1. Run away from it
One of the most effective way to defuse stress is to run away from it. In a 1993 study that asked 40 men and 37 women to keep diaries of activity, mood, and stress, volunteers felt less anxious on days when they were physically active than days when they didn't exercise. Even when stressful events occurred, people in the study said they felt less troubled on their physically active days.
Why Exercise acts as an antidote to life's pressures in several ways? First, it is a simple distraction from problems. Second, it may change the chemistry of stress, blunting the effect of hormones like cortisol. Exercise has also been shown to ease the symptoms of moderate depression. Physical activity makes it easier not only to lose weight but to keep calories in balance once you go off your diet, and that's enough to make anyone feel good.
Virtually any kind of physical activity seems to relieve the effects of stress, although some researchers think that activities that involve repetitive movements like walking, running, cycling, or swimming may offer the best defense. Many people consider swimming to be one of the most relaxing of all forms of exercise, a soothing way to literally go with the flow. Repeating a physical movement over and over again somehow seems to ease mind and body.
A few tips to make your workout even more relaxing. If you're a walker, be aware of the way your arms swing from front to back and the rhythm of your gait. Repeat a soothing word or phrase each time you exhale. If you work out on an exercise cycle or stair machine at a fitness club, you probably find yourself parked in front of a bank of television sets. Watching a TV can prevent you from getting into the soothing rhythm of your workout. Studies show that watching television makes people more jittery, not less. So ignore the screen, concentrate on your breathing and the repetitive movement of your arms and legs. If the gym plays music that gets on your nerves, bring a personal stereo with earphones and your own favorite music or use noise-blocking earplugs and enjoy a quiet interlude.
2. Do one thing at a time
If you're constantly being interrupted with phone calls while you're trying to work on something, let the answering machine take messages. Call people back when the time is right for you. Do one thing at a time and you may feel your stress meter reading begin to fall.
3. Put out the fire
Anger can be stressful, especially the "hotheaded" kind that lashes out and does not solve the problem that ignited it. But never expressing your anger can be harmful as well. If you feel your temper about to flare, stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself three quick questions:
* Is this really important to me? If the answer is 'No', leave what sparked your anger behind. If the answer is 'yes', then ask yourself:
* Am I justified in being angry in this situation? Argue the pros and cons, as if you had to make your case in court. If your answer is, 'No', I don't really have much to gripe about," you're likely to feel your anger and stress dissolve. Of course, the answer may be, "'Yes', damn right, that guy nearly ran me off the road, and he's so busy talking on his cell phone he didn't even notice it!" Then ask yourself just one more question:
* Is there anything I can really do about it? Honking like crazy isn't going to change anything. It's only likely to make you feel even angrier. Here's a case where the best response is to let it go, take a deep breath, and keep out of the guy's way.
4. Call a friend
Even just calling someone to say a quick hello -- does more than take your mind off your troubles. It can be powerful medicine. German researchers recently reported that people with a strong sense of social connection to other people were almost one-third less likely to die after they'd had a heart attack than those who were socially isolated. Part of the reason may be the stress-easing effect of close relationships. If you don't have a circle of friends to turn to, consider beginning to build one by volunteering for a local community charity, joining a club or a church group, or signing up for an exercise class.