Stress Less: Dwelling Can Lead to Chronic Illness

totally losing it.

totally losing it.

New research confirms what many have long believed: the mind is a powerful thing, and it can have an effect on your physical health. And if you dwell on a stressful event, you’re actually causing stress to your body.

What researchers found was that test subjects who reflected on a stressful event had higher levels of C-reactive proteins, which flow through your bloodstream and rise in inflammatory response when your body experiences a stressful event like trauma or an infection. Which is a good thing. But those levels also raise when you ruminate on things that stress you out. And if you’re constantly stressing (and those levels are constantly high), it could potentially lead to heart disease and cancer, among other nasty things.

Science. Always coming up with wonderful news which, ironically, stresses us out. But findings like this are good reminders to take a step back and remember that our bodies can only take so much stress and abuse. And if you’re beating yourself up mentally, you will literally feel it. But don’t get anxious about it because, well, you get the idea.

Since the holidays are the happiest and concurrently most stressful time of the year, we round up how to prevent getting wound up this Jingle Bell season. Avoid dwelling and start fixing whatever’s on your mind.

Make your to-do lists more specific, less “big picture.” For those of us who love making lists just to cross off items, it’s frustrating when you can’t cross off the most important task, like “start creating website.” Often that task will go untouched while we obsessively clean as a productive form of procrastination. So break down the big things into tiny, almost mundane tasks. Suddenly, “start creating website” becomes “buy a domain name” one day and “choose a WordPress theme” the next. Much more manageable, much less stressful.

Check whether you’re breathing. I mean big, deep breaths. When we’re anxious about anything—good or bad—we often clench up and take shallow breaths. Check in on your breathing frequently. Make it a habit. Take several deep, slow breaths whenever you’re letting stress get to you. It has an immediate positive effect on your blood pressure. There’s a reason yoga focuses on breathing more than anything else.

Speaking of yoga, make a couple of poses a day a regular habit, especially when you wake up and just before you go to bed. Think only about your breathing and your pose—not how flexible you are. Reach or bend as far as you comfortably can, and keep a little yogi in your mind to remind you, “This is good enough.” (Lady Clever has a few suggestions on which poses will boost your mood.)

Don’t take it out on the road. When we’re stressed or upset, a lot of us turn into a devil-monster behind the wheel. Speeding, aggressively weaving around slower cars to make a point about their slowness, and yelling at the driver in front of you who, remember, can’t actually hear you are just bad coping mechanisms. And rude. But mostly dangerous. If you have road rage, go back to the breathing exercise mentioned above and slow the eff down. You will be so much more stressed out if you get in an accident. If you’re stressed because you’re running late, leave earlier. That’s not always easy, but it is that simple.

Laugh it off. If you can learn to make light of the crappy things out of your control—or make fun of yourself for something you messed up—you shift your entire perspective on what it is you’re actually dealing with. And you’ll shift others’ perspectives of you and how you handle difficult things—in a good way. Comic relief isn’t just for the movies, so will yourself to see the humor in every womp-womp situation. (No one ever said crying is the best medicine.)

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