Researchers from the University of Western Ontario may have found a biomarker to measure chronic stress. It's hair. They took follicle samples from about 100 men, half of whom where hospitalized for heart attacks, and found that hair cortisol was highest in the heart patients. Since hair grows about 1 centimeter a month, researchers used 3-centimeter samples to provide a record of stress levels over the previous three months. Scientists believe the findings bolster the theory that chronic stress may contribute to heart attack just as acute stress does.
The Fix: Focus on somebody besides numero uno. "People who have a problem with anxiety often get lost in measuring and judging themselves," says Mel Schwartz, a Connecticut-based psychotherapist. "The critical voice is enslaving." Try focusing on others. Showing respect and appreciation for others has an amazing ability to diffuse obsessive thoughts and behavior caused by preoccupation with the self.
Stress spot: The Sympathetic Nervous System
A release of norepinephrine causes the heart to beat faster, blood pressure to rise, sweat to stain your shirt, and breathing to quicken to deliver more oxygen and glucose to muscles and tissues. Endorphins make blood vessels constrict to reduce bleeding in case of attack. This is what causes the hairs on the back of your neck and skull to stand on end. While stress hormones help us cope with danger, prolonged pressure can harm the heart and suppress the immune system, which may make us more vulnerable to everything from colds and flu to cancer.
The Fix: Twist yourself into a pretzel and laugh. Laughter Yoga practitioners swear that combining yogic breathing and stretching techniques and forced laughter helps them cope better with life stress. Studies show that, separately, yoga and laughter do stifle stress. For example: Two studies presented at the 2009 American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting found that the blood vessels of people who watched comedy films were more pliable and experienced improved blood flow for up to 24 hours after the chuckles started.
Stress spot: The Gut
Increased acids from stress churn your stomach and loosen your bowels (hence the soiling-yourself stress reaction). It can even alter the way the body processes fat, causing you to store more of it in your abdomen.
The Fix: Give yourself a hand. Try acupressure for a quick stress release. Massage the fleshy part between the thumb and index finger of one hand for 30 seconds with the thumb and first two fingers of your other hand. A study at Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that acupressure with lavender oil can reduce stress by up to 39 percent. Two other reports in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine identified 58 clinical trials showing that massage therapy and tai chi practice significantly reduce salivary cortisol, heart rate, blood pressure, and depression.
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