By Corrie Pikul
When the daily chaos of life gets to be too much, try these fast-acting techniques to stay calm.
During Rush Hour: Pop A Peppermint
What helps a frustrated, worn-out driver (besides vanishing traffic, of course)? Researchers at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia found that pumping peppermint-scented air into the cars of ticked-off commuters helped decrease anxiety and fatigue. Stash a bag of peppermint candies in your glove compartment to help you keep your cool in honking traffic or during a hectic commute.
While Trying To Get Dinner On The Table: Stop Listening To The 6 p.m News... At 6 p.m.
The oil in your wok has started to smoke, your dog is barking to go out, the vegetables you were planning to stir-fry are too old to be edible -- and Brian Williams has nothing but bad news. It's important to stay on top of current events, but you're not helping anyone by catching up during one of the most frantic times of your day -- least of all, yourself. Exposure to media coverage of upsetting events can not only spike stress levels, but it can also make you feel worse physically, found a 2012 Israeli study that assessed 55 chronic-pain patients before and after a local three-week missile attack. Participants who watched more television reports of the attack said that their stress was more acute and their pain felt more intense. Your best bet: DVR the news to watch when the kitchen's closed for the night and every last fork is in the dishwasher.
As You Stare Down 3,572* Unread Emails: Remember to Breathe
A few years ago, Linda Stone, a high-tech exec-turned-adviser and consultant, noticed that she was holding her breath whenever she sat down at her computer. She observed more than 200 people using computers and smartphones and found that the vast majority of them were doing the same thing -- forgetting to inhale (or taking shallow breaths) after logging on. Stone, who calls this phenomenon "screen apnea," says it can trigger the body's fight-or-flight response, increase anxiety, interfere with digestion and, when doing it day after day (while never really making a dent in those 3,000-plus emails), compromise your overall health and immunity. You can see the value of a technique to stay calm and clear-headed as you file and delete. Stone personally had success with Buteyko, a form of diaphragmatic breathing--which is what Anne Marie Albano, PhD, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, says is one of the best and most effective stress-management techniques. There are many different types of breathing techniques, but the vast majority of us will benefit from making sure that we simply exhale for twice as long as we inhale. Stone regularly pauses to ask herself if she's breathing, and then she takes a break to inhale, exhale and stretch.
*The actual number of unread emails in this writer's Gmail inbox.
When Researching A New Car Purchase: Snack Like A Hiker
Shoppers spend 16 weeks, on average, researching cars on the Web, reports the trade magazine Wards Auto, and by the end of that time, they're often more confused and overwhelmed than when they started. One way to make the drawn-out process seem less daunting: Eat trail mix while you read reviews and weigh options. Recent experiments have shown that the simple sugar glucose (which is found in raisins) can counteract the negative brain changes wrought by decision fatigue and keep your impulse control (ooh, retractable door umbrellas!) in check.
When You've Got 4 Hours To Finish 41 Tasks: Take The Right Kind Of Break
We usually make one of two mistakes when we dash out for a breather, says Susan M. Orsillo, PhD, author of The Mindful Way Through Anxiety: We waste mental energy trying not to think about our to-do list, or we continue to worry about our workload -- by complaining to a coworker or calling our spouse to vent. Both types of response effectively cancel out the break, leaving us still frazzled when we return to our desk. Instead, Orsillo suggests taking a meditative break. Leave your phone and your coworker behind, and find a quiet place to stand and actively observe the world around you. "You'll feel renewed and slightly rested in just a few minutes," she says. Trying to be in the moment, as easy as it sounds, can actually be pretty challenging. Orsillo suggests practicing at times when you don't have as much on your plate, and she offers step-by-step audio meditation exercises at this web site. (If you can't get outside, try the 7-minute Mindfulness of Clouds & Sky meditation at your desk.)