Instant Stress Busters
by Lisa Goff
How to go from crazed to calm
Yesterday, I stormed out of the drugstore without waiting for my prescription. True, the elderly woman at the front of the line was painstakingly paying for her order in nickels. But it was obvious that stress was getting to me.
Our bodies are hardwired to respond to tense situations. It's a survival thing, left over from the days when we needed to do battle with beasts. A flood of stress hormones courses through the bloodstream, triggering a rise in blood pressure and heart rate and causing the intestinal muscles to contract, explains Bruce Rabin, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. My problem, though, was that I'd lost the ability to distinguish between the threat posed by a hungry tiger and that of a tiresome customer who didn't realize there was a long line behind her.
You can't prevent stressful events. But, says Esther M. Sternberg, M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health, you can control your perception of them. "You can fool your brain into thinking you're in some degree of control, and that will decrease the stress response."
How do you fool your brain? The most effective way is to interrupt the cycle of responses. Try the following:
When road construction has slowed traffic to two miles an hour and you need to be at your child's school in ten minutes, you're probably taking rapid, shallow breaths using your chest. What's required are deep abdominal breaths, which will suck large amounts of air into your lungs. (To achieve this, breathe so that you puff out your tummy as you inhale.) Your brain detects the increased oxygen and lowers the flow of stress hormones. Oxygen also triggers longer, calmer brain waves, the kind that are associated with relaxation. Take three to five deep breaths-no more than that, or you might get dizzy.