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WORK-LIFE BALANCE

5 Science-Backed Tips for Dealing With Stress

The latest science shows that some of our instinctive responses to stress actually make the problem worse. Psychologists suggest these interventions instead.
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In the world we live in, removing all the stressors from your life is pretty much mission impossible. Some, like traffic jams or broken pipes, you can't control. Others, such as demanding kids and clients, you wouldn't want to be rid of even if there was some magic formula for whisking them away.

What we're left with is a life landmined with potential sources of anxiety and stress. But that doesn't mean you're helpless to stay sane, calm and happy.

Psychological study after study has shown that while we can't uproot all the sources of stress in our life, there is plenty we can do to rewire how we respond to it to minimize its negative impact on our lives. PsyBlog recently rounded up ten suggestions from the latest research.

Here are are some of the least well known:

1. Start with awareness.

Basically every successful stress-busting idea is built on the same foundation: You need to know exactly what makes you stressed and what that stress feels like physically and emotionally. Do you get exhausted or insomniac? Have dizzy spells? Headaches? "Try keeping a kind of 'anxiety and stress journal', whether real or virtual," suggests the post. When you know your triggers and your symptoms, it's easier to choose effective interventions.

2. Don't vent.

This tip might seem cruel (Venting is sometimes such a huge pleasure, after all.), but apparently loudly airing your issuesis a pretty terrible way to reduce them. Intuitively, you'd guess that "letting out" your emotions leaves less of them for you to deal with, but science says the opposite is true.

"Venting emotions can actually cause them to become more powerful, rather than allowing them to subside," says PsyBlog. "None of this is to say that you shouldn't talk to others about what is happening, it's just that the form it takes shouldn't be a blast of raw emotion."

3. Rethink it.

Sometimes the problem isn't our stress itself, but the way we think about it. It sounds too good to be true, but science has shown that simply reconceptualizing stress not as a problem, but as a response designed to prepare our bodies and minds for taxing situations, can turn that sweaty palm feeling from a health risk to a performance enhancer.

PsyBlog sums up one study on the subject which entailed showing some research participants a video on the idea that stress can be enhancing: "This led to them reporting better performance at work and fewer psychological problems over the subsequent two weeks. In addition, thinking that stress is enhancing was associated with lower levels of cortisol, a hormone closely associated with the stress response." You can check out a great TED talk on this science here.

4. Find the busyness sweet spot.

Idle hands may leave you too much time to worry and stress out, but constantly running doesn't give your brain a chance to rest and isn't great for stress either. You need to walk a middle way. "One answer is to have a list of activities that you find enjoyable ready in advance. When anxiety hits at an inactive moment, you can go off and do something to occupy your mind. Try to have things on your list that you know you will enjoy and are easy to get started on," suggests PsyBlog.

What should you add to your list? Previous studies have shown that both arranging social gatherings(even if you don't initially feel like it) and tackling something creative can both be particularly helpful when you're feeling grumpy.

5. Confront crazy thoughts head on.

Much of our stress doesn't come from actual, current issues or problems, but from unwanted worries about the future or present unknowns. Most of us respond to these sort of unpleasant anxieties by simply trying to ignore them, but according to the latest psychological research that's probably not an effective approach. Instead you need to confront the crazy thoughts in your head in order to quiet them. There are a couple of ways to go about this.

"Researchers have tried asking those with persistent anxious thoughts to postpone their worrying until a designated 30-minute 'worry period'. Save up all your worrying for this time and it may ease your mind the rest of the time," for instance, or try writing them down. "Writing about your deepest thoughts and feelings may help to reduce recurrent unwanted thoughts," reports the post. More ideas can be found here.

What's your tried-and-true method for getting rid of stress?

Last updated: Jul 30, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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