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Find your happy place: how to outsmart stress

Discover your power to relax—no matter how busy life gets

If you’re all-too-familiar with the physical sensation of being stressed, it may be time to make some changes. “When you’re frantic, your muscles tighten and your heart speeds up,” says Fred Luskin, Ph.D., author of Stress Free for Good. Over time, this can take a toll on your body, leading to stress-induced fatigue and headaches. Fortunately, you can take steps to outsmart stress. Here are a few strategies.

Work up a sweat

Regular exercise can provide a satisfying release for frustration and other negative feelings. It may make you less stressed, and might even boost your mood. The mood-boosting benefits aren’t limited to running. Research shows that any form of physical activity will do the trick.

Be decisive

Yoga or spinning? Sandwich or salad? Break up or stay together? We face dozens of choices every day—some big, some small. As it turns out, being good at making decisions may be good for our health. Research shows that decisive people may have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than poor decision-makers. Want to be more decisive? Simplify your decisions by focusing on facts, so you understand what’s really at stake. Looking for information about a situation can help you make more reasoned judgments, and can help you feel more confident about them. 

Reframe problems as opportunities

Your BFF cancels dinner at the last minute—again—and you assure her it’s OK, while fuming inside. After all, why risk ruining your friendship with an uncomfortable confrontation? Here’s why: bottling up your feelings breeds anxiety. Instead, use a strategy called “reappraisal” to reframe upsetting situations.

The next time you’re sweating something, pause to examine your situation. Ask yourself: What are the positives? How can I look at this as a stimulating challenge rather than a problem? Maybe calling out your friend for being flaky will allow you to clear the air, prompt her to be more considerate, and ultimately bring the two of you closer. Maybe a tough work assignment will help you learn and add to your resume. Changing the way you look at a situation can help you respond in a less stressful way.

See every glass as at least half-full

Nobody wants to be a Debbie Downer, but there’s more at stake than likability. “Pessimists are more apt to get illnesses like colds and the flu, and they have a longer recovery rate than optimists,” says Bob Murray, Ph.D., co-author of Creating Optimism.

Are you a pessimist? You may have a genetic predisposition to a negative outlook, but chances are you can change your outlook through your experiences. The best strategy is to deliberately avoid other pessimists and surround yourself with optimists whose positive vibes are infectious. It’s also important to feel as if you have a purpose every day—whether that comes from your work, family, and friends, or an activity like running races to raise money for charity. Having something that you’re passionate about, and achieving goals related to it, can help many people have a more optimistic outlook.

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