderate" or "low" 1 year later.
41. Drive Like Keith Moon
Not drunk, but drumming on your dashboard. A study in Advances in Mind Body Medicine showed that group drumming alleviated stress. A drum solo may bring similar benefits.
42. Find the Good
Missed a deadline? Appreciate what you learned about planning ahead. Kids kept you up with a stomach flu? Be grateful this is the only health woe facing your family. By finding the good in a stressor, you reduce the intensity, says Dr. Winner.
43. Buy the Right Kind of Christmas Tree
That is, not an artificial one. When the holidays approach, pick up a real Norway spruce or Scotch pine. The natural scent of pine is calming, says Janis Burke, an aromatherapist at Washington State University's college of nursing.
44. Rest Between Workouts
Overtraining can actually cause stress. According to a report in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, excessive training elevates cytokine levels in the blood, which tells the brain to raise cortisol levels, which tells you to freak out!
45. Climb a Mountain
Unless you're afraid of heights. According to a Texas A&M study, rock climbers and hikers have lower stress levels than their less rugged peers. The same skills that help people navigate successfully through the wilderness may help them keep calm when navigating the office.
46. Hike the High Country
High-altitude air is charged with negative ions. "When you breathe them in, it's relaxing and rejuvenating," says Mark Liponis, M.D., medical director at the Canyon Ranch Spa in Lenox, Massachusetts.
47. Go for a Swim
During the day, your legs collect pools of lymphatic fluid, an excess of which can make you uncomfortable and irritable until you take a dip, says Dr. Liponis. "It squeezes all the lymphatic fluid back into your heart and out through your kidneys," he says. Think of the postswim pee as liquid stress leaving your body.
48. Hold Your Tongue
When your annoying colleague decides to be annoying once again, tell yourself, I choose to be calm, says Siegel. Ah, now it's a choice, and you choose to be master and commander of the ship.
49. Unwind Online
Instead of surfing for porn at work, stay employed and go to stressremedy.com. Shut your door, turn up your speakers, and click on "Relax Now" for a 6-minute, audio-guided relaxation exercise based on deep breathing and meditation.
50. Grab Your Ears
Tug your lobes (lightly) and move them in circles in opposite directions for a count of 10, says Elizabeth Cornell, of the Muscular Therapy Center in New York City. The motion moves the tentorium membrane in your head, which can relieve stress. You'll also be in fighting shape for charades.
51. Chug a Big Glass of Cold Water
Because? Not sure, says Nuccitelli. "I have no idea why it works, but I've seen it be effective." Besides, when is it bad to be hydrated?
52. Find Your Smell
Aromas trigger strong connections to good memories, says Haslam-Hopwood. Unless you were forced to work in a bakery as a child, fresh bread works. Vanilla and orange are other options.
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