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updated 11/25/2011 11:12:01 AM ET 2011-11-25T16:12:01

It's hard to say, exactly, what the worst part about stress is. Is it the tightness that starts somewhere around your solar plexus, then extends out to your toenails, earlobes, and cerebellum? Is it randomly snapping at innocent—and, occasionally, quite guilty—loved ones? Is it sobbing quietly behind the closed door of a bathroom stall?

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Uh, sorry, did we say that last one out loud?

The point is, stress attacks in all sorts of ways — and at the worst times. The holiday season is hectic and chaotic, but you can learn to thrive under pressure. We've spent the past several months devouring studies and cross-examining experts to find the best stress-busting tips of all time. And when we read the advice we'd compiled, we suddenly felt much, much better.

Soon you will, too.

19 Ways to Live a Stress-Free Life

Drink more OJ
Researchers at the University of Alabama fed rats 200 milligrams of vitamin C twice a day and found that it nearly stopped the secretion of stress hormones. If it relaxes a rat, why not you? Two 8-ounce glasses of orange juice daily gives you the vitamin C you need.

Put a green dot on your phone
This is your secret reminder to take one deep breath before you answer a call, says Susan Siegel, of the Program on Integrative Medicine at the University of North Carolina school of medicine. Not only will you feel better, but you'll sound more confident.

Spend quality time with a canine
Yours or someone else's. According to research at the State University of New York at Buffalo, being around a pet provides more stress relief than being around a two-legged companion. As if we needed a study to determine that.

Go to Starbucks with your coworkers
Researchers at the University of Bristol in England discovered that when stressed-out men consumed caffeine by themselves, they remained nervous and jittery. But when anxious men caffeine-loaded as part of a group, their feelings of stress subsided.

The 6 Worst Coffee Drinks in America

Shake it out
When you're facing that big-money putt, shake out your fingers, relieving the tension in your forearms, hands, and wrists and shifting your focus to the only thing you can control: your preshot routine. You won't think about making -- or missing -- the shot, says Alan Goldberg, Ed.D., a sports-psychology consultant in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Listen to music at work
And make it the blandest playlist you can create. According to a study at Pennsylvania's Wilkes University, Muzak lowers your stress levels at work, while also reducing the risk of the common cold. We knew Celine Dion had a purpose.

The Healing Power in Your iPod

Shut up and smile
Freaking out about a speech? Smile, look at the audience, and keep quiet for 2 seconds, says T.J. Walker, president of Media Training Worldwide. It'll slow you down and create the impression that you're relaxed and in control. The audience will then feel more comfortable, leading you to actually be relaxed and in control. Now start talking. Unless you're a mime. In that case, as you were.

Talk with your hands
To keep calm in a job interview, rest your arms on your lap, with your elbows bent slightly, and have your fingers almost touching, says Walker. This will keep your body relaxed, which will keep your tone conversational.

Run fast
Bike hard. Punch the heavy bag. And we don't mean your mother-in-law. A University of Missouri at Columbia study found that 33 minutes of high-intensity exercise helps lower stress levels more than working out at a moderate pace. What's more, the benefits last as long as 90 minutes afterward.

6 Rules to Get in Fighting Shape

Hit the sauna after your workout
In an Oklahoma State University study, those who combined sauna use with group counseling had greater stress relief, feelings of relaxation, and sense of accomplishment compared with those who only had their heads shrunk.

Click here for 42 more ways to conquer and control stress.

More links:
The Best Workouts to Relieve Stress
5 Ways to Boost Productivity and Beat Stress
13 Qualities Every Leader Should Have
Enter to win one of Prevention's great online sweepstakes

© 2012 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.

Video: Don’t let Santa drive you off your diet

  1. Transcript of: Don’t let Santa drive you off your diet

    AL ROKER reporting: This morning on TODAY'S HEALTH , how to avoid stress eating during the holidays. We got Thanksgiving , Christmas , New Year 's ahead of us. It's easy to get stressed out and then start packing on the pounds. Well, here with some advice to keep you on track is TODAY'S diet and nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom and psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz . Good to see both of you.

    Ms. MADELYN FERNSTROM (TODAY'S Diet and Nutrition Editor): Hey, Al.

    Dr. GAIL SALTZ (Psychiatrist): How are you?

    ROKER: So, Madelyn , let's start with you, stress eating.

    Ms. FERNSTROM: Right, right.

    ROKER: What is it, and -- this emotional eating , and why do people end up turning to food?

    Ms. FERNSTROM: Food is such an important part of everything we do. It's not just to fuel ourselves. And when we feel stressed, we turn to food because let's face it, it's soothing and tastes good, and for the moment, it's really -- it's really validating, very reinforcing. But it's really masking a lot of things that are going on. This hand to mouth activity, all this nervous anxiety, this is fueled by food. And then the problem is that the more stress we get, the more we start to eat mindlessly. But the good news is that you have learned this and you can unlearn it for some good habits, too.

    ROKER: So, Gail , you say one of the things people have to start thinking about as we go into the holidays is about your expectations and managing those.

    Dr. SALTZ: Right. Because the reason it's hard around the holidays is exactly that, because we envision all of the family should get along beautifully, we should make this incredible, perfect meal so we appear to be the super-duper mom, the most competitive. And when you set yourself up that way, of course it's going to be incredibly stressful.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. SALTZ: So to some degree, it's bringing expectations back into line and saying, like, 'look, if it's going to be so much work and I'm going to be stressed out, having a potluck Thanksgiving will really off-load me and it's not going to make me not a great -- not a great mom, not a great hostess, etc.' You have to realize that you can bring people together but you can't make them adore one another and get along in every moment.

    ROKER: Right.

    Dr. SALTZ: So there are going to be things that are going to happen that are really not in your control and that's OK.

    ROKER: And trying to keep control. Madelyn , you say one of the things you do, you need to keep track of your eating.

    Ms. FERNSTROM: Right. You want to stay in control because the issue is what triggers you to eat? It's not just the foods, it's also the situation. Like Gail was saying, it's really less about what you're eating and more about managing this stress. So you have this think about things, be a mindful eater and go what things cause me to overeat? Are there certain foods, it might be nuts, it could be healthy or not healthy, that don't satisfy you but cause you to overeat. But the situations are more important. You go to your in-laws house, it's very stressful. You have to have ways of managing, 'all right, who am I going to talk to? Let me minimize what I'm doing' and think about the situation and the food.

    ROKER: And so does that kind of play into the self-talking to yourself?

    Dr. SALTZ: Self-talk is huge and actually it can make a really, really big difference. You almost have to have like a preloaded tape of things that you can say to yourself in those stressful moments. So, for instance, a really good one that I often tell patients to say is something to the effect of, 'I can only bring the family together, I can't make them get along.'

    ROKER: So get a mantra.

    Dr. SALTZ: A mantra. I can only serve a lovely meal. I can't make a perfect holiday, that's up to each individual. Sometimes it helps to write them out, what the line is to yourself that creates a reasonable expectation that destresses you in the moment.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm. And when you're at your own home, you can kind of control the meal, you can control the menu. But when you go out, Madelyn , you say one of the things you do -- and I took this from you because I do this now a lot, I pre-eat before I go to a party.

    Ms. FERNSTROM: Right, that's a good thing. That's not overeating, it's eating before you go someplace. You're going to have some soup, some crunchy vegetables, you can have some yogurt, maybe a few slices of turkey. So when you get there, you don't feel vulnerable to all of the things that are there, whether you like them or not. And the worst thing is when you're in an environment you don't like and there's lots of food and you start to gobble it up because you're nervous. But pre-eating takes the pressure off. You know you've eaten, you can have something to drink. And you just detach from the whole situation.

    ROKER: All right, because we've got a long holiday season .

    Ms. FERNSTROM: Long holiday season .

    Dr. SALTZ: It's a long holiday season , and a long -- and stress cooking skills and the eating techniques will really serve you well.


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