Head-to-Toe Solutions for Stress
Worrying about being able to pay the bills? The babysitter canceled—again? Situations like these are the modern-day equivalent of being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger, and our bodies rev up to face the threats, says Paul J. Rosch, MD, president of the American Institute of Stress. Chronic stress can lead to a whole host of physical and emotional problems. Plus, women often have stronger stress reactions than men, says David Rakel, MD, director of integrative medicine at the University of Wisconsin, maybe because the area where emotions are processed in our brains is larger. Even more of a reason to ID your stress and learn to let it go.
Just 10 minutes a day of mindful relaxationlike deep breathing or meditationcan ease the muscle tension that can trigger a headache, says Lisa Corbin, MD, medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Colorado Hospital. Try this: Sit in a quiet place, and close your eyes. Take a deep breath through your nose, and let it fill your abdomen; hold it for 5 seconds, then exhale. Studies have shown that simple, deep-breathing exercises like this reduce blood pressure and promote a sense of well-being.
The Chinese tradition of drinking hot water with lemon helps detoxify your skin, says Susan Ciminelli, founder of Susan Ciminelli Day Spa in New York City. Also try slowly rubbing a dry loofah up your body, starting from the ankles. This helps blood circulate and is invigorating and calming, Ciminelli says.
Massagefrom hot stones to ischemic-compression therapy, during which trigger points are probedcan help relax tight muscles in your neck or upper back, says Dr. Rakel. Or try Kneipp hydrotherapy: Sit in bathwater that’s as cold as you can tolerate, then warm up the water; alternate between cold and hot three to four times while soaking. You can also take a cold shower or splash cold water on sore muscles for 10 to 60 seconds; the dramatic change in temperature may constrict and open blood vessels, removing toxins like lactic acid and improving blood supply and lymph flow, Dr. Rakel says. A recent study also showed that cold-water therapy can reduce fibromyalgia pain.
If stress is keeping you awake, practice “thought stopping,” says Silberman. "Picture an actual stop sign every time you start worrying."
Progressive muscle-relaxation is another anti-insomnia technique: Beginning at your toes, tighten the muscles in that area, hold for 5 seconds, then release; continue with each muscle group, going up the length of your body. Breathe calmly throughout the exercise.
Period problems and infertility
Acupuncture can help regulate periods, diminish pain, and improve pregnancy and birth rates in women having in vitro fertilization. “It’s thought to unblock certain energy pathways,” says Dr. Nedrow.
Instead of snacking on junk food the next time you’re under pressure, take a good brisk walk. Studies say exercise relieves stress and burns calories.
Replacing high-fat snacks with healthier options can help you relax too, Klein says. Carbohydrate-rich foods like yams increase serotonin in the brain, which promotes good feelings. And whole grains, bananas, avocados, chicken, spinach, and broccoli all contain vitamin B, which can boost your sense of well-being.
Laughing your way through shows like I Love Lucy or Saturday Night Live may hike your body’s natural disease-fighting cells or relieve tightness in your chest. Even “fake” laughter has been shown in brain scans to work, Dr. Molella says.
Relax your shoulders and open your chest with a classic yoga stretch, says Jessica Bellofatto, owner of YogaShanti in Sag Harbor, N.Y. Stand with right arm raised over your head, bend arm so elbow is pointing upward and right hand reaches behind your head. Extend left arm sideways, then lower it and reach upward behind your back; try to touch fingers together (as shown). Repeat stretch with left arm on top.
Placing a hot-water bottle on top of your belly may relax the smooth-muscle tissue of the bowel and eliminate pain, distention, or bloating, says Dr. Nedrow. Eating more foods with plenty of fibersuch as a handful of almonds, peanuts or soy nuts, or a steamed artichoke with vinaigrette dressing—may also help.
In the right hands (a reflexologist’s, to be exact), a foot rub can actually help heal a variety of stress disorders, from migraines to back pain, research shows. Rub under the base of the toes to calm the head, the ball of the foot to relax the chest, and the middle of the foot to soothe the abdominal area, says reflexologist Mara Nicandro, director of Therapeutic Massage of Texas.