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Stressed Out

I. Am. Not. Stressed.

Any of my readers out there living a stress-free existence? Anybody…? I didn’t think so. Stress is, regrettably, a common feature of most of our lives. We know it’s annoying. We know we’d like to have less of it. But did you know it’s dangerous?

Chronic stress – just like an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, or smoking – is a major risk factor for dangerous physical conditions. Stress contributes to heart disease, cancer, weight gain, even arthritis. As if that’s not enough, stress also attacks brain cells. Research has shown that people with a lot of stressful events in their lives actually have less gray matter than people with minimal stress.

Women, unfortunately, are more prone to chronic stress than men. We also tend to experience stress on a more emotional level; stress is felt as anxiety, irritableness, or depression. Makes me stressed just thinking about it.

In an unkind catch-22, stress often leads people to give up the things that would help relieve the stress, like exercising or eating healthy. Long-term stress also damages our biological ability to adapt to and deal with stress in helpful ways.

Fortunately, the damage done by stress can also be undone, largely thanks to our very clever, dynamic brains. And you can learn how to respond to stress in more healthy ways, to prevent future damage. Some tricks for reducing stress include:

  • Stay positive. It’s a good rule for travel and life. A positive attitude will help you see stressful situations as short-term and solvable (which they are).

  • Express gratitude. Saying “thanks” actually decreases the stress hormone cortisol.

  • Sleep. Our brains work on conflict resolution while we slumber, so we feel better about things in the morning.

  • Laugh. It releases those feel-good endorphins.

  • Exercise. Physical movement increases endorphins and reduces cortisol, so it’s like saying thank you and laughing simultaneously.

  • Socialize. Connecting with other people provides an escape valve for stress.

  • Go outside. Spending time in nature calms you down and reduces repetitive negative thinking.

And last but not least (you know where I’m going with this)… travel! Travel allows you to take a break from your daily stressors, giving you a chance to recover your gray matter. It also provides built-in opportunities to hit the other anti-stress tricks on the list – sleeping, laughing, moving, socializing, and spending time in the great outdoors. The more intangible benefits of travel – broadening your perspective, building empathy, learning about the world – also reduce negativity. By the end of a great vacation, you return home with a much more positive frame of mind.

I’m not just making this up. One study found that women who took only one vacation every six years (what a dreadful thought) were eight times more likely to have a heart attack than women who took two vacations a year. Personally, I wouldn’t risk it.

If travel itself stresses you out (and it does stress out a lot of people), then use a travel agent to handle the planning and take a guided tour so you don’t have to worry about anything while you’re on the road. In other words, make travel as easy as possible for yourself, so you can focus your travel energy on recharging, having fun, and taking care of you. Your body and brain will be grateful.

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