October 5th, 2011
05:03 PM ET
Editor's note: CNN contributor Amanda Enayati ponders the theme of seeking serenity: the quest for well-being and life balance in stressful times.
I have been examining stress from every which angle for the past six months.
And since, by now, I have sufficiently stressed out my editor and probably some readers with essays that often run well over my assigned length, this week I'm offering up a lightning round of some of the most compelling stress-busting strategies I’ve come across.
Last summer, I interviewed a bunch of high achievers - Lance Armstrong, Twitter founder Biz Stone, "Kite Runner" author Khaled Hosseini, among others - about their favorite ways to relieve stress. A reader who called himself “Cliff Notes” commented: “Long story short: ‘We asked a small group of people, ‘How do you cope with stress?’ They responded, ‘We exercise.’ ”
Indeed, physical activity increases oxygen circulation and bumps up the production of endorphins rather quickly. Both of these will result in reduced stress and anxiety, and a greater sense of well-being.
Exercising represents a great deal of bang for the buck, assuming you’re willing to bang. If (like me) you’ve got 1,001 excuses for not exercising, how about beginning with something quick and relatively painless, like a brisk walk around the block or a one-minute jump-roping session? Both will get your heart rate up quickly, and you can work your way up to a longer walk or more jumps.
Yeah, not that kind.
I called my favorite naturopath and clinical nutritionist, Dr. John Abdo, for his take on some of the best herbs for stress. He thinks highly of rhodiola and ashwagandha. “They both provide adrenal support, so people can handle stress and feel calmer, and neither will make you jittery or increase cortisol levels.”
Though Abdo considers both rhodiola and ashwagandha pretty safe, you have to consult your own doctor about these herbs. You can also learn more about both herbs from Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s integrative medicine database: Rhodiola and Ashwagandha.
Sniff some scents.
Research shows that inhaling essential oils can result in measurable changes in brain wave activity. According to Kathi Keville, aromatherapist and co-author of "Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art," “essential oils can exert specific effects on both body and mind.”
“Lavender and chamomile were once sewn into pillows so people could be drawn into greater relaxation when they lay down,” Keville said. She suggests placing four drops of either lavender or chamomile essential oil into a steaming pot of water or diffuser to scent your home.
The scents can also be used together. Other therapeutic oils for relaxation include rose geranium and citruses like orange and lemon.
Some of us sit for long periods of time and clear our minds when we meditate. And some of us use the opportunity to run through the lyrics to every ABBA song ever written.
Martin Boroson, author of "One-Moment Meditation," suggests beginning a meditation practice with a single minute.
“The idea is not to learn to meditate for a long time but quickly. You can make a meaningful change in your state of mind in a single moment,” Boroson said.
You can begin by setting a timer for just one minute and then following fairly typical meditation instructions: Close your eyes or lower your gaze; put your body in a balanced, stable position; and simply focus on your breathing for a full minute.
“I always tell people that they will face distraction and their minds will meander even in that minute. But that doesn’t mean they’re failing. It’s more important that you get your mind back to your breathing and not judge yourself. Because after a minute, you will notice a shift in your state of mind toward greater peace. My philosophy is, it doesn’t matter if you experience total enlightenment in that minute. If you can just turn the volume down a little bit on the uncontrolled thoughts in your mind or your anxiety or your sense of being rushed, that’s useful.”
Here’s Boroson’s short video on how to meditate in a moment.
“Laughter is a great stress reliever,” stand-up comic Tissa Hami said. “You know how I know? Friday nights at comedy clubs. That’s when we get the biggest laughs. The crowd always seems ready to unwind and let go of the stress from the work week.”
Scientific studies support Hami’s observation. Laughter causes physical changes; it activates endorphins, relaxes muscles, stimulates circulation and generally calms the stress response.
You can even go out and find a laughter yoga class (yes, there is such a thing). Or you can just laugh and skip the yoga.
This last one is my mother’s suggestion.
Me: “What does that even mean?”
My mother: “Do vatever you vant. You say you stress. I’m just telling you vat I heard from dat famous doctor at Persian radio: Stop tinking. Problem solved.”
So there you have some effective everyday stress solutions: exercise, take herbs, smell some essential oils, micro-meditate and laugh some. And, um, stop tinking.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.