37 Stress Management Tips

37 Stress Management Tips

By Michael Castleman

Alternatives to Anxiety



Stress is a fact of life, but being stressed out is not. We don’t
always have control over what happens to us, says Allen Elkin, Ph.D.,
director of the Stress Management Counseling Center in New York City,
and yet, that doesn’t mean we have to react to a difficult, challenging
situation by becoming frazzled or feeling overwhelmed or distraught.
Being overly anxious is not just a mental hazard; it’s a physical one
too. The more stressed out we are the more vulnerable we are to colds,
flu, and a host of chronic or life-threatening illnesses. And the less
open we are to the beauty and pleasure of life. For your emotional and
bodily benefit, we’ve consulted experts and come up with 37 easy,
natural alternatives to anxiety. Enjoy!

1. Breathe Easily
"Breathing from your diaphragm oxygenates your blood, which helps
you relax almost instantly," says Robert Cooper, Ph.D., the San Francisco
coauthor of The Power of 5 (Rodale Press, 1996), a book of five-second
and five-minute health tips. Shallow chest breathing, by contrast,
can cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up,
exacerbating feelings of stress. To breathe deeply, begin by putting
your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through
your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold
the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times.

2. Visualize Calm
It sounds New Age-y, but at least one study, done at the Cleveland
Clinic Foundation, has found that it’s highly effective in reducing
stress. Dr. Cooper recommends imagining you’re in a hot shower and
a wave of relaxation is washing your stress down the drain. Gerald
Epstein, M.D., the New York City author of Healing Visualizations
(Bantam Doubleday Dell Press, 1989), suggests the following routine:
Close your eyes, take three long, slow breaths, and spend a few
seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow,
kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details — the
sights, the sounds, the smells.

3. Make Time for a Mini Self-Massage
Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D., of the Touch Research Institute at
the University of Miami School of Medicine, recommends simply massaging
the palm of one hand by making a circular motion with the thumb
of the other. Or use a massage gadget. The SelfCare catalog offers
several, such as the S-shaped Tamm unit, that allow you to massage
hard-to-reach spots on your back. For a free catalog, call 800-345-3371
or go to www.selfcare.com.

4. Try a Tonic
A study at Duke University in Durham, NC, found homeopathy effective
in quelling anxiety disorders. Look for stress formulas such as
Nerve Tonic (from Hyland) or Sedalia (from Boiron) in your health
food store, or consult a licensed homeopath. To find one near you,
contact the National Center for Homeopathy, 801 North Fairfax St.,
Suite 306, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703-548-7790 or go to www.healthy.net/nch/.

5. Say Cheese
Smiling is a two-way mechanism. We do it when we’re relaxed and
happy, but doing it can also make us feel relaxed and happy. "Smiling
transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system,
a key emotional center in the brain, tilting the neurochemical balance
toward calm," Dr. Cooper explains. Go ahead and grin. Don’t you
feel better already?

6. Do Some Math
Using a scale of one to 10, with one being the equivalent of a minor
hassle and 10 being a true catastrophe, assign a number to whatever
it is that’s making you feel anxious. "You’ll find that most problems
we encounter rate somewhere in the two to five range — in other
words, they’re really not such a big deal," says Dr. Elkin.

7. Stop Gritting Your Teeth
Stress tends to settle in certain parts of our bodies, the jaw being
one of them. When things get hectic, try this tip from Dr. Cooper:
Place your index fingertips on your jaw joints, just in front of your
ears; clench your teeth and inhale deeply. Hold the breath for a moment,
and as you exhale say, "Ah-h-h-h," then unclench your teeth. Repeat
a few times.

8. Compose a Mantra
Devise an affirmation — a short, clear, positive statement that
focuses on your coping abilities. "Affirmations are a good way to
silence the self-critical voice we all carry with us that only adds
to our stress," Dr. Elkin says. The next time you feel as if your
life is one disaster after another, repeat 10 times, "I feel calm.
I can handle this."

9. Check Your Chi
Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) is a 5,000-year-old Chinese practice
designed to promote the flow of chi, the vital life force that flows
throughout the body, regulating its functions. Qigong master Ching-Tse
Lee, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Brooklyn College in New
York, recommends this calming exercise: Stand with your feet shoulder-width
apart and parallel. Bend your knees to a quarter-squat position
(about 45 degrees) while keeping your upper body straight. Observe your
breathing for a couple of breaths. Inhale and bring your arms slowly
up in front of you to shoulder height with your elbows slightly
bent. Exhale, stretching your arms straight out. Inhale again, bend
your elbows slightly and drop your arms down slowly until your thumbs
touch the sides of your legs. Exhale one more time, then stand up
straight.

10. Be a Fighter
"At the first sign of stress, you often hear people complain, ‘What
did I do to deserve this?’" says Dr. Cooper. The trouble is, feeling
like a victim only increases feelings of stress and helplessness.
Instead, focus on being proactive. If your flight gets canceled,
don’t wallow in self-pity. Find another one. If your office is too
hot or too cold, don’t suffer in silence. Call the building manager
and ask what can be done to make things more comfortable.

11. Put It on Paper
Writing provides perspective, says Paul J. Rosch, M.D., president
of the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, NY. Divide a piece
of paper into two parts. On the left side, list the stressors you
may be able to change, and on the right, list the ones you can’t.
"Change what you can," Dr. Rosch suggests, "and stop fretting over
what you can’t."

12. Count to 10
Before you say or do something you’ll regret, step away from the
stressor and collect yourself, advises Dr. Cooper. You can also
look away for a moment or put the caller on hold. Use your time-out
to take a few deep breaths, stretch, or recite an affirmation.

13. Switch to Decaf
Wean yourself slowly, or you might get a caffeine-withdrawal headache
that could last for several days, cautions James Duke, Ph.D., the
Fulton, MD, author of The Green Pharmacy (Rodale Press, 1997).
Subtract a little regular coffee and add some decaf to your morning
cup. Over the next couple of weeks, gradually increase the proportion
of decaf to regular until you’re drinking all decaf. You should also
consider switching from regular soft drinks to caffeine-free ones
or sparkling mineral water.

14. Just Say No
Trying to do everything is a one-way ticket to serious stress. Be
clear about your limits, and stop trying to please everyone all
the time.

15. Take a Whiff
Oils of anise, basil, bay, chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint,
rose, and thyme are all soothing, say Kathy Keville and Mindy Green,
coauthors of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art
(Crossing Press, 1995). Place a few pieces of rock salt in a small
vial, then add a couple of drops of the oil of your choice (the
rock salt absorbs the oil and is much less risky to carry around
in your purse than a bottle of oil). Open the vial and breathe in
the scent whenever you need a quick stress release. Look for the
oils in your local health food store, or try one of the following
mail-order companies: Aroma-Vera, 5901 Rodeo Rd., Los Angeles, CA
90016, 800-669-9514; or Leydet Aromatics, P.O. Box 2354, Fair Oaks,
CA 95628, 916-965-7546.

16. Warm Up
Try this tip from David Sobel, M.D., in San Jose, CA, author of
The Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Handbook (I S H K Book Service,
1997)
: Rub your hands together vigorously until they feel warm.
Then cup them over your closed eyes for five seconds while you breathe
deeply. The warmth and darkness are comforting.

17. Say Yes to Pressure
Acupressure stimulates the same points as acupuncture, but with
fingers instead of needles. Michael Reed Gach, Ph.D., director of
the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley, CA, recommends pressing on
the following three points:

  • The Third Eye, located between the eyebrows, in the indentation where the bridge of the nose meets the forehead.
  • The
    Heavenly Pillar, on the back of the neck slightly below the base of the
    skull, about half an inch to the left or right of the spine.
  • The
    Heavenly Rejuvenation, half an inch below the top of each shoulder,
    midway between the base of the neck and the outside of the shoulder
    blade.
  • Breathe deeply and apply firm, steady
    pressure on each point for two to three minutes. The pressure should
    cause a mild aching sensation, but not pain.

    18. Schedule Worry Time
    Some stressors demand immediate attention — a smoke alarm siren
    or a police car’s whirling red light. But many low-grade stressors
    can be dealt with at a later time, when it’s more convenient. "File
    them away in a little mental compartment, or make a note," Dr. Elkin
    says, "then deal with them when the time is right. Don’t let them
    control you."

    19. Shake It Up
    This quick exercise helps loosen the muscles in your neck and upper
    back, says Dr. Sobel: Stand or sit, stretch your arms out from your
    sides and shake your hands vigorously for about 10 seconds. Combine
    this with a little deep breathing, Dr. Sobel says, and you’ll do yourself
    twice as much good.

    20. Munch Some Snacks
    Foods that are high in carbohydrates stimulate the release of serotonin,
    feel-good brain chemicals that help induce calm, says Dr. Cooper.
    Crackers, pretzels, or a bagel should do the trick.

    21. Boost Your Vitamin Intake
    Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Food and Mood (Owl Books,
    1999), in Salem, OR, recommends that women take a daily multivitamin
    and mineral formula that contains between 100% and 300% of the recommended
    dietary allowances of vitamin B, as well as the minerals calcium,
    magnesium, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium
    and zinc. Avoid stress formulas, which often contain large amounts
    of randomly formulated nutrients, such as the B vitamins, but little
    or nothing else, Somer says.

    22. Get Horizontal
    If sex has been on the bottom of your to-do list for too long, move
    it to the top. Sex increases levels of endorphins, those mood-boosting
    chemicals in the brain, and it’s one of the best total-body relaxers
    around, says Louanne Cole Weston, Ph.D., a sex therapist in Sacramento,
    CA. Make a date with your mate, and don’t let anything get in the
    way.

    23. Admit It
    Each of us has uniquely individual stress signals — neck or shoulder
    pain, shallow breathing, stammering, teeth gritting, queasiness,
    loss of temper. Learn to identify yours, then say out loud, "I’m
    feeling stressed," when they crop up, recommends Dr. Rosch. Recognizing
    your personal stress signals helps slow the buildup of negativity
    and anxiety.

    24. Space Out
    Look out the window and find something natural that captures your
    imagination, advises Dr. Sobel. Notice the clouds rolling by or
    the wind in the trees.


    25. Try Tea

    By now most of us know about the calming properties of chamomile tea.
    But a steaming cup of catnip, passionflower, skullcap or kava kava
    also work, according to Dr. Duke. Whether you use tea bags or loose
    tea (one teaspoon of tea per cup of boiling water), steep for about
    10 minutes to get the full benefits of the herbs.

    26. Take a Walk
    It forces you to breathe more deeply and improves circulation, says
    Dr. Cooper. Step outside if you can; if that’s not possible, you
    can gain many of the same benefits simply by walking to the bathroom
    or water cooler, or by pacing back and forth. "The key is to get
    up and move," Dr. Cooper says.

    27. Soak it Up
    "When I have the time, nothing is more stress relieving for me than
    a hot bath," Dr. Weston says. "But when I don’t have time, I do
    the next-best thing: I wash my face or even just my hands and arms
    with hot water. The key is to imagine that I’m taking a hot bath.
    It’s basically a visualization exercise, but the hot water makes
    it feel real."

    28. Play a Few Bars
    A number of recent studies have shown that music can do everything
    from slow heart rate to increase endorphins. Good bets: Bach’s "Air on the G-String," Beethoven’s Pastorale symphony, Chopin’s Nocturne in G, Handel’s Water Music, or pianist George Winston’s CDs Autumn or December..

    29. Fall for Puppy Love
    In a study of 100 women conducted last year at the State University
    of New York at Buffalo, researchers found that those who owned a
    dog had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t. If you don’t
    have a pooch, visit a friend’s: Petting an animal for just a couple
    of minutes helps relieve stress, researchers have found.

    30. Practice Mindfulness
    Heighten your awareness of the moment by focusing intently on an
    object. Notice a pencil’s shape, color, weight and feel. Or slowly
    savor a raisin or a piece of chocolate. Mindfulness leads to relaxation.

    31. Dial a Friend
    Sharing your troubles can give you perspective, help you feel cared
    for and relieve your burden.

    32. Stretch
    Muscles tighten during the course of the day, and when we feel stressed
    out, the process accelerates. Stretching loosens muscles and encourages
    deep breathing. Molly Fox, creative fitness director at the Equinox
    Fitness Center in New York City, says one of the greatest stress-relieving
    stretches is a yoga position called the child pose, which stretches
    the back muscles. On a rug or mat, kneel, sit back on your heels,
    then lean forward and put your forehead on the floor and your arms
    alongside your legs, palms up. Hold for one to three minutes.

    33. Say a Little Prayer
    Studies show that compared with those who profess no faith, religious
    and spiritual people are calmer and healthier.

    34. Make Plans
    "Looking forward to something provides calming perspective," Dr.
    Elkin says. Buy concert tickets, schedule a weekend getaway, or
    make an appointment for a massage.

    35. Goof Off
    It temporarily removes you from a potentially stressful situations.
    Esther Orioli, president of Essi Systems, a San Francisco consultant
    company that organizes stress-management programs, keeps a harmonica
    in the drawer for when she’s feeling stressed out. Bonus: Playing
    it promotes deep breathing.

    36. Straighten Up
    When people are under stress, they slump over as if they have the
    weight of the world on their shoulders. "Slumping restricts breathing
    and reduces blood and oxygen flow to the brain, adding to muscle
    tension and magnifying feelings of panic and helplessness," Dr.
    Cooper explains. Straightening your spine has just the opposite
    effect. It promotes circulation, increases oxygen levels in your
    blood and helps lessen muscle tension, all of which promote relaxation.

    37. Tiptoe Through the Tulips
    Tending your garden helps get you out of your head and lets you
    commune with nature, a known stress reliever. If you’re not a gardener,
    tend to a houseplant. Plants = growth = cycle of life, a nice reminder
    that stress, too, will pass.

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