As you learned in the Brain Games episode “Stress Test,” your brain’s stress response can gear up your body and mind to save you from life-threatening dangers, but its inability to distinguish and filter out less menacing stimuli can leave you feeling stressed out, and even impair your health. Fortunately, experts say there’s much you can do to avoid stress and improve your ability to cope with it—and to repair some of the damage it causes. Here are some tips.
• Learn how to relax. We’re not talking about taking a nap in the backyard hammock, but rather utilizing mind-body techniques such as deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word such as “peace” or “calm,” and visualization of tranquil scenes. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a study of 122 patients aged 55 and older who suffered from hypertension, that practicing the techniques often lowered their blood pressure so much that they were able to get off medication.
• Drink more tea. The beverage contains theanine, a chemical that not only improves cognition but also has a calming effect. A study published in 1999 found that brains of subjects who were given the chemical showed more of a type of wave associated with relaxation.
• Take a walk every day. Any sort of physical activity increases your body’s production of endorphins, a type of neurotransmitter that helps to reduce anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association.
• Stop and smell the flowers. Okay, that might sound corny, but it actually works. In a study published in 2009, Japanese researchers found that the scent of lemon, mango, lavender, and other fragrant plants alters gene activity and blood chemistry in ways that reduce stress levels.