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.
No kidding: Studies have shown that people who laughed the most heartily
while watching a funny movie registered the biggest drops in their level of
stress hormones. When you're under pressure, you get trapped in a cycle of
catastrophic thoughts-This is so terrible! There's no way out! "Humor
breaks into those thoughts, allowing you to regain mental control,"
explains Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., of Ohio State University College of
Of course, when you're locked out of your car or you're being chewed out at a
staff meeting, you can't exactly turn on a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond.
That's why you need a comedy playlist: three or four things guaranteed to make
you giggle just by thinking about them. A joke, a Saturday Night Live skit, the
look on your sister-in-law's face when she sliced into the still-pink
Thanksgiving turkey.... And if you're stressing out at work or at home, surf
over to stupidvideos.com, as online editor Virginia Citrano does. "Watching
one of these clips never fails to cut the tension," she reports.