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Healthy habits to fight stress

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As hypertension, diabetes and other chronic ailments increase, many health experts believe stress management offers a strong defense. By developing sound anti-anxiety strategies, you may not cure what ails you. But you will feel more positive energy, less hopelessness and a confident sense of control.

Perhaps the most reliably effective approach to defusing stress is to meditate. In The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, M.D., the author (a cardiologist) instructs readers to engage in the daily practice of slow, deep breathing with eyes closed and a mental focus on a calming mantra. He describes a mantra as a "repetition of a sound, phrase, prayer or muscular activity."

By setting aside 10 minutes, twice a day, to sit in a quiet place, relax your muscles and repeat your mantra, you can tame your agitation and think more clearly. If anxious thoughts intrude as you try to meditate, Benson suggests saying to yourself, "Oh well," and restarting the process.

Although you can meditate whenever you're able to focus without noise or interruptions, the ideal time is before breakfast and before dinner. If you're squeezed for time, you can integrate meditative principles into your cardiovascular exercise regimen.

For example, walkers or joggers can think "left, right, left, right" in consonance with each stride.

Speaking of walking and jogging, exercise "may be the single best therapy for depression," James Gordon, a professor of psychiatry and family medicine at Georgetown Medical School, writes in The Washington Post. Physical activity enhances mood and helps you put stress-inducing thoughts in perspective.

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