Picture it: You’re in back-to-back meetings and can barely scarf down a salad at your desk for lunch, you needed to find a new apartment like yesterday; oh, and your honey’s surprise bday party is Saturday. Bam! Your stress level is through the roof.
“When you’re stressed, cortisol and adrenaline start flooding your blood stream,” says Judith Orloff, M.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, and author of Positive Energy . “These hormones cause blood vessels to constrict and muscles to tighten, and they decrease your immunity — all of which puts you on a high alert.” So basically, you turn into Super You. “It’s this combination that allows you to run away from a tiger in the jungle or grab a child in danger out of the street — it’s like natural speed,” says Orloff. Sounds great, right? Why wouldn’t you want to be You 2.0, running from jungle cats and saving people 24/7? Two words: Burn. Out.
“Your body also needs its endorphins and relaxation response,” says Orloff. “Endorphins are the blissful neurochemicals that are released when you are happy and not stressed.” Bottom line: you’ve got to find that stress sweet spot, where it happens here and there but you also know how to keep calm and carrying on. “There’s good and bad stress,” says Orloff. “A tiny bit of anxiety can keep you on your toes and give you a bit of a biological boost.” But if you’re chronically a hot mess, then you never have enough endorphins, you’re constantly on edge, and you’re always exactly that: a hot mess.
Next time your boss sends you an ALL CAPS email, your 4-inch heel snaps as you're running for the subway, or your brand-new iPhone shatters into a gazillion pieces, try one of these simple tricks to tap into your inner Zen.
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Get Some Freaking Rest
“Sleep is very important to balance the body’s biochemistry,” says Orloff. “And when you get too little, eventually that biologically is thrown off — and your body automatically has more stress hormones when you awake.” And what your mind tosses back and forth before you drift off or you dream about may be doing a lot more than you think. “When you sleep, you’re creatively solving problems,” says Orloff. See, it’s not a total waste of time — you can still multi-task when in REM mode.
Say Nice Things To Yourself
It may sound all Justin Theroux Wanderlust-y but it’s legit: “Hearing positive affirmations instead of the negative, fearful voices in your head lets you take control of your thoughts,” says Orloff. Close your eyes and tell yourself (silently, not out loud, don’t worry) that you’ll do fantastic and not let fear guide you in the stressful situation, then open them. You are Super You, sans speed.
This one only works if you’re already all worked up about a certain sitch but not yet flying into the depths of insanity. “A few minutes before, take a few deep breaths and focus on a positive image that calms you down and makes you feel good — a starlit sky, a blue ocean,” says Orloff. Our suggestions: the new salmon-colored Chloé bag or a head-to-toe rubdown at that ritzy new spa. Again, you just need to get in that brain of yours and start working the controls instead of allowing stress to start calling the shots. “By warding off stress hormones and getting endorphins flowing, you can change the biochemistry of your body and mind so that they don’t rule you,” says Orloff.
Work Up A Sweat
You know you feel good hitting the gym after you leave the office (and not just because you didn’t lose another $35 in membership fees). And you know why: endorphins. These are the happy brain Pac-Mans that go around and gobble up all the stress hormones that have taken over your body after a particularly hectic day. While it might work to work on your fitness before you get down to biz to give you a good mental start to the day, if you’ve got a presentation or day of meetings, it's better to wait until you clock out. “Exercise gets endorphins flowing and relaxes you after stress,” says Orloff. “You don’t necessarily want to be too relaxed during say, a high-energy meeting.”
Avoid Energy Vampires
Yes, you read that right and no, we aren’t talking about some new cast of tween romance characters. “Energy vampires suck you dry with negativity, so you don’t want to be around them before something important or when you’re healing from a stressful situation or trauma,” says Orloff. You know who they are. The co-worker who tells you how terrible tomorrow is going to be. That friend who just complains and complains. But that ray of sunshine? Why, she’s better than Xanax. “People are medicine and energy — you want to be around positive people with positive messages before a test, an interview, or a first date,” says Orloff.
Turn Down The Volume
This isn’t super-easy when you can’t exactly control the constant rumblings of your surroundings, especially for urban dwellers — the construction, the yelling, the honking. “Loud noise is very assaultive to the system and can cause a surge in stress hormones,” says Orloff. What you do want to raise the sound on: calming music that soothes you, be it Mozart or Bruce. When you’re at home, instead of switching on the TV, go for Sirius. On your walk to work, pull out your iPod.
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