Life is like a roller coaster, says Dr. Paul J. Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress in New York.
And the people on board each have their own way of dealing with the bone-rattling ride. “In the front of the car are the wide-eyed thrill-seekers who can’t wait for the next breathtaking plummet,” Rosch notes. “In back are the white-knuckled timorous types who won’t open their eyes until the ride is over. And in between are those who seesaw between courage and fear.”
“We all respond to stress differently,” Rosch says. “One person’s stress is another person’s challenge. It’s all in how you perceive it.” Those who handle stress well are said to have a strong sense of control and commitment, and who enjoy challenges that would overwhelm others. They thrive on stress.”
But for those of us less “hearty” types who feel the need to reduce stress, there are some simple remedies. Most experts agree that walking is a universal stress reliever. Whether you take an impromptu stroll to blow off steam or a regular walk of 30 to 45 minutes four times a week, walking is a mood-lifter. It can be the foundation for a variety of ways to reduce stress. Here are 10 ways to get you started.
- LOCK IN YOUR WALK. Make a walk part of your daily schedule – just as taking a shower or eating dinner. Locking it into your routine will help ease your exercise painlessly into your day. It may also eliminate the guilt and worry associated with trying to find time to exercise on an intermittent basis.
- BE KIND TO YOUR STOMACH. Acid stomach and ulcers are painful conditions sometimes associated with stress. In the past, spicy foods topped the list of things to avoid, but more recent evidence shows that caffeine, alcohol, smoking, and painkillers, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, are more likely to aggravate the condition.
- TIME YOUR MEALS. Keeping your energy level high throughout the day requires a ready supply of blood sugar. Skipping breakfast or lunch will cause your blood sugar to drop. It’s better to eat four small, low-fat meals during the day. (See “Grazing Without Guilt,” TWM, August 1990, p.27). Eating small, well-balanced meals periodically during the day and avoiding large doses of caffeine and processed sweets can help you maintain even blood sugar levels and control your weight.
- MASSAGE YOUR HANDS. A five minute hand routine can prevent or release tension. Try a few of these:
Place a tennis ball in your palm. Grip and release 12 times.
Put a rubber band around the tips of your fingers and thumb. Open and close 20 times.
Make loose fists with both your hands, then move your fists in a circle to increase your range of motion.
Pat or gently slap your hands all over to increase circulation.
Open one hand and grasp it with the other. Press the thumb firmly on the base of the hand for several seconds. Continue pressing, slowly moving toward the space between the first two fingers. Repeat for each pair of fingers.
Turn your hand over and massage the top of the hand, starting at the base and working toward your fingertips.
Grip the fleshy portion between your thumb and index finger. Press and release it at least five times.
Grip the knuckle of the thumb between the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Move the thumb in a circle.
- NIX NECK PAIN. One of the first places you feel tension gathering is in the neck. Poor posture is the most common cause of neck pain. Try to keep your back straight but relaxed and your head centered directly over your spine while sitting, standing, or walking. Gently stretching the neck muscles can also relieve tension. Tilt your head to the left, keeping shoulders down. Place your left hand on the right top side of your head. Gently pull your head toward your left shoulder for 20 seconds. Reverse position and stretch to the right.
- ENERGIZE WITH EXERCISE. Don’t rely on supplements like monthly injections of vitamin B12 to restore your energy. B12 is no more capable of providing a burst of energy than it is able to relieve muscle soreness, headaches, or anxiety. A proven energy booster is regular exercise. Pick any rhythmic, aerobic activity such as walking, rowing, biking, or swimming. Do it at least four times a week and feel your energy pick up.
- GET MORE SLEEP. About one out of five adults routinely suffers from insomnia. It can be triggered by stress and anxiety, but it may persist even after the source of stress is removed. Lack of sleep itself can cause stress. Improve your sleeping habits by sticking to a regular schedule. Go to bed and get up the same time every day, even on weekends. Do not try to make up for lost sleep by napping or sleeping late- this will disrupt your schedule, and don’t drink beverages containing caffeine within four hours before bedtime.
- CREATE FREE TIME. Analyze your daily schedule and look for ways to simplify it. Could you do errands on your lunch hour rather than after work? Can you combine a trip to the grocery store with picking up your child at soccer practice? The goal is to have some time for yourself left over at the end of the day. Count on some unscheduled time each day for tending to your own need to relax.
- REACH OUT TO OTHERS. Regular physical contact with others can lower anxiety levels. Expressing physical affection toward friends and family members is a healthy, stress-relieving habit. Or, try giving and receiving a massage from your mate. Even the physical contact of handling a pet improves some people’s moods.
- HELP SOMEONE ELSE. Doing volunteer work that benefits others can reduce your own tension and anxiety. Such volunteering is particularly effective when you can see the results. Sign on for an activity that gives you direct contact with other people, such as elderly or children. Volunteer to teach adults to read. Serve meals to shut-ins. For best results, volunteer for a project that offers you freedom of choice rather than work where you have no control over your own activities or those of the people you’re helping.