Stress can be destructive. Even brain-damaging. Although women in United States are less likely to experience most severe traumatic events, women are also more vulnerable to everyday stress—mothers, for example, are 5 times as likely as fathers to rate their stress at the highest level, says the American Psychological Association.
Fortunately, experts are learning that coping, and even prevention, are highly effective tactics to combat the entire spectrum of stress-related conditions, from worrying to extreme anxiety disorders. are highly effective. Here’s what new PTSD science can teach all of us about outsmarting stress.
So, how can you learn to deal…better?
Mindfulness meditation works wonders to boost stress resilience, say experts from the University of Pennsylvania who are using the practice with military personnel. “We teach them to focus on the present moment instead of catastrophizing about the future,” says Amishi Jha, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. After 8 weeks of meditation training, Marines became less reactive to stressors—plus they were more alert and exhibited better memory.
What This Means: Take short mindfulness breaks
“Even I get too busy to meditate,” says Jha. “Then I remember the Marines in the study calling my colleague while they were deployed to ask for mindfulness pointers, and I think, If they can do it in a war zone, I can do it in my office!” Try this technique Marines use anywhere: Sit upright, focus on your breath, and pay attention to a physical sensation, such as the feel of air in your nostrils. When your mind wanders, notice the disruption, then return your attention to that simple sensation. Jha herself now meditates 5 to 10 minutes at a time, several times a day.
2. Learn To Recognize What Stress Feels Like For You
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—which helps you recognize and change knee-jerk reactions to stress triggers—is one of the most effective methods of managing PTSD. In the military, such training can include a technique called “exposure therapy,” in which soldiers relive disturbing past experiences in small doses with a therapist until the memories become less overwhelming. Along the same lines, doctors have achieved promising results by asking patients who developed PTSD following an illness to imagine a relapse.
Such intense visualizations should be undertaken only with a licensed professional, but “practicing” feeling stressed can help anyone cope day to day, says Elizabeth Carll, PhD, a trauma specialist on Long Island, NY. “If you learn to recognize how your body feels when anxiety starts, it’s easier to intervene and calm yourself.”
What this means: Imagine a moment of tension…and learn to mentally deal with it
Fortify yourself against anxiety by trying an at-home exercise, says Susan Fletcher, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Plano, TX. Picture yourself in a stressful place, such as your commute, and imagine the tension you feel. Write out the realities of the situation: If I don’t leave by 7:30, I’ll be late. On the other hand, I’ll be in traffic about 60 minutes, so I can listen to a book on disc. This lets you feel the stress and know it’s not debilitating, and helps you devise solutions. If you want to try formal CBT, which encompasses a range of methods, you can find a certified practitioner through the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists (nacbt.org).