If you're a human mammal, stress comes not from fear of being eaten but worry about somebody eating your lunch. Unlike other animals, we have a large brain relative to our body size--a brain that worries. And now our worry is triggered by the passive-aggressive boss, the weight of a 30-year mortgage, and the job of caring for children and ill parents at the same time.
No wildebeest would understand these fears, but the perceived threats spark the same bodily survival responses that crocodile attacks do. And they last way longer than a croc's lunchtime. But you can do something about stress. Search and destroy. Here's where stress typically strikes and how to strike back.
The Fix: Don't be so damned conscientious. A Canadian study of 2,737 workers found that when people thought their poor job performance could have a serious impact on their coworkers, their company, or the environment, job stress increased. Responsible workers who saw their jobs as careers tended to say their jobs were highly stressful, while people who were satisfied with their jobs or who didn't think of them as careers were less likely to report stress. The lesson: Take a day off. The company won't go under if you're out for nine hours. (Note: This does not apply to air-traffic controllers.)
Bonus Instant Feel-Good Fix: Swear. Researchers at England's University of East Anglia Norwich looked into leadership styles and found that using swear words can reduce stress and boost camaraderie among coworkers. (It's also a good way to deal with pain, a separate British study found.) Good luck, shithead!
The Fix: Create a three-legged life. Add balance to your home, your work, and yourself to create a buffer against stress. "If one leg of the stool goes down, you have others to hold you up," says Munir Soliman, MD, director of the Center for Wellness & Personal Growth at the University of California, San Diego.
Read More: Yes, You Can Choose to Be Happy (Up to a Point)
The Fix: Focus on somebody besides numero uno. "People who have a problem with anxiety often get lost in measuring and judging themselves," says Mel Schwartz, a Connecticut-based psychotherapist. "The critical voice is enslaving." Try focusing on others. Showing respect and appreciation for others has an amazing ability to diffuse obsessive thoughts and behavior caused by preoccupation with the self.
The Fix: Twist yourself into a pretzel and laugh. Laughter Yoga practitioners swear that combining yogic breathing and stretching techniques and forced laughter helps them cope better with life stress. Studies show that, separately, yoga and laughter do stifle stress. For example: Two studies presented at the 2009 American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting found that the blood vessels of people who watched comedy films were more pliable and experienced improved blood flow for up to 24 hours after the chuckles started.
The Fix: Give yourself a hand. Try acupressure for a quick stress release. Massage the fleshy part between the thumb and index finger of one hand for 30 seconds with the thumb and first two fingers of your other hand. A study at Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that acupressure with lavender oil can reduce stress by up to 39 percent. Two other reports in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine identified 58 clinical trials showing that massage therapy and tai chi practice significantly reduce salivary cortisol, heart rate, blood pressure, and depression.
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The Fix: Meditate. A recent Harvard Medical School study found that the physiological response from mindful meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, or even repetitive prayer can counteract cellular damage from chronic stress. Breathing lesson: When you feel anxious, disengage your mind by focusing on breathing deeply through your nose so your belly rises before your chest does, then exhale through your mouth. Do this for 5 minutes, concentrating only on your breath.
Read More: Join the Mindful Revolution
The Fix: Unleash the oxytocin. Kissing, hugging, even holding hands can reduce stress because it raises levels of oxytocin, the hormone associated with bonding and love, say researchers at the University of North Carolina. And all that oxytocin zipping around your body may lead to another organic stress fix: sex.