5 stress-induced habits you'll regretWe've all got a few favorite habits that help us unwind after a high-stress day. Find out whether your stress-coping habits are risky, and what to do instead.
Stressors are everywhere: needy kids, needy aging parents, work, financial worries, relationship bumps, too much traffic, not enough time -- and sometimes, all of the above at once.
We all have our favorite coping mechanisms. That's good, because chronic stress is associated with heart disease, stroke, and premature mortality. The trouble, however, is that some stress-coping strategies may get you through the moment but ultimately harm your health. And putting your long-term survival at risk is a high price to pay for a little short-term stress relief.
Risky Habit #1: Grabbing an Energy Drink for a Quick Boost
Energy drinks may give a lift, but at a price. A 2011 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse study of college students found that the more stressed the subjects said they were, the more energy drinks they consumed -- and the worse their academic performance was. Energy drinks can contain three times as much caffeine as coffee, leading to rapid heartbeat and sleep disturbances. And whatever you do, don't drink alcohol and swill energy drinks; people who do are four times as likely to drive drunk.
Better: Try a glass of red wine.
Drinking lightly or moderately has been shown to be effective in reducing stress by increasing pleasant emotions and decreasing tension. (Government guidelines define "moderate" drinking as up to one drink a day for women, or no more than seven drinks a week, and double this amount for men -- for wine, a 5-ounce pour.) Red wine contains heart-protective antioxidants, too -- as a rule of thumb, the darker the wine, the better it is for you.
Or try this: Experts don't recommend that nondrinkers start tippling. But consider nonalcoholic red wine. A small study in Circulation Research finds that the polyphenols (a type of protective antioxidant) in red wine might be even more protective against high blood pressure when there's no alcohol to interfere with them.
Risky Habit #2: Unwinding in Front of the TV for the Evening
The sofa is so soft and tempting, and the TV offers hundreds of distracting channels. But after more than a program or two, your stress release works against you. Two hours of TV a day is linked to a 20 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes, a 2011 Harvard School of Public Health review showed. Some 58 percent of obese adults and 43 percent of caregivers report managing stress by watching TV for more than two hours a day, according to the American Psychological Association's 2011 "Stress in America" report, compared to 33 percent of the general population.
Better: Try walking around the block.
Moving is often the last thing a stressed person thinks of doing -- but exercising helps the brain cope better with stress, possibly by increasing the chemical norepinephrine in parts of the brain that respond to stress. A workout also forces your brain, muscles, heart, and nervous system to communicate closely. Researchers think this helps prime your body to respond better to stress, too.
Or try this: Dance around the house, ride a stationary cycle, take up yoga -- any movement helps. Inactivity is as bad for you as smoking, says new research from 33 countries, reported in Lancet. It blames a couch-potato lifestyle for one in ten deaths worldwide. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week (or similar exercise) counters the effect.
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