After a particularly tough day, it's even more of a challenge to eat well, exercise and keep your cool. But some of the things you may do in response to stress can backfire or make bad feelings worse, from trying to talk it out with a friend to the dinner you're having that night. Follow this guide for what not to do to get a calmer attitude that boosts your all-around health.
1. Order a burger and fries. A found that eating a high-fat meal after a stressful day decreases your metabolism, burning about 100 fewer calories. "Rising levels of the stress hormone insulin prompt the body to store fat. Other hormones responsive to stress, like cortisol and adrenaline, may also play a role," says study co-author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, the director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University College of Medicine. Have healthy go-to recipes on hand, and wait 10 minutes before reaching for food. That pause may mean the difference between reaching for something unhealthy and healthy, she says.
2. Forgo a cup of Joe. In a 2010 study in the , coffee drinkers were given decaf or caffeinated coffee, put under stressful circumstances and tasked with completing memory tests with partners. While men's performance was impaired, women functioned better on partner tasks while caffeinated and stressed. Unlike men, women tend to form social alliances, and that strengthens their ability to work successfully with others. So when work's tough, have your latte and ace that group presentation.
3. Run errands. Small, everyday hassles—like chauffeuring the kids or picking up groceries—can compound the effects of stress and may even cut your life short, according to a . Because you perceive the guy cutting you off in his car and the woman in the express checkout with a full cart as big deals, they can add up and cause harmful chronic stress. Flying off the handle at the slightest glitch? Reframe what's happening: The guy in the car may not have meant to dart in front of you, and the woman in line didn't see the sign.
4. Sip wine to relax. Though a glass might make you feel energetic or relaxed, stress can make you crave more alcohol and reduce the feel-good effects, according to a study in the journal . What's more, boozing before bed disrupts sleep—and that heightens stress. If you reach for the vino often, get into a new habit, like making yourself a fizzy mocktail or a cup of fancy tea after a long day.
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5. Do a hard workout. Working out can ease stress, but take it down a notch. shows that chronic stress is linked with poorer muscle function recovery—stressed exercisers rebound about twice as slowly as even-keeled ones. "Greater stress hormones affect certain inflammatory biomarkers that normally speed along recovery," says co-author Matthew Stults-Kolehmainen, PhD, of Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City. So if you're strained, instead of the super-hard spin class, walk around the neighborhood or take a yoga class.
6. Vent to a friend. Dialing up a pal may not be the best strategy for dealing with your feelings. In a UK study in the journal , researchers looked at a variety of coping strategies, including distraction (like binge-watching your favorite show), venting (calling a friend) and denial (ignoring it). Turns out, talking to a friend was one of the least satisfying "fixes." Pals might not be as understanding or supportive as you'd hope. A better option: laughing about your stressors. It lifts your spirits and helps you move on.
7. Spend time in a city. Now's not the time for retail therapy in a bustling metropolis. Feeling stressed increases the ill effects of air pollution on your respiratory system, reports an animal study published in . Smog and other air particles may increase inflammation and cause rapid, shallow breathing, which actually worsens stress. Redirect to a park: People who spend time in green spaces report lower levels of stress.
8. Skip sex. The last thing you may feel is frisky, but people in what researchers call "satisfying relationships" who had sex reported lower levels of stress, according to a study in the . Getting it on appears to stop negative thoughts from seeping into the next day, so you can recover from them sooner.
9. Cook. A homemade meal might be more trouble than it's worth, says research from . Many mothers lack the time, worry that their food isn't all organic and feel they disappoint their hungry families. To make things easier on yourself, cook with friends once in a while or organize a frozen meal swap, where each person brings five frozen meals and then everyone trades, recommends study co-author Sarah Bowen, PhD.
10. Ignore your mom's call. Her voice is likely to lift your mood, shows research. Girls who had to give a stressful presentation and then interacted with or talked to their mom on the phone experienced an uptick in oxytocin, the hormone of love, bonding and, yep, blissful stress relief. Researchers think that hearing her voice improves your feeling of social support, which builds resilience.
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