What's Your Stress Trigger?Whatever pushes your buttons, disarm your tension with these targeted strategies.
Remember when summertime meant the livin' was easy? Yeah, neither does anyone else. Stress is a year-round reality, though the source may vary. "For some women, it's family issues, while others can't escape the pressures that work puts on their lives," says Regina Mendoza, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Miami. And the trigger can shift, too: Today, it may be your credit card balance; tomorrow, your mother's health problems.
Experts like Mendoza say you can fine-tune relief so it fits as well as your favorite summer capris, matching the most effective stress-buster to your particular hot button. Figure out what really sets you off—and the solution—so you can finally put your feet up and waggle your toes in those balmy breezes.
1. When it comes to money, you are…
A. paralyzed with worry, wondering how you'll pay for the new roof or your kids' college tuition
B. sometimes tense as you mull over your retirement savings
C. pretty sure no one at your house will starve
If you chose "A," you're a fiscal fretter; "B" choosers control their fears better, while "C" selectors probably sleep best. But the C's are in the minority: Recent surveys of 1,278 women from market-research firm Polaris found that money continues to be the single biggest source of stress in the lives of women, named number one by 54% to 59%.
Stress Fix: Find mindfulness moments
"Whenever we catch ourselves running something through our minds, especially a thing that may or may not happen, it's important to disengage," says George Slavich, Ph.D., a stress researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. Women who answered "A" or "B" may want to look into mindfulness meditation. Don't worry: You don't have to find 20 minutes in your already overscheduled day to sit still and breathe. Researchers have shown that as little as three minutes is enough to make a stress-relieving difference. Even "small bursts of mindfulness" help, says Slavich: "I like to walk around and focus on things that catch my attention, like flowers, the wind, or other people."
2. When you leave work, you…
A. might as well still be there
B. frequently think about memos you need to finish
C. focus on your family and answer only urgent e-mails
If you picked "C," you've found a healthy balance. But if you chose "A" or "B," you shouldn't feel bad—separating work from home life can be very difficult. "We need buffers to protect us from job stress," says Ellen Kossek, Ph.D., a professor at Purdue University. "With cell phones and e-mail, the work-free zone is shrinking. And some women just can't manage the transition."
Stress Fix: Draw a line at your front door
Kossek suggests using technology to help: Set up your home computer with only your personal e-mail account, so you won't be tempted to check work messages while Web-surfing. And totally disconnect from the office during dinner and other family time. Also try reading or blissing out with music: A study of stressed-out nurses found that listening to soothing tunes for 30 minutes lowered key stress measures like heart rate and cortisol levels more than simply sitting still did.
3. As for your family and friends, you…
A. feel blessed to have such terrific people in your life
B. think about selling half of them on eBay
C. are planning to change your identity so they can't find you
Social support is keyto stress resilience, while loneliness and isolation are big tension-builders. So if you chose "A," you're lucky—you have a loving team to help in rough times. But there's a catch-22 here: While people are vital, if those close to you become demanding or unpleasant, then —far from soothing your anxieties—they can create more stress in your life.
Stress Fix: Cuddle a four-footed friend
If you're already a pet owner, you're likely sold on the therapeutic benefits of scratching your dog's ears or having a cat snooze in your lap. In fact, one study from Miami University in Ohio confirmed that animals were high on the list of effective comforters (and many people probably think their pets provide better support than certain family members). In the study, even just thinking about a pet after a painful social interaction eased stress, the Ohio researchers reported.
4. Asked about your energy, friends would say…
A. "Don't bother inviting her to an evening event. She's always too tired"
B. "In the right mood, she's just great"
C. "She's up for anything, anytime!"
For many women, "A" is the inevitable answer. That's because unmanaged stress can lead to depression, with symptoms such as ultralow energy as well as anger and irritability.
Stress Fix: Fake it
Even a phony smile can lower your heart rate. As an exercise, practice "big" body gestures—stand tall and put your hands on your hips. Harvard Business School research has found that such expansive "power" poses decrease stress hormones and boost confidence. (Of course, you should talk to your doctor if you think you're depressed.)
5. Your favorite body part is….
A. "All of it. I try to take care of me"
B. "Sometimes I like my fingernails"
C. "Wait—it'll come to me…."
Chose "B" OR "C"? Body-image issues and stress march in lockstep through many women's lives. And no obsession is greater than a weight one. Studies suggest that as many as 75% of women experience unhealthy thoughts or feelings about food or their bodies or have eating patterns that verge on a disorder.
Stress Fix: Become a self-soother
Though most women give in to emotional eating occasionally, says Melissa Hopper, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Wichita, KS, if you let Ben and Jerry be your go-to comforters, you'll feed the stress. Avoid trouble by making a daily self-care checklist of noncaloric soothers: "Use hand cream"; "Stretch shoulders…." "It doesn't take much," says Mendoza. "Even 15 minutes of watching funny YouTube videos can feel nurturing."
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