Stacey Colino

What's the very best way to beat stress and give your heartburn a break? The answer isn't the same for everyone. But if anyone knows how to reduce stress effectively, it's the country's leading health authorities. We’ve asked some of them to share their best practices for decompressing.   

Treat Yourself to a Soothing Soak

Nothing relieves tension like soaking in a Jacuzzi or hot tub, confirms Donnica L. Moore, M.D., president of the Sapphire Women's Health Group in Far Hills, N.J. "I like to light vanilla-scented candles and take long, luxurious Jacuzzi breaks -- it's like a mini-vacation for me," she explains. "The key is to be able to escape from all of the things that are causing me stress. Plus, the heat is relaxing and soothing on my muscles." In addition, "relaxing physically...relaxes me emotionally," she says.

Try It: Dim the lights, put on soft music, light a scented candle or release a soothing fragrance into the tub -- then take the plunge. While you're immersed in warm water, close your eyes and let your worries float away.

Leap Into Action

Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, truly practices what he preaches. For him, exercise is the best stress buster around. "Forty-five minutes of movement really gets me into a good-feeling zone and reorients my thinking so I forget about what's causing me stress," he says. How does it work? “When you exercise, different hormones and neurotransmitters are released that elevate your mood,” he explains.

Try It: Hit the gym, the trail or the court. “When you feel stressed, give yourself an active time-out for [whatever physical activity it is that you enjoy],” advises Bryant, then “focus on how you feel once you get into it.” Even 10 minutes can make a difference.

Lose Yourself in a Favorite Pastime

After her kids go to bed, psychologist Alice Domar, Ph.D., executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Waltham, Mass., spends an hour reading for pleasure. “It's one of the few times in a day that's just for me,” she explains. “I'm not tending to someone else or working on my to-do list,” the author of Be Happy Without Being Perfect (Crown) explains. “I let myself get really drawn into the story. It's a wonderful distraction because I'm not worrying about what's happening in my life.”

Try It: Carve out at least 20 minutes a day to do something you truly enjoy -- something that's just for you. Whether it's reading for pleasure, gardening, sewing or another favorite hobby, think of it as a way of replenishing your emotional reserves.

Get Into a Rhythm

Rowing reduces stress for Valerie Weber, M.D., director of general internal medicine at the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa. She explains that "Getting out on the water by myself and doing something where I have to concentrate and develop a rhythm puts me into an almost meditative state. Intrusive [stressful] thoughts can't come in, because I have to focus on what I'm doing, and the rhythmic nature of the activity soothes me."

Try It: Engage in a rhythmic activity that requires you to concentrate. Whether it's rowing, knitting or playing the drums, let your whole body get in sync with it. Chances are, it'll take your mind and body out of the stress zone and into a calmer place.

Make Sleep a Priority

When he's under pressure, Richard J. Schwab, M.D., co-director of the Penn Sleep Center in Philadelphia, makes sure he hits the hay early. "Instead of staying up late to do extra work, I'll go to bed early or sleep in a little bit so I can feel well-rested and [ready to] attack what I have to do," he says. When you're sleep-deprived, even minor mishaps will seem major, he explains. But when you're well-rested, problems feel more manageable, so you feel less stressed.

Try It: No matter what's going on in your life, figure out how much sleep you personally need, devote that much time to snoozing every night, and stick with a consistent sleep-wake schedule. By getting enough sleep, you will be able to handle stressful situations better and face even the toughest challenges with a roar.

Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post Health section and many national magazines including Newsweek, Real Simple, Woman's Day, Self, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal.


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Women's Health - Best Stress Busters