When you sense danger, your body gears up for action as you prepare either to run away or stand your ground. Unfortunately, the stress of modern-day life can result in this system’s being triggered constantly. Whether it stems from not being able to find a parking space or an argument with the kids, most people hit the ‘fight or flight’ button on an all too regular basis. Although mild amounts of stress may help some people focus on the task at hand, constant problems can take their toll, eventually sending the stress meter rocketing and causing increased blood pressure, concentration difficulties, worry, weight gain, and a weakening of the immune system. However, there are several quick and easy ways of bringing your blood pressure back down to earth.
1. Help yourself by praying for others
Research conducted by Neal Krause at the University of Michigan suggests that praying for others might be good for your health. After interviewing more than a thousand people about the nature of their prayers, finances, and health, Krause discovered that praying for others helped reduce the financial stresses and strains of the person doing the praying and improved their own wellbeing. Interestingly, praying for material things, such as a new car or a better house, offered no such protection.
2. Study the classics
Sky Chafin at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues at other universities examined which music best reduces blood pressure after a stressful event. Their work involved making people anxious by having them count down aloud from 2,397 in sets of 13, i.e., 2397, 2384, etc. To make matters worse, every thirty seconds the experimenter harassed the participants with negative feedback (‘Come on, get a move on’) and urged them to speed up. Afterward, some of the participants were left alone to recover in silence, while others were played either classical music (Pachelbel’s Canon and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Spring, movement 1), jazz (including ‘Flamenco Sketches’ by Miles Davis), or pop music (Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Angel’ and the Dave Matthews Band’s ‘Crash into Me’). Blood pressure readings revealed that listening to pop or jazz music had the same restorative effect as total silence. In contrast, those who listened to Pachelbel and Vivaldi relaxed much more quickly, and so their blood pressure dropped back to the normal level in far less time.
3. Soak up some sunshine
Work conducted by Matthew Keller at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, and outside colleagues, looked at the relationship between the sun and emotion. The team discovered that hot weather, indicated by higher temperatures and barometric pressure, caused people to be in a better mood and improved their memory, but only if they had spent more than thirty minutes outside. People who had spent less than the magic half hour in the sun were actually in a poorer mood than usual. Perhaps, as the authors suggested, people resent being cooped up when the weather is pleasant.
4. Get in touch with your inner clown
Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you increase your chances of a heart attack. Well, at least that is the general conclusion from research examining the psychology of humour and stress. People who spontaneously use humour to cope with stress have especially healthy immune systems, are 40 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, experience less pain during dental surgery, and live four and a half years longer than average. In 2005 Michael Miller and his colleagues at the University of Maryland showed people scenes from films that were likely to make them feel anxious (such as the opening thirty minutes of Saving Private Ryan) or make them laugh (such as the ‘orgasm’ scene from When Harry Met Sally). Participants’ blood flow dropped by about 35 percent after watching the stress-inducing films, but rose by 22 percent following the more humorous material. On the basis of the results, the researchers recommended that people laugh for at least fifteen minutes each day.
Excerpted from "59 Seconds" by Richard Wiseman Copyright © 2010 by Richard Wiseman. Excerpted by permission of Vintage Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.