Everyday stress management

Turns out, there’s some scientific truth to the old saying “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

And it doesn’t just go for Momma.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, measured stress indicators such as heart rates in mothers who were asked to give an impromptu speech. What the moms didn’t know was that their audience was told to scowl and make other critical gestures as they listened.

The mothers’ stress levels rose during the exercise, and so did those in their children when they later joined their moms after playing peacefully in a nearby room. The greater the mothers’ stress, the higher their children’s, according to the researchers.

In another experiment, researchers at Saint Louis University’s Department of Psychology confirmed findings that stress is indeed contagious, meaning if someone you work with, live with or simply cross paths with is having a bad day, you could be in for it.

Their findings, reported in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, showed higher heart rates and cortisol levels in people simply observing someone undergoing a stressful situation. Stress can be passed to others through things like facial expressions, voice frequency, odor and touch, their report said.

So it probably isn’t your imagination that the drama queen in the next cubicle at work or an angst-filled teen in the back of your minivan can take your stress level from 0 to 60 in a minute flat. (Or if you felt like you’d been through the wringer after watching Sandra Bullock’s life-or-death battle in the Oscar-winning movie “Gravity,” it probably wasn’t just your imagination getting a workout.)

Researchers have found that chronic stress can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and depression. So if not for your own health, you should attempt to destress in hopes that those around you won’t fall victim to stress overload as well.

Years ago, I caught my friend Becky chanting a little mantra to herself after a passive-aggressive tiff with her mate. “You can’t make me angry, you can’t make me angry,” she repeated slowly, under her breath.

This tactic seemed to do the trick for Becky. And it took on an element of comic relief, which lightened things up substantially, when I confessed that, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why she kept looking at her husband and declaring, “You can’t make me hungry, you can’t make me hungry.”

So sing really loud to the car radio, unleash a primal scream, have a quiet moment of zen — whatever it takes — to shake off the stresses in your life. Some people swear by giving the toilet a really good scrubbing. Just imagine you’re using the toothbrush of who ever has set you off.

 

– Mickey H. Gramig