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Stress Management Health Center

6 Surprising Stress Fixes

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Strategy 2: Take the cuddle cure

More good news from the annals of affection: Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently found that holding hands and hugging can measurably reduce stress. Fifty couples were asked to hold hands for 10 minutes, then hug for 20 seconds. A second group of 85 people rested quietly, not touching their significant others. Researchers then asked people in both groups to talk about a past event that left them angry or anxious. Those who hadn't cuddled before revisiting the past exhibited signs of elevated heart rate and blood pressure. But couples who had hugged and held hands weren't nearly as ruffled. "The gentle pressure of a hug can stimulate nerve endings under the skin that send calming messages to the brain and slow the release of cortisol," explains Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the University of Miami Medical School's Touch Research Institute. And if your honey isn't on hand? Field says other studies have found that a hug from a friend or a professional massage can also help banish tension.

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."

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