STRESS MANAGEMENT TIPS THAT ACTUALLY WORK

(Better Homes and Gardens) You can't control whether or when pressure hits. But you can control how you react, which is crucial to protecting your good health. Use the magazine's experts' stress management advice to navigate those tense times.

Try a Simple Breathing Exercise
We're so used to being stressed that we often don't recognize the warning signs (headaches, tight neck and shoulders, grinding your teeth) that stress is taking a toll. Stop and check in with yourself at least once a day. How's your breathing? Are your muscles tight? Take a few deep breaths to let go of the tension. Simply being more aware of your reaction to stress, and taking a few minutes to breathe, can help tame your body's reaction, says Aggie Casey, R.N., M.S.N., nurse manager, cardiac rehabilitation at Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital and co-author of "Mind Your Heart."

Lower Anxiety with Nutritious Foods
Eating healthy, whole foods consistently throughout the day helps keep your blood sugar balanced. Hunger and low blood sugar make it difficult to react well to stress. I always carry a small bag of almonds, cashews, or walnuts in my bag for times I'm stuck in traffic or waiting for a meeting and starting to stress out, says Keri Glassman, M.S., R.D., founder and president of Nutritious Life. If it's been an especially tense day, have a cup of chamomile tea. You'll just feel your anxiety dropping as you sip. And you might sleep better, a proven way to lower anxiety and help your body recover from it.

Redirect Your Thoughts
Working with my hands puts my brain in a focused but relaxed space, says Mary Alvord, Ph.D., adjunct associate professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at The George Washington University School of Medicine. It's a moving meditation for me. Knitting and crocheting can have the same effect. Another strategy that you can apply if you're on edge all the time, always imagining the worst: Work on "restructuring" your thoughts so that you don't catastrophize. Step back and ask yourself, How likely is it? How could I handle it if it did happen? Giving yourself a reality check and thinking through what you would do if the worst did happen can help you calm down.

Work Up a Sweat
Exercising is key to conditioning your heart to protect it against the negative effects of stress. Walking is great, but I like to think of it as a gateway exercise. Start there, but if you really want to strengthen your heart and lungs, you need to do aerobic exercise that breaks a sweat.

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