05/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Recession Stressing You Out? 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Feel Better

"Don't let the recession get you down or you'll be landed with a dentist bill."

This just in from The London Daily Telegraph. Readers are advised to stop clenching and start "adopting a constructive and positive attitude to the future."

A trip to the dentist can trigger anxiety even for those of us who are not necessarily British. Like my mechanic, the dentist is someone I like to see...but not too soon and not too often. Yet I can't help wondering about whether anticipatory anxiety about dental problems is sufficient to make you "adopt a constructive and positive attitude to the future?" (You may want to ask your dentist about this. Mine simply says, "Be true to your teeth or they'll be false to you.")

The same Daily Telegraph article reports that as the recession continues, bruxism not the only health problem on the rise on both sides of the pond: "There's also more likely to be an increase in headaches, stomach upsets, and insomnia. Emotional reactions are likely to become more extreme. There will be an increase in divorce."

The relationship between stress and health is the subject of hundreds of studies, several of which show that as many as 85% of doctor visits in this country are due to stress. That does not mean that germs or viral infections do not exist. But research conducted over a 30-year period has produced a body of evidence proving that excessive or cumulative stress can lower the immune system, lead to poor nutrition and/or substance abuse, and can increase chronic inflammatory conditions. Speaking from personal experience, I know that any or all of these can make or break your marriage.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of studying clinical training in mind-body medicine with Dr. Herbert Benson, whose 1976 best-seller The Relaxation Response addressed the destructive impact of stress on our health. His prescription for managing stress is to practice some form of mental relaxation for 20 minutes a day. As a New Yorker, I don't know anyone who can sit still and be quiet for that long so I was relieved to learn that four 5-minute periods of mental relaxation on a daily basis will produce health benefits that are equivalent to one 20-minute session.

1. Relax your mind. The Relaxation Response ™ is a basic meditation technique that involves closing your eyes and repeating a sound or a phrase that is soothing. Some people like the traditional "Om" while others prefer the universal "Aah!" The repetition serves to hit the "pause" button so that your ordinary train of thought slows down and stops, to be replaced with a deep sense of comfort and well-being. Simultaneously, your sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system pauses and your parasympathetic nervous system proceeds to relax your body. When you open your eyes and refocus your attention on the mess that your life has become, it doesn't seem so bad at all. In fact, you may even find that you get a burst of sustainable energy that makes it easier to examine your options and make choices that are in your best interest.

2. What's on your "Not-to-Do" List? Maybe meditation is too "woo-woo" for you-you. How about making a "Not-to-Do" List? Pick one item from your cluttered and overworked "To-Do" List and put it on your "Not-to-Do" List. Then don't do it! I am not suggesting that you leave your children at soccer practice or music class while you have three martinis. But what if instead of sitting through soccer practice or that music lesson you take some time for yourself. Even if you stretch out in your car and take a short nap, you will be lowering your stress level and recharging your soul. The trick to making your "Not-to-Do" List effective is to pick something you just don't feel like doing: spending an hour on the phone with your insurance company; talking to a friend who bores you; or attending a non-crucial meeting. You can do this! Cross it off your "To-Do" List and put it on your "Not-to-Do" List...just for today! Be sure to enjoy the time you have saved for yourself.

3. Give away half of what you own. This is my permanent New Year's resolution. I have yet to accomplish it although this year I managed to donate about half of my old clothes and 3 boxes of books. If there was someone whom I thought would like a particular item, I wrapped and sent it with a note saying, "I thought you would enjoy having/reading this." No one has complained or sent anything back and I've received a bunch of "thank you's." How much of your stuff do you really use? How much do you need? Isn't there someone else who might get better use or enjoyment from it? The feeling of freedom from giving stuff away is pretty make other people happy, you make yourself happy, and you don't spend money (except for postage).

4. Listen to someone else. There's a martial arts proverb that goes like this:
"Open mouth, already a mistake." Some of us are naturally good listeners and for the rest of us, listening can become an acquired skill. When someone has lost a job, her home, or is going through a divorce or medical crisis, the best gift you can give is to listen without offering advice. Take a few seconds to put yourself in the other person's position. If you were going through a similar crisis, what would you need from another person? Sometimes people need to feel acceptance and to know that you are not judging them or trying to fix them. If you don't enjoy listening to people, visit where you can read individual stories and write a brief message of hope. was founded in January by reality TV producer Jerry Biederman after a close friend confided that he was considering suicide because of his financial losses. You can read his friend's story and send an e-mail of support to him yourself.

5. Pay attention to your senses. Look out a window and notice the colors of the clouds and sky. Smell your garden at night. Listen to the wind. Feel the taste of something you really love. Stick out your tongue during a light spring rain and catch a few drops. Let yourself stretch. After an interview with the late Audrey Hepburn, she told me that she loved watching her cat wake up from a nap. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we would stretch each leg and roll our neck and arch our back the way a cat does?" she said. It sure feels great. My favorite is to listen to my feet. Whenever I start to worry, I picture a cursor running down from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. Here's a secret: Your feet cannot 'do' anxiety.

Try these for yourself and please, let me know which ones you really like. If nothing else, you will stop clenching your teeth.

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