Stress Test

Learning to control your stress responses just might be the key to a long, healthy, vibrant life

Stress responses once kept us from being the hungry lion’s lunch, as a burst of adrenaline gave us speed and stamina to flee to safety. We’re no longer dodging lions, of course, but our bodies consider dodging rush-hour traffic or running late to a meeting essentially the same thing. Add to the mix significant stressors like stock-market crashes, unemployment, and tight budgets, and you’ve got a recipe for meltdown. According to Mary Jo Kreitzer, founder of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, current research reveals that stress is having a profoundly negative effect on our health. The adrenal glands, which release adrenaline and cortisol, are great for fight-or-flight situations, but an excess of cortisol can suppress the immune system and is thought to be at the heart of many autoimmune and chronic diseases, not to mention a laundry list of physiological symptoms, from migraines to gastrointestinal distress to insomnia. Kreitzer says you can’t really escape stress, but you can learn to control your responses. Best of all, most of these things require just a little training and little-to-no cash. For more tips, check out the center’s website:

Think About It

Becoming aware of your triggers and how you respond to them is the first and most important step. If you aren’t sure where to begin, or where to take your discoveries, Kreitzer recommends enrolling in the Center’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class, which provides the tools you need to find calm in all of life’s storms.

Hit the Books

Two Minnesota physicians have written “excellent” books, according to Kreitzer. Meditation for the Rest of Us, by Tim Baltzell, comes with a CD to supplement the decidedly non-lingo text. The Chemistry of Calm, by Henry Emmons, is great for those who would like to try managing their stress through dietary choices. And Full Catastrophe Living, which Kreitzer calls a “fabulous book that has a lot on every aspect of physiology, and focuses on meditation and yoga,” rounds out her picks.

Say Spa-aaaah

Your best bet is heading over to The Marsh, A Center for Balance and Fitness for a holistic, healing, relaxing treatment or some water therapy. The founder, Ruth Stricker, was truly a pioneer in the spa world and a visionary for creating balance in peoples’ lives. The Marsh has little niches for meditation that overlook the acres of marshland that the spa sits upon. All the better to reconnect with nature, my dears.

Pick Up The Phone

You don’t have to turn off your phone to get some peace. The center developed an iPhone/iPad app, with photographer Craig Blacklock, called Wellscapes. The app plays music and walks you through a five-minute meditation, during which you view gorgeous natural settings captured by Blacklock. There’s increasing evidence that “eco-therapy”—basically, getting outside—is a highly effective treatment for chronic stress. Best of all, it’s free.