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6 Surprising Stress Fixes

Strategy 3: Lash out less

You may have already concluded what a series of studies has confirmed: When married couples argue, men are more likely than women to withdraw — and this frustrates their wives. The studies also revealed something not as obvious. The way a woman deals with frustration during hostile arguments can measurably affect her stress load, and thus her physical health. Women who responded to their husbands with verbal hostility showed elevated stress-hormone levels during arguments and for hours afterward. Their mates didn't show these physical signs of stress, says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University College of Medicine and a member of the research team. Prolonged surges of stress hormones can damage the immune system, she notes. (One serious physical consequence of a hostile fighting style was discovered last year by researchers at the University of Utah, who found that wives who lashed out at their husbands during disagreements had twice as much coronary artery calcification, a sign of heart disease, as wives who stayed calm. Hostile husbands weren't affected.) "Conflict isn't necessarily bad," says Kiecolt-Glaser. "It's the way couples disagree that affects health." Her advice: Concentrate on the issue at hand and forget about getting even; drop the sarcasm and name-calling. "Generally it's best to try to keep the emotional temperature as low as possible," she says. "The more heated the words or tone of voice, the harder it is for husbands and wives to hear each other. If necessary, take a deep breath and respectfully end the conversation, promising to talk about the situation later, when you're calmer."

Strategy 4: Put the kettle on

Tea is the most popular beverage in the world (after water); even coffee-worshipping Americans guzzle more than 2 billion gallons of tea a year. Part of the appeal may be its tension-taming powers. In a recent study, scientists at University College London noted that people who drank black tea four times a day for six weeks had lower levels of cortisol after a stressful task than those who drank a caffeinated fruit beverage. Research also shows that a substance in green tea leaves, L-Theanine, may shift brain wave activity from the beta waves that accompany anxiety to the alpha waves associated with relaxation. Maxine Friedman, 43, of New York City, the mother of 7-year-old twin girls, builds tea breaks into her busiest days. She finds the ritual as calming as the beverage. "I start relaxing even before I start to drink — at the sound of the kettle, the feel of the cup in my hand," she says.

Strategy 5: Loosen your electronic leash

Thanks to high-tech gadgets, your kids can reach you 24/7. Knowing where they are and what they're up to? Priceless. But there's a hidden cost. A two-year study of 1,367 working men and women in New York State, two-thirds of them parents, found that all were overburdened by a blurring of the divide between the workplace and home. But while both men and women reported bringing job-related worries home with them, only women felt stress because of home worries spilling over into the workplace. Researchers speculate that cell phones and pagers are responsible for this blurring of boundaries. "When your kids have a crisis or a relative gets sick, it's usually the women, not the men, who get the call at work," says Noelle Chesley, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the study's author. She suggests you take turns with your spouse being "on call" for minor emergencies, and make sure the sitter and the school have his number as well as yours. You may have to retrain the kids, too.

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