Stop Stressing Yourself Sick

By Nicole Duncan

Convinced it will rain on the party you’re planning this weekend—and it’s only Monday? Turns out, those six days of unnecessary, perceived stress quite literally can make you “worried sick,” according to a new study.

Perceived stress versus actual stress: “Actual stress is something you experience in the moment, like a giving a presentation at work, or fighting with your spouse,” says Jim Claussen, a chiropractor from Chicago. On the other hand, if you’re worried about the economy crashing or your 401(k), then you’re stressing over something you have no control over, and your stress is perceived, he says. Your body can recover from actual stress, but long-term perceived stress puts you in constant fight-or-flight mode, fatigues your adrenals, and compromises your immune system. “It’s as if you were to prop your car up on blocks, weigh the gas pedal down, and let it run all night,” says Claussen. “You can’t expect to walk into the garage the next morning and have any gas left.” The study found that people with the highest perceived stress had 80 percent fewer protective antibodies in their blood than those who were actually stressed out. Try these tips to help you chill out:

Put stress on a shelf. “It’s definitely an art,” says Claussen, “but if you can find an off button for your stressor, you’ll waste a lot less time and effort worrying about something you can’t control.” Remember that party you’re fretting about? Put your worries about the weather “on the shelf,” and come Saturday when it’s time to deal, “pull it off the shelf.”

Breathe with your belly. Lie down on the floor with a book on your belly. Inhale through your nose, feel the book rise, and hold for four seconds. Exhale all the air out through your mouth, letting the book lower. Repeat four times. Deep inhales stimulate your lungs and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to put you in a calming state while deep exhales help drain the lymphatic system.

Meditate. Take 30 minutes out of your day to meditate, do yoga, or t’ai chi to help reduce stress hormones, slow down your heart rate and blood pressure, and balance your system.