7 Smart Ways to Fight Stress

It’s no surprise that with Wachovia’s takeover, Bank of America’s seeming meltdown, a slumped housing market, and a hefty unemployment rate that Forbes ranked Charlotte twenty-fifth on its 2009 list of the country’s most stressful cities. Ice the cake with the fact that you’re probably tired, grouchy, and coming down with a cold — and chances are you’re even more stressed. "Stress can affect your entire body," says Allen Wong, an internist at McKee Internal Medicine in Matthews. "Often, you enter into a cycle where you’re not getting adequate rest, not eating well, or not following a normal exercise routine." After awhile, this can lead to a weakened immune system, weight gain, depression, and disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer. To shake off stress and stay happy and healthy, we rounded up the top tips from Wong and his colleague, John Holevas.


Pinpoint the problem. Believe it or not, simply knowing what’s stressing you out can reduce tension. "Sometimes we don’t define what’s at the core of our stress and let little things, like traffic or a wrong order at the drive-through, bother us when there’s really a larger issue," says Wong. "I recommend that patients figure out exactly what stressors they’re dealing with, whether it’s something like finances or a bad relationship, so they can develop a plan to deal with it so they don’t feel helpless." If you’re too stressed to see a clear path, Wong recommends talking with a close friend or family member, therapist, or counselor.


Move more. Exercise is a great outlet for stress, says Wong. "It channels some of that stress into a healthy physical outlet, and people who work out regularly generally have better self-esteem and a better perspective on things when they’re trying to work through stressful situations." Though you may need to work up to it, an hour-long sweat session four to five times per week can keep you balanced and more relaxed, and also help you sleep better.


Make a date with your pillow. Aim for seven to eight hours each night. "Missing out on sleep weakens your body’s natural defenses," says Holevas. If stress is keeping you awake, try to exercise earlier in the day, avoid eating big meals right before crawling into bed, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. "Medications can be helpful short term," adds Wong. "But people need to come up with a workable game plan to confront and defuse stress that doesn’t keep them from missing out on sleep rather than use medications that temporarily cover up the problem."


Resist the urge to eat junk. Giving in to a sweet treat or running through the drive-through might temporarily give your mood a boost, but it will add to your stress level down the road. "People who tend to overdo it with sugar and processed carbs tend to feel more sluggish in general, which means they have less energy to deal with stress," says Holevas. Instead, reach for more whole grains and antioxidant-packed fruits and veggies


Talk to friends and family. "Most of us are social creatures," says Holevas. "Talking to someone is much better than dealing with things on your own." If you don’t have a strong family support system or a close friend, seek out a therapist or counselor. "It’s especially important when someone feels overwhelmed or as if they have no one to confide in. Just knowing someone is really listening to you can make all the difference."


Change your thought process. "Some people tend to stress over everything — everything becomes a crisis," says Wong. "At times like this, it’s really important to have a proper perspective of what we’re stressing about. Most likely, if you’re in good health, things could be a lot worse." Instead of focusing on what’s bugging you, take note of all the things you’re thankful for. "Count your blessings. It can go a long way to help you deal with things that really shouldn’t be stresses at all."


Spend time doing something you love each day. "Find a certain amount of time each day to do something that is relaxing or enjoyable," says Holevas. "Whether it’s reading a book, taking the dog for a walk, or watching a little TV, try not to think about the problems of the day and try your best to relax."

Jenna Bergen is the author of Your Big Fat Boyfriend: How to Stay Thin When Dating a Diet Disaster (Quirk). She is also the health and fitness editor for Philadelphia magazine, and her work has appeared in Self, Fitness, Women’s Health, and Men’s Health. She writes regularly about relationships, health, and fitness on her blog, yourbigfatboyfriend.com.