Reducing stress isn't about bubble baths or the spa. Teach your body to deal well with stress as it happens.
The relentless exposure to daily, chronic anxiety
is the most toxic form of stress. It can actually be poisonous, wearing
down the immune system and increasing the risk of everything from colds
to cancer. Stress can damage neurons in the brain, causing memory
problems; it can interfere with sexual performance and lead to heart
attacks and premature death. Worst of all, it can make you fat.
exposure simply isn't mitigated by dutifully scheduling in nighttime
bubble baths or ducking out to watch TV. Ultimately, it is how you spend
your days -- not your downtime -- that matters. Americans are spending
their days awash in a toxic bath of stress hormones.
research -- which has been fueled in part by the national stresses of
Sept. 11 -- is exploring how some people manage to glide through
stressful situations, while others wind themselves tighter as the day
It isn't that the first group is spending more time at
the day spa. It isn't even that they are confronted by less stress.
Researchers have pegged stress resistance to a single quality:
resilience. People who handle stress well recover quickly, physically
and mentally, when confronted by it. From the way they breathe at their
desks to how much they laugh, they engage in a set of subtle behaviors
that help them shift easily in and out of "stress mode" throughout the
The result is a major shift in what experts recommend for
relief. The goal is to train people to deal with stress as it happens --
by changing how they react -- rather than trying to eliminate stress or
treat its symptoms. Here are four strategies supported by the new
Biofeedback: Maggie Wicken, a
technology instructor at Boeing Corp., has a pretty unusual way of
monitoring her anxiety. She literally plugs herself in to her desktop PC
and takes a reading of her stress level.
This is the latest
trend in biofeedback, a field that is getting a fresh look in the battle
against chronic stress. In the past, biofeedback was often shrugged off
as mad science. But at some major corporations, including Boeing, Cisco
Systems and Unilever, it is now being used by employees right at their
Using a finger clip attached to the PC, employees at these
companies regularly hook themselves up to a biofeedback software
program called Freeze-Framer. By measuring heart rhythms much the same
way you take your temperature, it can give people a window on exactly
how their body is handling stress throughout the day.
The goal is
to learn to read signals from your body. Then when anxiety starts
mounting, you adjust the way you breathe (the more deeply the better),
sit (drop your shoulders) or even what you are thinking about (imagine
yourself on the beach). The software even includes video games that you
play by manipulating your own heart rate; adjust it properly and a
hot-air balloon on the screen rises. This ability to bring the body back
a state of calm is what stress-resistant people do naturally.