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HEALTH & WELLNESS by jeff csatari

Stressed to Excess? What you need to know to beat this enemy within.

is turned on indefinitely, this stress hormone can do harm. Chronic stress compromises our

immune systems and has been linked to the common cold, high blood pres- sure, heart disease, and more. “High cortisol in your system disrupts your sleep,” says Comite, author of the new book, Keep It Up (Rodale Books, 2013), about fighting the diseases of aging. “Both cortisol and sleep deprivation reduce your ability to metabolize carbohydrates, leading to high blood sugar, lower testosterone, and increased fat storage around your middle.” High stress also factors into anxiety

STRESS IS WHAT YOU FEEL when you disturb a yellow jacket nest while pitching a tent. More often, however, that fight-or-flight response is triggered by something more insidious than angry ground wasps: an unreasonable boss, a 30-year mortgage, or a pack of Tiger Cubs that wandered away in pursuit of a “cute” raccoon. Whether you are a Scout leader,

volunteer, or parent, you know the many faces of stress. No matter the source—bees or bosses—your body responds the same way, with muscle and jaw tension, rapid pulse, sweaty palms, and obsessive worry. “In any situation that feels like a threat, your brain instructs the adrenal glands to release cortisol, a hormone that pro- vides a burst of energy to either fight or flee,” explains Dr. Florence Comite, an endocrinologist in New York City. But when this primal fear response


disorders, alcoholism, and depres- sion. According to the Public Health Service, about 50 percent of mental problems reported in the United States are stress disorders, and most of those are related to the brain’s ancient fear system. But stress and cortisol have an

enemy, too: action by you. You can take the bite out of stress by asserting control. Here are some practical ways to beat the stress monster. EAT A NUTTY SANDWICH. Almond

butter spread on whole-grain bread makes a stress-busting snack. Whole grains contain tryptophan, an amino acid that turns into the calming neu- rotransmitter serotonin, while almonds are rich in both zinc and vitamin B12—key mood-balancing nutrients that are typically depleted by cortisol. SWEAT. Physical activity boosts pro-

duction of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins. Chopping wood, planting a garden, or taking a hike in the woods will do it just as well as playing tennis or running a 10K. But regular, formal exercise has even

greater benefits: it improves mood, can increase feelings of self-confidence, give you a sense of control over your life, help you sleep better, and, studies show, ease symptoms of anxiety and mild depression as effectively as pre- scription medication. PRAY FOR CALM. University of Mississippi researchers report that reli- gious rituals such as attending church or meditating can lower cortisol secre- tion by up to 25 percent. You can also develop your spiritual side and reap stress-reducing benefits by taking a walk in the woods or volunteering to help people. AVOID EMAIL ADDICTION. How

many times a day do you check your email on that smartphone attached to your hip? Sure, technology stream- lines life, but it also adds to our stress. De-stress tip: Stop looking at your screens at least two hours before bedtime. Computers, tablets, and phones with self-luminous displays can make it harder to fall asleep. A 2012 study at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that a two-hour exposure to a backlit display could cause a 23 percent suppression of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep/wake cycles. Shut down the tech earlier to sleep better and ease stress. PUT A VALUE ON THE KEY AREAS

OF YOUR LIFE. Many of us say family, friends, and community are valuable parts of our life, yet we spend most of our time focused on work. When work life becomes troublesome, the resulting

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