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Published: Sunday, 3/28/2004

Expert has tips on learning to calm down


No need to reach for a pill to calm down, advises stress expert Candace Ayars.

"Our bodies are our best drug store," added Dr. Ayars, assistant professor of public health at the University of Toledo.

We can harness our natural chemistry to ease the jitters and help prevent the physical damage that can result from long-term exposure to stress, she explained.

"I think the worst thing some people do when they're stressed is that they stay in an agitated state. You can take some very simple steps that will completely reverse the processes that have been initiated by the stress response."

For example:

  • Recent research has found that men and women have very different ways of coping with stress, Dr. Ayars said.

    Rather than relying on the established "fight or flight" response, many women "tend and befriend" - that is, they find comfort in taking care of the needs of themselves or others, or in sharing the company of other women. That raises levels of oxytocin, a calming hormone, she continued.

  • Engage your senses. "Aromatherapy actually has a basis in research," Dr. Ayars said, noting that the smell of lavendar, for example, slows breathing, lowers blood pressure, and enhances mental performance. Sound also can sooth.

    "We match our pulse rate to the music we hear. That's why so many day spas have the sounds of nature or Oriental music," she said. Touch - a hug, a bubble bath, a massage - can be healing as well.

  • Take a walk or engage in another form of moderate physical exercise. Intense exercise can increase levels of aggression, she said.

  • We seem to be soothed by being outdoors, Dr. Ayars noted. The sights and sounds boost our endorphin levels, she said, acting as a natural way to calm us down.

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