6 Surprising Stress Fixes
By Catherine Guthrie
Simple, field-tested strategies you can use right now
You know what stress looks like: The sun rises; so do you. Your child suddenly remembers that he needs cupcakes for the school party. The dog's gotten sick in the living room. Your spouse leaves for work in a huff after a pre-breakfast tiff over finances. You leave for work without a report that's due today. You double back, grab it from the kitchen counter, trip over an Everest of laundry — must we go on?
You know what stress feels like: Your pulse quickens, your lungs squeeze shut, your ears ring, and you wonder if this is the time your head actually explodes. Sensing anxiety overload, your brain orders up a chemical surge that makes your blood vessels narrow, heart race, blood pressure rise, and muscles tighten. Your body is mobilizing to deal with threat.
Good plan, nature! But you weren't meant to stay on red alert forever. Prolonged stress leads to health problems. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol are associated with heart disease and cancer; stress has also been linked to gastrointestinal problems, eczema, asthma, and depression.
And you probably already know what's involved in long-term, big-commitment stress reduction: physical changes (exercising, eating right, getting plenty of sleep); organizational changes (planning ahead, divvying up chores equitably); attitude changes (letting go of what you can't control, for starters); and relationship changes (finding ways to talk through, directly and respectfully, the problems that are the sources of anxiety). All of these transformations are definitely worth the effort.
But here's what you may not know: Recent studies have suggested six new stress reducers — research-tested, rather surprising, and relatively simple. You can ease these strategies into your life right now.
Strategy 1: Smooch spontaneously
"When I come home from a hard day at work and kiss my husband, the bad stuff doesn't seem to matter anymore," says Cheryl Kennedy Henderson, 47, an accountant in Knoxville, TN. Science says she's on to something. A recent study of 2,000 couples showed that those who kiss only during lovemaking are eight times more likely to report suffering from stress and depression than those who frequently kiss on the spur of the moment. Study leader Laura Berman, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and ob-gyn at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, explains why: "Kissing relieves stress by creating a sense of connectedness, which releases endorphins, the chemicals that counteract stress and depression."