Daily stress and anxiety can trigger headaches, tense muscles, and even raise your blood pressure. Stress also suppresses the immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness. Here are some easy-to-implement lifestyle changes that can help bring stress down a notch
Compiled by Beena Qayyum

Go for a Walk

Exercise clears your mind and returns the body to a more healthful state. A 10-minute walk can decrease anxiety. When you exercise, beta-endorphins (the body’s natural relaxants) are released. Endorphins counteract the stress hormones raging through your body. When stress overloads your system, the body converts to the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Powered by a surge of adrenaline secreted, your heart beats faster, pupils dilate, blood vessels constrict, and muscles contract – all physiological responses preparing you to defend yourself.

Besides being a break in your daily routine, exercise gets blood circulating, boosts your mood, and eases tension. Studies also show that active people have a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, which is the number-one cause of death.

Call a Friend
Researchers have found that having good friends helps lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety, and may even help you live longer.

Studies found that women who were supported by good friends were better able to fight the progression of diseases.

Many experts list friendship as the key factor in getting through stressful times. One venting session with a good friend might be all that’s needed to make you feel better. But if you’re going through an especially rough time, a good friend will also be there for continual reassurance.

Divide Household Chores
Studies found that working women who take on extra responsibilities at home and receive no thanks for it are more likely to drive aggressively, this behavior commonly referred to as ‘road rage.’

Dividing chores gets the whole family involved in running the household. Even small children benefit because contributing makes them feel needed. And when others share the workload, there’s less pressure to get everything done at once.

Reduce Caffeine Intake
The caffeine raises your blood pressure and increases secretion of adrenaline, a stress hormone. In fact, the caffeine in your coffee cup imitates and even exaggerates the body’s response to stress. While your brain is pumping out more adrenaline, your heart is also working harder, causing a three-point increase in blood pressure. A five-point increase in blood pressure has been associated with a 21 per cent increased risk of heart disease and a 34 per cent increased risk of stroke.

When all is working, as it should, our nervous systems have mechanisms that keep us from overreacting to
stress. But caffeine seems to inhibit that natural function and leave the body in an agitated state for longer than normal. And because the effects of caffeine last for hours after intake – it takes 4 to 5 hours to eliminate half the caffeine present – the body never really gets a chance to function without caffeine.

The long-lasting effects of caffeine are even greater for women taking birth control pills because the liver breaks down both estrogens and caffeine.

Slowly taper off caffeine by drinking a cup of decaf or herbal tea to substitute for your caffeinated cup.
Or, try mixing regular with decaf beans at the grocery store. If you take it slowly, your body will hardly notice the difference.

Take your Time
Whether you’re an executive, an at-home mom, or a cardiac surgeon, giving yourself time to unwind is vital for de-stressing your life.

Whether you need a nap, a bath, or a quiet place to read a book, make sure the time is spent doing exactly what you want to do.

By spending time relaxing and realizing your strengths and joys, you learn to appreciate yourself.

Share a Laugh
Whether it’s a tiny giggle or an all-out belly-busting whoop, laughter makes life a lot easier to deal with.

By looking at the humorous side of life, you shift your thinking away from a situation, clearing the way for stress relief. Laughter initiates the release of beta-endorphins, those same natural relaxants that are released during exercise. Endorphins make you feel good and protect the immune system by decreasing cortisol, an immune system suppressor.

If you tend to take yourself too seriously, recruit help. Call a friend who makes you laugh or rent a comedy at the video store.

Get a Massage
When you are stressed out, your shoulder and neck muscles are among the first to get tight. When muscles
are tense for too long, their blood flow is reduced and they can’t ‘breathe,’ which makes them sore.
That’s why massage is so helpful; it works the tension out of your muscles, increases range of motion, and allows for blood to circulate more easily. In addition, massage releases beta-endorphins, those neurochemicals that make you feel relaxed.

Know Your Limits
Sometimes a reality check can show you whether you’re causing yourself unnecessary stress, either through unrealistic expectations or feeling like everything is out of your control. Consider printing these lists and posting them on your dashboard, the refrigerator, or anywhere you can read them over for a quick “reset.”

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