For Stress Survivors:
Pets Can Reduce Your Use of Meds
New research shows that owning an animal is an even more powerful way to cultivate calm than previously thought. An astonishing 82% of PTSD patients paired with a service dog reported a significant reduction in symptoms, and 40% were able to decrease their medications, in an ongoing study at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The specially trained pooches can sense before their owners do when a panic attack is coming, and then give them a nudge to start some preemptive deep breathing. "While we don't yet understand why, we know the dogs' presence affects serotonin levels and the immune system," says lead study researcher Craig Love, PhD. "The animals are so helpful, one soldier named her dog Paxil."
For the rest of us:
Bond with Fido
Pet owners can reduce stress by building extra playtime into the day, says Carll. If you don't own a pet, offer to take a neighbor's dog for an after-dinner walk or cat-sit for a friend—even short outings provide enough "pet exposure" to lessen anxiety.
For stress survivors:
Sleep to Rebalance Sneaky Stress Hormones
Sleep suppresses stress hormones, such as cortisol, and spurs the release of others, like DHEA, which plays a key role in resilience and protecting the body from stress. Yale University researchers tracked the hormone levels of a group of elite Special Forces soldiers who operate in treacherous underwater conditions and confirmed that higher DHEA levels predicted which divers were most stress hardy. Among women with PTSD, those with higher levels of DHEA have fewer negative moods, other Yale researchers found.
For the rest of us:
Do a Nightly Stress Scan
To boost DHEA naturally, get more sleep. Before you set your alarm, take stock of your stress status, says Fletcher. The more demanding your days, the more sleep you need to handle them. If the recommended 7 to 8 hours isn't possible, at least plan for an early night or two during a rough week or, if nothing else, a weekend nap. "And get anything that reminds you of work—laundry, your laptop—out of your bedroom," Fletcher adds. "It's psychologically noisy."
These coping skills don't just make it easier to manage stress, they help you thrive in general. "People who beat chronic stress often develop positive shifts in their outlook," says Elissa Epel, PhD, a stress researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. Cliched as it sounds, surviving a stressful event can open a new philosophical window on life. "People don't just cope, they grow," says Carll. "And the experience makes them stronger overall."
Pump up your endorphins. Find a fitness class.