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Instant Relaxers -- Stress Relief

Spring 1997

WE'VE ALL BEEN in situations when we needed on-the-spot stress relief. Experts have discovered fast and easy things you can do to relieve tension any time and anywhere. Reducing stress as soon as it strikes, is important because stress is unavoidable in everyday life. Stress can hit without warning. And the long-term consequences of unman-aged stress can be serious. It can lead to health problems such as headaches, backaches and insomnia, as well as high blood pressure, ulcers, a weakened immune system, and heart disease.

The secret to managing stress is to build relaxation breaks into every day so that they become part of your lifestyle.

  • Eat soothing snacks: Carbohydrates set off an intricate chain of events in the body that increases the supply of serotonin, a brain chemical known for its calming effect. To get the most out of your snack, avoid eating proteins, which can thwart the production of serotonin. Likewise, the snacks should be low in fat, as fat slows the absorption of food and can delay the calming benefits. Choose starches like low-fat crackers, pretzels, and Cheerios; and sweets like jelly beans, gummy candies, and ice pops. All you need is a few ounces to trigger the calming effect.

  • Take a deep breath: Deep breathing brings much-needed oxygen into the body and relaxes the muscles. It also slows down the heart rate (which accelerates when we feel anxious) and helps calm the mind. When you concentrate on the rhythm of deep breathing, it takes your mind off what's causing the problem. Here's a simple exercise: Picture a small beach ball in your abdomen. Breathe slowly and deeply, imagining that you're inflating the ball through a hole in your belly button. Exhale slowly through slightly parted lips. Do this for about two minutes.


  • Relax your muscles: Because anxiety causes muscles to tighten, leading to headaches and backaches. Take a deep breath and hold for three seconds, while pushing the thumb and index finger of one hand together so that you feel a little tension. Then slowly exhale through your mouth while releasing the tension in your fingers. Repeat several times. Focusing on that tension release should help your whole body feel more relaxed.


  • Walk it off: While the stress-reducing benefits of moderate and high-intensity exercise are well known. Even a brisk five to 15 minute walk can be effective. Walkings effect on the cardiovascular system gives you a boost of energy. And the more energy you have, the more you are able to resist the physical effects of stress. A walk can also reduce muscle tension, especially if you swing your arms naturally. Be sure to keep up a brisk pace, but not so fast that you become exhausted.


  • Follow your nose: Some studies have shown that sniffing pleasant aromas improves moods. Some people may find the smell of spiced apples comforting because it reminds them of their mother's baking. The scent a person finds relaxing depends on whether she thinks it's pleasant and what associations it brings from her past.


  • Have a good cry: Eighty-five percent of women say they feel better after crying. It's a way humans have of alleviating stress. Just how does it work? Tears rid the body of chemicals that build up during periods of stress, allowing us to relax.


  • Talk it out: When you're under duress, a quick call to a friend can instantly make you feel better. Getting it off your chest helps put it in perspective. Just be sure to pick the right person to confide in -- someone who's a good listener. A word of caution: You may be working yourself up instead of calming down if you find that you're repeating the same gripes. If you don't feel like talking about what's bothering you, just chatting can help too.

  • This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
    See Also
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    More on Coping With Stress and Anxiety