How to Cope with Stress
"We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same." - Anne Frank
Feeling stressed out? Tired? Bored? Here's a few simple tips to cope with stress and help you become more energetic and alert:
- Take a Stroll: Studies show that spending time outdoors provides a mood boost by reducing stress hormones and lowering blood pressure. Sunlight can also increase the body's production of serotonin, which lifts mood and increases energy. A weather where there's a lot of air and water movement in the atmosphere (like in a thunderstorm) may also increase the body's oxygen intake and serotonin levels, says Michael Terman, Ph.D., director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at New York–Presbyterian Hospital.
- Obsess Less: When your mind is in overdrive, your body secretes stress hormones, such as cortisol, which over time can wreak havoc on the body. It can also make falling asleep difficult by suppressing the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for lowering body temperature so that you can shift into sleep mode. For a quick fix, "Ask yourself, 'Am I in imminent danger?' It may sound irrational or melodramatic, but that's the point. You bring yourself down to earth by reminding yourself that your worries aren't crises. This will relax your body’s adrenal 'fight or flight' system and help you feel in control."
- Drink Fluids: Your body needs water to transport oxygen to your cells. Deprive yourself of sufficient liquids and you may feel tired or get headaches. While there's no magic number for the amount of liquid to consume in a day, experts say you should try to drink at least four tall glasses of water. Caffeine gets a bad rap, but used judiciously, it can give you a lift. Try to limit yourself to one cup of coffee in the morning and, if you must and it doesn’t interfere with falling asleep at night, a half cup after lunch. Consider switching to green tea, which contains caffeine but also theanine, a calming substance that counteracts the jitters from caffeine.
- Do Things That Lift Your Spirits: Fun people, rhythmic music, and funny movies can boost your energy level, researchers have found. Listening to music invigorates the body by activating several areas of the brain at once, building new nerve connections. It also increases oxygen flow to the heart, which perks you up as well.
- Eat Consistently: Eating consistently - three small meals with snacks in between - keeps your blood-sugar level even, so you don’t experience the highs and lows that occur when you go too long without food, says Molly Kimball, a registered dietitian at the Ochsner Clinic’s Elmwood Fitness Center, in New Orleans. Ideally, all your meals and snacks should contain complex carbohydrates (produce, whole grains) to provide fuel, and protein (nuts, cheese) to give you endurance. Try an apple and a piece of cheese or carrot sticks and edamame. Snacks of refined carbs, like cookies and pretzels, provide an initial rush, but the body burns them quickly and your energy soon flags. To satiate a sweet tooth, try dark chocolate. It contains the chemical phenylethylamine, which increases energy by improving mood and attention span.
- Exercise: Regular workouts boost energy stores by conditioning the body to make optimal use of oxygen and glucose, its two primary fuel sources. There's good evidence that simply walking regularly can boost energy.
- Breathe Deep: Shallow breathing prevents the body from getting enough oxygen. Many people fail to breathe deeply when they feel tense, which is one reason they may feel zapped at the end of a stress-filled day. "The general principles of correct breathing are to make it deeper, slower, quieter, and more regular," says Andrew Weil, M.D. Doing so helps you force more oxygen into your cells, which slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation, ultimately providing more energy.
- Move Around: The more active you are, the better your circulation will be. And good circulation is essential for energy because blood transports oxygen and nutrients — fuel for the cells — to the muscles, brain, etc. If you have a desk job, get up throughout the day — once an hour is ideal — to give your body breaks from activities such as typing and staring at the computer. Also, stand up when you’re on the phone or pace around the office. When you’re stuck seated, like on a long car ride, do neck rolls and shoulder shrugs and circle your feet to keep blood circulating.
- Don't Slouch: Good posture opens the chest cavity and increases oxygen intake by as much as 30 percent, making more energy available to your mind and muscles. If you’re a sloucher, trade in your chair for an exercise ball, which forces you to sit taller, says Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Healthy Aging.
- Try Something New: Recent research confirms new experiences give you a rush. "We've known that when people do something novel, the brain's reward chemical, dopamine, is released," says Gregory Berns, M.D., a neuroscientist at Emory University, in Atlanta, and the author of Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment (Henry Holt, $24, amazon.com). But novelty has an added benefit. "What we’ve discovered in the last five years," Berns says, "is that dopamine is also a motivating chemical that gears us up to do more." In other words, take a trip or learn Spanish and you may also feel inspired to start a new project at home or work.
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