By MH Staff - Posted on 12th January 2015
Tame tension with these strategies, no matter where it ambushes you.
Stress is a master of disguise. One day it’s triggered by a traffic jam, the next by your doctor pulling on a latex glove. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that by the time you hear the sound of beeping hooters or “bend over,” stress is already on to its next trick: making your health disappear. Poof! “Over the long term, stress can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease, angina, heart attack, and stroke,” says Dr David Posen, stress- management physician. “Often when someone has a heart attack or stroke, others look back and recall that the person was really under a lot of stress in the previous few months.” We realise we’ve just given you something more to stress about, but don’t panic. We’re here to unmask the enemy and provide you with a few situation-specific tricks to help it vanish.
2 YOUR COMMUTE
No matter how good it may feel to flip your finger at another driver, cage it. The faster you lose your temper, the greater your risk of heart disease, according to a review from the University of Iowa. “Some people have a lower anger threshold, blaring the hooter when someone isn’t hitting the gas fast enough,” says Dr Redford Williams, director of Duke University’s Behavioral Medicine Research Center. “But a low threshold means your stress hormones, adrenaline levels and cortisol levels go up more, and you have larger medical problems as a result.” Downshift from pissed gear The next time you begin to feel road rage, apply this emergency brake: pull over at a safe spot, turn off your car, take a deep breath, and say, “Calm.” Now exhale and say, “Down.” Repeat this sequence three times. If you’re still feeling steamed, take a deep breath while squeezing the steering wheel, and then relax your grip as you exhale. Repeat this three times. By physically mimicking your body’s relaxation response and releasing tension from your muscles, you’ll cue your brain to calm down too, says Williams.
3 YOUR OFFICE
Job stress isn’t evil – without it, you could be unemployed. “Moderate stress gives you energy, but at a certain point it becomes distress and negatively impacts your emotions and concentration,” says Dr Posen, author of Is Work Killing You? If there’s no break, your brain could suffer as a result: a recent study from Sweden found that people under chronic job stress had less gray matter in several brain regions than those with fewer work worries. That may be because excess stress hormones can damage or even kill neurons. Stop the clock Your brain is better at sprints than marathons. “You can’t be productive for long periods before your mind wanders and your energy flags,” says Posen. And that just adds stress. So step away from your desk at least three times a day to boost efficiency: at midmorning, spend 10 minutes catching up with colleagues. (Remember that schmoozing can help your career.) Next, allot at least half an hour for lunch – don’t work through it. Finally, consider taking a 15-minute walk in the afternoon when your energy dips, suggests Posen.
4 YOUR DOCTOR
You’d have to be sick to enjoy going to the doctor. But watch out if you’ve moved from stress-fuelled procrastination to outright doc avoidance. “A lot of people with health care anxiety stop going to the doctor, which can allow an illness to progress to the point where they have no choice but to go,” says Dr Martin Antony, a professor of psychology at Ryerson University and the author of The Anti-Anxiety Workbook. No matter how unpleasant it may be to turn your head and cough, it’s a lot less stressful than a ruptured hernia. Patient, heal thyself Fear of the unknown is part of the problem, says Antony. Ask for a rundown of the screenings you’ll need and the order of your tests. Then identify and challenge your white-coat worries, says Antony. Afraid your doc will scold you? Remember that lots of guys with triglyceride levels worse than yours have sat in that exam room. Dreading a diagnosis? Focus on the fact that sinusitis is more common than avian flu. And before you leave, book your follow-up visit. “The more often you go, the easier it will become,” says Antony.
5 YOUR HOME
Home is where the headaches are. Crying children, barking dogs, the annoying couple next door – it’s enough to make a guy consider staying in the garage. “Your home should be a place of solace, but there’s an endless list of stressors you can encounter,” says Dr Aditi Nerurkar, assistant medical director of the Cheng-Tsui Integrated Health Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in the US. “If you’re not relieving that stress, it can spread to other areas of your life.” Read: your family may consider changing the locks. De-hassle your castle Start by squeezing in a workout after work. Research from the University of Maryland shows that 30 minutes of cardio can immediately reduce stress and help shield you from stressors afterwards. If your zen still evaporates at home, sneak away from the source of your stress and set your smartphone alarm for five minutes, says Nerurkar. Sit with your spine straight and eyes closed, and concentrate on observing your breath (without changing the flow of your natural breathing pattern) until the alarm sounds.
6 YOUR BED
You’re naked, she’s naked; so what’s there to stress about? “It largely has to do with the societal scripts for men’s sexual behaviour,” says Dr Robin Milhausen, an associate professor of family relations and human sexuality at the University of Guelph in the US. “The beliefs that men should always be ready for sex and should be incredible sexual performers are very prominent and strongly held, and those expectations can be a source of stress.” Worst case – well, you already know the worst case: you won’t have the wood to start a fire. Come to your senses Get out of your head and back into bed. One of the best ways to bring your mind to the moment is to pay close attention to your five senses, explains Milhausen. For example, focus on how awesome it feels when she does that thing with her hips, the strangely hot animalistic sounds that she’s making, or the taste (and smell) of her glistening skin. If you’re still psyching yourself out of an erection, try going down on her, Milhausen recommends. Putting penetration on pause will take the emphasis off your faltering equipment. What’s more, the confidence boost you’ll receive from turning her on should provide the additional benefit of heightening your own arousal. And if you feel yourself starting to go soft while you’re in the act? Turn to the tried-and-true squeeze technique: pull out and squeeze gently just underneath the head of your penis. Doing this may help you maintain your arousal and keep your erection from falling flat, says Milhausen.
7 YOUR FLIGHT
We won’t remind you that you’re actually more likely to die in a car accident than you are to eat earth in an airplane (though you are). Heck, the thought of crashing to the ground may not even be what makes the skies feel so unfriendly to you. “There’s a lot of variability in flying anxiety, and how you cope depends on your trigger,” says Antony. Those triggers can include anything from the claustrophobia of tight quarters to the fear of having a seatmate who’s hacking up a lung. And of course, there’s that fear of taking a nosedive. Relieve cabin pressure What’s your trigger? If you often feel the plane’s walls closing in on you, then you probably wait until the last minute to board. While that may provide short-term relief, boarding early and taking time to acclimate to the situation can lead to better results in the long run, Antony says. Now if you’re worried that the coughing guy nearby will hack into your immune system, know that your chance of catching an infection in flight is only 15%, Purdue researchers estimate. Tip the odds further in your favour by washing your hands before eating or drinking; a University of Michigan review concluded that washing up cuts your risk of picking up a respiratory illness by 21%. And if the real but remote risk of crashing stresses you, do some homework: before you leave, read up on the aircraft so the flying experience will feel predictable. You can look online for commercial aircraft facts, such as size and number of seats. “Anything that makes the plane less mysterious can help you feel less afraid,” Antony says.
8 Let Go of Stress
Your best tool for helping yourself relax may already be stashed in your gym bag There’s a seemingly infinite array of stress-busting tools you could buy, but we’ve found one that actually works – the lowly heart rate monitor. Basic models aren’t pricey – like the Polar F2 Heart Rate Monitor (R895, Sportsmans Warehouse). Use it to practise biofeedback, a technique that can help you identify your tension triggers and figure out the best way to combat them. “One of the problems with anxiety and stress is that people don’t feel in control of their environment or their response to their environment,” says Dr Melissa Marotta Houser, a physician who studies biofeedback. So take charge. Start by establishing your baseline: what’s your heart rate when you’re doing normal, non-stressful activities? When you feel tense, check it again to see how much your pulse has spiked. Then try the chill-out strategies described in this story to find what’s most effective at bringing you back to baseline. – Brendan Klinkenberg