Stress. Just seeing the word can make you tense up a little, right? Well, we all know that stress is part of everyday life–whether you’re anxious about an upcoming test, job interview or event, burned-out at work, frustrated about an ongoing personal problem, irritated at your partner, friend, family member, co-worker or boss, are trying to meet important deadlines or you’re just more sensitive to whatever life throws at you.
Thing is, the data is conclusive that stress worsens the two most annoying facets of a menstrual cycle: menstrual cramps and premenstrual symptoms, such as anger, blue moods and pre-period pain. That’s because it floods your system with stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, which trigger inflammation that exacerbate pain sensations and sour your mood.
Of course you know that life isn’t going to ever suddenly stop giving you reasons to stress out. But, fortunately, scientists have discovered easy, all-natural ways to tame your body’s stress response so that less of these damaging hormones get released and don’t cause as much mayhem to your menstrual cycle.
Ready to tamp down your stress? Here are 3 study-proven tactics to try:
1. Write about your strengths
Next time you’re stressed about how you’ll perform in a high-stakes situation where you’re facing someone in a position of power—for instance, during a job interview or when negotiating a pay raise—take out a pen and write a few sentences describing your best strengths. You’ll lessen your worry, plus you’ll end up performing better, reveals a study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
How it works: By focusing on your best traits, you ratchet up confidence, which reduces your worry. This, in turn, sharpens your working memory (the kind that helps you juggle lots of information in your head at once), which gets short-circuited by stress.
Stressing about a whole bunch of things? Try keeping a gratitude journal. In a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, women who wrote four entries per week about reasons to be thankful—and reflected on their favorite reason for a few minutes—felt less stressed and happier within three weeks. Practicing gratitude helps you see the silver linings in problems and challenges, so you don’t feel so overwhelmed by them.
2. Talk to someone facing the same stressor
When you’re nervous about an upcoming presentation, a doctor’s appointment or another tough task, talk to someone who’s feeling the same way about a similar situation they’re currently facing, too, such as a colleague, friend or members of an online or in-person support group. Expressing your fears to someone who can relate has a calming effect, reports the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
How it works: Hearing that someone else has the same worries as you confirms that it’s normal to be apprehensive, which then reduces your body’s output of the stress hormone cortisol, making you calmer.
3. Take a brisk walk
Do you get highly stressed before certain activities or events–such as giving a speech–and think nothing can help calm you? Listen to this: Folks with higher-than-average anxiety who did 30 minutes of brisk walking, biking or other moderate-intensity aerobic exercise right before a stressful activity were significantly less tense while doing it, according to a study in the journal Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
How it works: Aerobic exercise combats one key reason behind extreme anxiety: worry prompted by your body’s natural response to stress, such as a faster heart rate and perspiration. In other words, when you feel stress start to rise, you panic because it’s a confirmation that there’s something to worry about. However, when you exercise, you trigger similar body sensations in a safe, positive way–and this helps you get used to these feelings, so you don’t get as stressed when they arise during the post-exercise activity, the researchers say.
Tip: Exercising for 30 minutes twice weekly leads to a significant improvement in sleep quality—which then lowers overall feelings of tension in highly-stressed individuals, reports the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity.
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