At the risk of sounding immodest, I get a lot done. On any given day, I work, exercise, send and receive several hundred emails, and drive my kids, it seems, across the country and back. Most of the time I don't walk around feeling stressed about my load, but sometimes it feels like life is one giant blur of frantic activity. And while I have beautiful rose bushes in front of my home, I can't remember the last time I stopped to smell them.
Researchers are figuring out ways people like me (and you) can chill out and get more delight out of life. "It's about balance," says Fred B. Bryant, PhD, professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago and co-author of Savoring. "Yes, we need tools to deal with stress, but it's also important to look at how we can intensify the good."
That's because when you do, even the busiest days can feel full and happy, not frazzled. Here are some simple techniques to boost your joy.
What if we told you that you have the power to stop stress before it even starts? That's precisely what a report recently published in Scientific American suggests.
"It turns out that there is only a tenuous relationship between stressors -- the things that cause us to feel anxiety -- and stress, or our response to them," says the report's author Robert Epstein, PhD, founder and director emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies in Massachusetts. "This is good news because it implies that with the right training and preparation, we might be able to face any stressor with calm composure. The idea is to 'immunize' yourself against them." To do it:
1. Sweat to protect. We know exercise reduces stress in the moment and for a period afterward, but new research from Princeton University suggests that working out may actually build new super brain cells that are more resistant to stressors. That means hitting the gym now could help keep you smiling no matter what problems pile on later.
2. Relive what's good. When a friend asks you how you're doing, resist the temptation to download that awful commute; instead, try to recall something pleasant, like the great deal you just scored on a new dress. Recounting stressful events actually makes us, and our bodies, stressed. "When you share a positive memory instead, that can put the brakes on those damaging effects," says Christine Carter, PhD, a sociologist at the University of California–Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.
3. Take a joy break. When we're crazy-busy, our natural inclination is to cut back on pleasurable activities -- as if fun is a luxury. However, research suggests that this is a mistake. One study found that people who engaged in enjoyable leisure activities had lower blood pressure and cortisol scores (two measures of stress) than those who didn't. They were also more resilient in the face of stressful life events. You might not be able to grab your knitting needles in the middle of a hectic day, but you can head out for a short walk or call a friend for a chat, whatever gives you a quick lift.
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