ME Magazine

Break the Cycle

How to stop stress from slowing down your life

IT'S BEEN A LONGDAY.

A loooooong one.

Between a big work project due tomorrow, a bill collector that seems to have your number on speed dial and a migraine that appeared while you spent 90 minutes fighting rush-hour traffic, you have barely enough strength left to find your way to the couch. Meanwhile, even contemplating going to the gym or eating a dinner that doesn't involve a takeout menu is a distant dream.

Sound familiar?

Taking Back Your Energy

Stress bombards us all the time, and with it comes a personal drain on our energy levels. Everything from being overworked or a fear of losing our job to facing a personal tragedy or simply the everyday commitments of life can cause stress. Debbie Mandel, author ofAddicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life(Jossey-Bass, 2008), says some people crave the high they get from stress.

"Like any addiction, stress gives you a surge," explains Mandel. "Unfortunately, you crash, you get depleted, then you need a bigger fix." She says you could then face such health issues as chronic fatigue syndrome, cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, poor eating habits and insomnia.

And even if it doesn't make you sick, stress can zap your energy. Here are some ways to break the cycle when stress starts to overtake you.

Fill your lungs. "Taking a few deep breaths will calm your fight-or-flight system and bring your mind and body back into balance," says Jane Foody, a registered instructor with the Yoga Alliance. "The best thing to do is to mentally count to five as you breathe in and mentally count to five as you breathe out.

Book a massage. Massage therapy does more than just relax your muscles-it can relax your mind as well, helping relieve symptoms of stress. That's because massage releases endorphins that calm your nervous system. Research studies show massage therapy strenghtens the immune system, which can become compromised from extended periods of stress.

Be contagious. "Goodness and happiness are contagious, and a bad mood is contagious," says Mandel. Surround yourself with supportive, happy people. Even if stress makes you want to hibernate, "being isolated is a recipe for disaster," adds Mandel. "Friends are your best therapists."

Get moving. Exercise is one of the best ways to alleviate anxiety and get your endorphins pumping-those "feel good" chemicals your body produces when you go for a bike ride or hop on the treadmill. If you can't muster an hour a day, start with a brisk 15-minute walk outside with your dog, and move up from there.

Giggle. "We take ourselves very seriously," says Mandel, who encourages people to reinterpret stressful moments in their day with a more comedic take. Learn to laugh off what you can't control. Or, try "movie therapy," she suggests. "Watch comedies until you laugh … or cry," she says, noting that both results are good releases.

Get it out. Sometimes, it all makes sense on paper. "Get a journal and write in it," says Foody, who suggests jotting down your jumble of thoughts as a way to blow off steam. "Gain insight on what's happening in your life and how you can possibly change it for the better."
-By Amanda Myers

ME Magazine Winter 2009

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A Moment of Silence

Practice full body relaxation once per day for at least five minutes. Start by lying down on your back in a comfortable position. Now, close your eyes and scan your body for tensions and stress. Relax your jaw, your shoulders and continue to relax your whole body progressively.

Serious Stress

Stress can be fleeting or it can be chronic, depending on its cause. But it's important to watch the warning signs that it may be turning into something more severe, such as depression.

If any of the following feelings do not go away or interfere with your daily life, consider seeking a professional's help:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Change in weight
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Energy loss
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

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