Eight Ways to Bust Your Stress

According to researchers, depression, headaches, hypertension, heart disease, and even cancer have been linked to stress. Uncontrolled stress can increase our negativity and take over our lives, leaving little energy for family and friends.

You've probably already tried the usual techniques for relieving stress — taking care of your body, relaxation techniques, and simplifying your world. Here are eight strategies you may not have previously considered in your battle with the pressures of life.

1. Pursue your passion

"Stress can't be eliminated," says psychologist and life coach, Georgia Shaffer. "There will always be times when we're frustrated, overwhelmed, or ready to quit. But when we're engaged with things we're passionate about, we'll experience the right kind of stress."

She suggests asking yourself these questions to find your passion: What makes you unique? What do you care deeply about? What are your skills, talents, and natural strengths? Focusing your energies in areas that inspire you will lessen the stress in areas that don't.

2. Laugh it off

University of Maryland researchers report heart-healthy people tend to laugh more often and find humor in stressful circumstances. And although it's not understood how laughter protects the heart, studies show heart attack patients who watched a funny video 30 minutes a day had fewer subsequent heart attacks than those who didn't participate in humor therapy. So laugh and find the humor in stressful situations around you. Not only will you relieve your stress, but you just might live longer too.

3. Try livin' on a prayer

Research shows a correlation between people who pray and lower stress levels. Prayer has also been linked to better overall health and greater psychological well-being. Stacie Ruth Stoelting, founder of Bright Light Ministry in Iowa, says she finds the Psalms a useful prayer guide when she's stressed. "Allow the Psalms to seep deep into your soul. Then, from your stressed-out spirit, pray them out loud. It's a fantastic faith-booster and soothing stress-reliever."

4. Do  a reality check

Jill Rigby, single mom and director of The Community of Manners tries to think of the worst-case scenario when she feels pressured. "Fear and dread - twin sisters of stress - build anticipation of total disaster, which rarely happens," she explains. "Yes, there may be a consequence if I don't meet that deadline, but I realize it won't ruin my life. No matter the situation, it's rarely as devastating as I imagine it will be." When Rigby prepares for the worst, she finds reality isn't so bad.

5. Remember somebody's watching

Scott Keeler, a South Carolina newspaper copy editor, admits he has frustration with traffic. But it's when he thinks about others that he keeps his cool. "When I'm stressed in the car, I look over at the sweet, smiling faces of my best friend's children pictured on my dashboard, and I imagine them with me. Would I act this way if they were here? Does my response honor the Lord?" he asks. "Their picture also reminds me to slow down and take it easy, because they'll need their cool Uncle Scott around while they're growing up."

6. Consider getting a pet

Pets can be good for your health, according to the State University of New York at Buffalo. In a study of 48 stockbrokers, researchers found those with pets had dramatically reduced blood pressure due to stress levels. But take note: Companionship and unconditional love come with much responsibility. So before deciding to bring Fido home, be sure your schedule and temperament fit the pet-owning lifestyle. Otherwise, you'll be adding stress instead of reducing it.

7. Make the mundane fun

There will always be those tasks we don't want to do. They're stressful, so we put them off until our procrastination has stressed us out even more. But making those less-than-lovely tasks bearable makes a big difference. "Bill-paying time used to suck the energy out of me," says North Carolina counselor and single mom, LaTonya Mason. "But now I make it as enjoyable as possible. The bills are stacked nicely in a pretty box, I play my favorite music, and make sure my kids are not around."

8. Change your focus

Focusing on the right things is a great way to relieve stress. "I have my clients give me the five-minute version of their problem. Focusing on the problem paralyzes them, but their energy soars when they're working out solutions," Mason says. She also encourages them to make a list of 25 things they're thankful for. "This makes them stretch their minds to find the positives in life," she explains.

Don't let worry take the joy out of your day. By incorporating these strategies, you'll not only be healthier and more productive, but your life will reflect peace and hope, rather than fear and anxiety. And that's a reflection we all want to see.

Vonda Skelton is an author, women's event speaker, and nurse. Her latest book is Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe.

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