Smarter Stress Strategies

    A man lays down while eating pizza and watching televisionIf deep breathing, weekly kickboxing classes, and venting to all your friends aren’t helping you to relieve your stress, you’re not alone. New studies show that many of today’s more popular relaxation strategies  are becoming less and less effective.

    So, what’s old news when it comes to really helping to manage stress–and what’s new?
     
    Old: Never Go To Bed Angry
    New: Just Go To Bed

    When you’re in a heated argument, the last thing you feel like doing is curling up in bed beside your partner. But deep down, many of us worry that going to bed angry just tempts fate. So we bargain, cajole, and then fight some more in an effort to resolve the dispute, thinking all will be well by the morning if the two of you can just reach a resolution.
     
    The fact is, forcing a discussion just because it’s bedtime can actually make things worse, says Andrea K. Wittenborn, PhD, an assistant professor in the marriage and family therapy program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. When you’re upset, a part of the brain called the amygdala cues the fight-or-flight response, limiting your ability to have a calm, rational discussion. So it’s actually a better idea to hold off until you calm down.
     
    “Taking a time-out or even a night off is critical, because once you’ve activated the fight-or-flight system, you can’t simply tell it to turn off,” says Ronald Potter-Efron, PhD, author of Rage: A Step-by-Step Guide to Overcoming Explosive Anger. “If you’re already angry or frustrated, you become emotionally flooded and unable to think clearly.” Plus, sleep is a powerful antidote to stress, says Russell Rosenberg, PhD, director of the Atlanta Sleep Medicine Clinic and vice chairman of the National Sleep Foundation.
     
    Instead of trying to keep talking, agree to call a truce until morning, and make sure to actually talk things out the next day.”Completely dropping issues that really bug you can be damaging to your relationship and contribute to increased stress,” warns Dr. Wittenborn.

    Old: Control Your Temper
    New: Throw a Tantrum (occasionally)
     
    From the time we’re little, we’re taught to control our tempers, and as adults–especially women–we still believe that venting anger is unhealthy (not to mention childish). In fact, the opposite now appears to be true. According to a study published in Biological Psychiatry that looked at the effect of facial expressions of emotions, such as fear and indignation, on our stress responses, displaying your anger may actually cause your brain to release less cortisol, the stress hormone associated with obesity, bone loss, and heart disease.
     
    And while experts know that chronic anger contributes to hypertension and coronary disease, they’ve also found that expressing irritation in response to a short-term and unfair frustration, such as being cut off in traffic, can actually dampen the nasty effects of stress. That’s because anger confers feelings of control, counteracting the helplessness and frustration we often feel in response to perceived insults and injustices, says lead study author Jennifer Lerner, PhD.

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