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YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD TAKE A FEW DEEP BREATHS WHEN you feel stressed. Instead you inhale a doughnutor five. Strange? Not at all. These things activate reward pathways while quieting the amygdalathe emotional, overwrought area of your brain.
The trouble with the Krispy Kreme curebesides the inevitable risk of obesity and the powdered sugar on your necktiesis that its really just a stress BandAid. In the long term you may feel more mentally steamrolled than ever. And when your psyche suffers, so does your body. In fact, in a new Oregon State University study, researchers found that chronically stressed middleaged men were almost 50 percent more likely to die during an 18year period than those who experienced fewer stressful events. Which of these guys do you want to be?
Good choice. Now follow this plan for replacing your current socalled coping strategies with techniques thatll feel like a shiatsu massage for your mind.
HOW YOU COPE: Down a dessert
Theres a reason you equate sugar with serenity. When you consume the sweet stuff, your prefrontal cortex, a part of your brain that helps control emotions, is activated, says Herman. The danger of a sugar binge: Men with higher anxiety are also more likely to have elevated glucose levels, according to scientists in Japan. In fact, the American Diabetes Association warns that longterm stress may push your bloodsugar levels into the diabetic range if theyre already higher than normal.
DO THIS INSTEAD: Savor a small portion of ice cream
The stressbusting benefits of dessert are due more to the flavor than the fat and calories, says Herman. Highcalorie foods often taste better, but calories arent necessary for foods effects on stress. Buy a singleserve treat and take half an hour to eat it; savoring the flavor can extend the calming effect.
HOW YOU COPE: Pour a drink
After a few shots of Jack, the office jackass is the last person on your mind. When alcohol enters your bloodstream, it seems to activate reward pathways for temporary relief. In a University of Chicago study, stressedout men injected with alcohol felt anxious longer than guys in a placebo group. Booze may disrupt your bodys calming process, prolonging the mental misery.
DO THIS INSTEAD: Selfmedicate with music
A study in Nature Neuroscience found that listening to favorite tunes or anticipating a certain point in a song can cause a pleasurable flood of dopamine. Listen to a few songs in a row several times a day. Stanford researchers found that playing video games stimulates the brains mesocorticolimbic system, a key reward region. And the more you win, the more the area lights up.
DO THIS INSTEAD: Build a fence
Learn to braise meat. Practice the ukulele. Activities that give you a sense of mastery can also activate the mesocorticolimbic system, deploying a rush of dopamine. Plus, as you practice your new skill, you enter a healthy psychological state known as flow. You lose track of time and are completely immersed in what youre doing, says Addis. Its incredibly relaxing to the mind.