Daily ten­sion builds up. Learn how to con­vert fret­ful, un­easy feel­ings into pos­i­tive power that does your body good.

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Learn how to con­vert fret­ful, un­easy feel­ings into pos­i­tive power that does your body good.

Awhop­ping 80 per cent of peo­ple say they’ve re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced a phys­i­cal or emo­tional symp­tom of stress, like headaches or feel­ing over­whelmed or de­pressed, the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion re­ports. And no won­der: “More than ever be­fore, we are be­ing bom­barded by neg­a­tive mes­sages on the news, on our so­cial me­dia feeds, and even in con­ver­sa­tions with friends,” says Michelle Gielan, founder of the In­sti­tute for Ap­plied Pos­i­tive Re­search and the au­thor of Broad­cast­ing Hap­pi­ness: The Sci­ence of Ig­nit­ing and Sus­tain­ing Pos­i­tive Change. This on­slaught of neg­a­tiv­ity cre­ates a sense of help­less­ness, says Julie Norem, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Welles­ley Col­lege in Mas­sachusetts. “We feel we’re at the mercy of out­side forces and up against prob­lems that are so big, we can’t en­vi­sion a so­lu­tion,” she says. The height­ened anx­i­ety makes us re­vert to fight-or-flight mode. “We may lash out at oth­ers or we try to run away, fig­u­ra­tively or lit­er­ally,” Julie says, and be­ing in that state con­stantly can wear on the body and mind.

But there are op­tions. Ex­perts say that if you think of that fear and worry as raw en­ergy, you can learn to re­di­rect it to­wards a more pos­i­tive, pro­duc­tive use. These so­lu­tions will help you do just that so you feel happier, calmer, and more mo­ti­vated.


Build­ing short bursts of ex­er­cise into your day could pro­tect you from the men­tal and phys­i­cal ef­fects of stress, says Emily Bern­stein, a Har­vard Univer­sity psy­chol­ogy Ph.D. can­di­date. The proof: In a study she con­ducted, peo­ple cy­cled for 25 min­utes, com­pleted a stress­ful puz­zle and a maths prob­lem, then re­ported how they felt.

When they worked out be­fore­hand, par­tic­i­pants tended to feel more up­beat and bounced back from the stress faster than when they just stretched or sat qui­etly, even if they were wor­ri­ers by na­ture.

“Ex­er­cise seemed to have a buffer­ing ef­fect, sim­i­lar to a vi­ta­min, but one you can take to pro­tect your­self from some­thing up­set­ting in­stead of a health is­sue,” Emily says. So rather than dwelling, you’ll be able to move for­ward more quickly af­ter hear­ing or see­ing some­thing up­set­ting and use that emo­tional en­ergy as fuel.

As lit­tle as 15 min­utes of car­dio may trig­ger an in­crease in a sub­stance called brain­derived neu­rotrophic fac­tor, which could pro­tect your neu­rons from the dam­ag­ing ef­fects of the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol, mak­ing you more re­silient. To get the ben­e­fit, aim to raise your heart rate for at least 20 min­utes a day, ide­ally first thing, so you’ll be bet­ter pre­pared to fend off anx­i­ety from morn­ing to night.


Stop check­ing your news feed when you wake up, Michelle says. “One of our re­cent stud­ies found that peo­ple who were ex­posed to just three min­utes of neg­a­tive news early in the morn­ing had a 27 per cent greater like­li­hood of say­ing they’d had a bad day six to eight hours later than those who watched in­spir­ing news,” she says. Our brains are de­signed to help us de­tect dan­ger, which is why gloomy info af­fects us so strongly.

In­stead of catch­ing up on cur­rent events or e-mails first thing, Michelle sug­gests spend­ing a few min­utes do­ing some­thing you en­joy, such as med­i­tat­ing, tak­ing a walk, or just chill­ing out with a cup of cof­fee. This starts your day on a calm, pos­i­tive note and helps pro­tect your brain from the anx­i­eties of toxic news, giv­ing you more men­tal space and en­ergy for happy thoughts.


You’ll move rapidly from over­whelmed to back in charge by do­ing some­thing – any­thing – to prob­lem-solve. “Feel­ing pow­er­less ex­ac­er­bates stress, while feel­ing ef­fec­tive de­creases it,” Julie says. “Find one or two con­crete ac­tions, even small ones, that will im­prove things for you, other peo­ple, or the com­mu­nity, and you’ll be less de­pleted by neg­a­tive events.”

For in­stance, af­ter watch­ing a news broad­cast about global warm­ing, do­nate a few dol­lars to a re­lated cause or join an en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion as a vol­un­teer to help turn things around. “We find it hard to be­lieve that we have any power over the big prob­lems, like cli­mate change or health care pol­icy, but small ac­tions mul­ti­plied by thou­sands of peo­ple can have real ef­fects,” Julie says. “They also help en­er­gise and in­spire us.”


De­vote more time to artis­tic ac­tiv­i­ties like sketch­ing, scrap­book­ing, cook­ing, play­ing mu­sic, gar­den­ing, or knit­ting. “Cre­at­ing some­thing makes you feel use­ful and help­ful, which re­duces stress and anx­i­ety,” Julie says. In fact, these ac­tiv­i­ties may pro­tect your brain and body from the ef­fects of stress in a sim­i­lar way to med­i­ta­tion, re­search from Columbia Univer­sity finds. The key is to choose projects that give you a sense of sat­is­fac­tion and re­quire to­tal im­mer­sion, which is the best way to reap the en­er­gis­ing ben­e­fits.


When it seems like ev­ery­thing – your train­ing rou­tine for an up­com­ing 10K run, your job, the econ­omy – is fal­ter­ing, count down from 10 while breath­ing deeply through your nose. This sim­ple stress-re­duc­ing rit­ual helps give you a sense of con­trol, re­duc­ing anx­i­ety and im­prov­ing per­for­mance, says Ali­son Wood Brooks, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Busi­ness School who has re­searched the phe­nom­e­non. And the more of­ten you do it, she adds, the more ef­fec­tively it will calm your anx­i­ety and bol­ster your con­fi­dence and en­ergy.

Think­ing of fear and worry as raw en­ergy can help you re­di­rect these emo­tions to­wards a more pos­i­tive use.

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