Ways to back away from the stress

You can’t avoid stress completely, but you can keep it from wearing you down. A positive attitude, if you can muster it, is the strongest shield against stress, says Stefan Hofmann, professor of psychology at Boston University. He urges optimism instead of defeatism. Forgiveness instead of blame. Moving on instead of brooding.

Perhaps above all, he says, it’s important to feel like you have some control over your life and your situation. “Think of yourself as an active participant in your future.”


A positive attitude can be hard to cultivate, and some people never really achieve it. Fortunately, there are many simpler ways to relieve stress. Regular meditation and aerobic exercise — such as walking, running or tennis, but not weightlifting — are great buffers against the world’s hassles, Hofmann says.

Ronald Nathan, a psychologist in Albany, N.Y., recommends a brief stress-busting routine that can be performed at a desk, the checkout line or even at a stoplight. Breathe in slowly and deeply. As you start to slowly exhale, give yourself a cue to calm down. You might picture a peaceful scene or simply say to yourself, “I’m relaxed.” As you breathe out, imagine that your body is as limp as a rag doll. “Some of my patients call this the six-second tranquilizer,” Nathan says.

For more extended relaxation, Nathan suggests listening to calming music or a relaxation CD. One option: “The Fast Technique for Stress Relief,” a set Nathan released in 2007.

—Chris Woolston