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There are ways to help reduce stress


Last updated 8/28/2008 at Noon

Even in the best of times, the effects of stress can be hard to tame. Deadlines, money problems, family strife, traffic and just the ol’ daily grind can wear down anybody. Add those challenges to poor diet and lack of sleep and you can end with burnout.

Stress isn’t always a negative thing, though; it’s just the way the body reacts to change, whether it’s desirable or unwanted. Even positive stress, like a new baby or landing that dream job, can wear you down if you’re not sure how to handle them.

When normal stress turns into burnout, everyday activities can feel like climbing a mountain. If going to work takes every ounce of self-will you have, you may be burned out. If your diet consists mainly of “comfort foods” like ice cream, cookies and vodka, you may be burned out. If you feel exhausted, isolated and wonder if your life has any meaning or worth, it’s a good guess that you’re burned out.

There are steps that can decrease the effects of stress, and when used together they add up to a healthy program for coping.

1. Activity is always a great tension tamer. A walk after dinner with the kids or the dog can get the endorphins, nature’s homemade opiates, pumping. Lifting weights, practicing some yoga moves or just marching in place can lift your mood for hours afterward.

2. Learn to say no. Norman Vincent Peale wrote that cemeteries are full of important men. Allowing yourself to say no to commitments when they cut into personal or family time can de-clutter your schedule and lead to more peace of mind. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a ‘no’ from you means everything collapses into chaos. Let other people take some responsibility too.

3. Have a healthy diet. Making healthy food choices can mean the difference between sustained energy throughout the day and exhaustion by noon. If your favorite food groups are fat, salt and sugar, it’s time to develop a more balanced approach to eating. A diet consisting of vegetables, fruits and protein keeps blood sugar stable so you avoid the mood swings and fatigue due to low blood sugar.

4. Hang out with your friends. In 1999, a British study demonstrated that friendship may heal even chronic depression. A group of clinically depressed women in London were assigned volunteer “befrienders” who met with them regularly for informal chats over tea or outings. By the end of the year, 72 percent of the women who had met with their volunteer friends weekly were no longer depressed, compared to 45 percent of the clinically depressed women in a control group. The rates for antidepressants and cognitive therapy are similar. Friends can be good sounding boards when things are rough and they help you feel supported, understood and accepted. Listening to a friend’s grumblings can also give you perspective on your own troubles and help you feel less isolated.

5. Give your brain a break. Going to a comedy show, watching a funny movie, playing poker with the guys, working on a project in the garage – a couple hours of distraction can rejuvenate your spirit. If an opportunity to play and have fun comes up, grab it! Adulthood doesn’t have to mean eternal gravitas.

6. Sex is a great stress reducer. Endorphins, which are chemically very similar to morphine, are released during orgasm and make us feel relaxed and happy. A 10-year study showed that men who have three or more orgasms are week are 50 percent less likely to die from coronary heart disease. Maybe they eventually die of happiness. Regular sex adds to the intimacy of a relationship, which adds to the feeling of connectedness, which leads to feeling happier and more relaxed. It’s a win-win.

7. Don’t skimp on sleep. Staying up too late or dragging yourself out of bed before you’ve had eight to nine hours of sleep can cause your emotions to roller coaster. Not everyone needs eight hours a night; some need six and others need ten. Your body will tell you how much you need. If you have problems falling to sleep there are over-the-counter supplements like melatonin that you can take or you may want to visit your doctor and see what she recommends. Depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety are joined to insomnia at the hip and getting sleep problems under control is a powerful way to cope with them and the normal day-to-day stressors we all face.

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