Changes in our lives—whether positive such as marriage or negative such as financial worries—can be overwhelming at times. Since stress can affect both mind and body, here are some stress reduction techniques to help you cope when things get challenging.
How Does Stress Affect You?
Imagine that a car is speeding towards you. Your heart rate and blood pressure soar as your body produces a surge of adrenaline and cortisol that signals you to get out of the way. While stress like this is critical for survival, hundreds of clinical studies have shown that staying keyed up is linked to numerous health issues including reduced immune function.
Make Simple Changes
Does thinking about reducing stress feel, well, stressful? Take some deep breaths, get a little fresh air, and try these proven techniques:
1. Think positive. Simply looking on the bright side can have a profound effect on immune health. In a recent UCLA study, researchers compared the attitudes of beginning law students with changes in their immune responses. By mid-semester, students who had described themselves as optimistic had more helper T cells—which amplify immune response—and more powerful killer cells compared with the pessimistic students.
2. Fight fair. In another study, happy couples who discussed a marriage problem calmly and pleasantly demonstrated beneficial changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and immune-related white blood cells similar to results seen from exercise.
3. Share what’s bothering you. Type D personalities—people who keep opinions and emotions hidden—have less active killer T cells compared with their more expressive peers. Talk things over with a trusted friend, therapist, or someone at your place of worship. If you’re dealing with a long-term stressor such as caring for a sick relative, a support group can be especially helpful.
4. Eat right. Excess fat and alcohol can disrupt sleep while caffeine can increase stress levels and keep your body on high alert. Aim for balanced meals favoring unprocessed foods and a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein.
5. Unwind and redirect. Burn off tension on the treadmill, try yoga or a new recipe, or get lost in a good book.
6. Laugh. It’s no joke: laughter decreases stress hormones and increases certain immune cells. In one study, healthy adults who watched a funny video for an hour showed significant increases in immune system activity.
7. Get a pet or volunteer at your local animal shelter. Caring for animals is proven to lower blood pressure, improve your mood and create a loving, lasting bond.