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Ten Stress Busters That Make You Look Better

Anxiety can be a useful motivator when it comes to getting your work done or calling your mom, but too much anxiety is associated with more health problems than we can count. That’s because, among other things, stress can inhibit immune function. And if you’ve ever looked in the mirror when you’re sick (it’s not recommended), you know that your health and your looks are inextricably linked.

It also can be a direct actor on skin. Studies have shown that people under chronic stress have a delayed capacity for wound healing. And when we were researching our book, Dr. Ladan Mostaghimi, a dermatologist from the University of Wisconsin, told us it can be an aggravating factor in many skin conditions: from acne to atopic dermatitis to cancer.

Let’s be honest too: Nobody likes a perma-frowny face, or the frown lines that engrave themselves on our mugs over time. Of course, there’s always Botox—but since the FDA gives it a black-box warning, here are 10 stress busters to try instead.

1. Sleep more. Sleep is the body’s time to repair itself, as well as the face’s chance to take a break from wrinkle-forming gymnastics. Even more important: Rats deprived entirely of sleep die within 10 to 20 days, a faster rate than starvation. If you're prone to insomnia, try these tips: Force yourself to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier; step away from the computer or television an hour before it’s time to go down; read the dictionary; keep your room pitch black and cool; when you wake, immediately let light into the room or step outside (this will help you reset your internal clock); and avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon.
2. Exercise a lot. It releases serotonin, which is one of the reasons why it makes people happier (and in turn, less stressed). Exercise is also proven to help with sleep—but only if it’s done at least three hours before bed. It also improves circulation, oxygenates cells, stimulates lymphatic movement, and makes you sweat, ridding the body of toxins.
3. Have more sex (by yourself counts). Sex and orgasms release a cocktail of wonderful stress-zapping chemicals into the brain including serotonin, depression-fighting endorphins, and oxytocin, the cuddle chemical. You know what else oxytocin does? It helps skin repair itself (at least in rats).
4. Breathe deeper. Learning to lengthen and deepen your breaths is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress and, according to alterna-doctor par excellence Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the most important. Shifting your focus to your breath several times during the day will help relax the mind and bring more oxygen to cells.
5. Stop and smell the jasmine. Aromatherapy may have earned its scientific wings this week with a new German study reporting that smelling jasmine is as effective at calming nerves as valium, at least on the brains of mice. Apparently when their cages were filled with it, they ceased all activity and sat quietly in the corner. Could it do the same for the mouse on the wheel in your brain? It’s worth a try.
6. Meditate, or try to. This requires taking the breathing thing even further, into a magical place where thoughts stop having meaning. Of course that could take a lifetime (or several), but studies show that even the most novice practitioners show an almost immediate capacity to better handle stress.
7. Get a massage or go for acupuncture. These kinds of alternative treatments are a great way to sneak in some serious relaxation. Like other forms of pleasurable touch, massage can boost oxytocin levels, and if acupuncture can reduce hot flashes in breast cancer patients and knee pain in a study of 600 sufferers, we're ready to believe it probably can reduce stress too.
8. Do yoga. This is the all-in-one to all of the above. Breath? Check. Exercise? Check. Meditation? Check. Detoxification? Check. Anyone who’s ever been to a yoga class has also heard that inversions—like standing on your head—will keep you younger by reversing gravity and bringing more blood to your head and heart.
9. Turn off your gadgets. We are a nation of stressers: Even before the recession, 4 in 10 Americans reported feeling very stressed, and the latest polls now say that nearly half of us are experiencing debt-related stress as well. Being constantly connected to, say, a job you don’t like, or depressing news about the economy (let alone the environment) via all your gadgets can’t be great for anxiety levels. Unplug daily.
10. Do stuff you like. Or something you haven’t done for a while. Or something you’ve never done that doesn’t involve texting, tweeting, or BBM-ing. Even a couple of hours away from the world, or with someone special, can give you a fresh outlook.

This is a series inspired by No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, a book by GOOD's features editor Siobhan O'Connor and her co-author Alexandra Spunt. It will run every Thursday.

Read more on their blog.

Illustrations by Dylan C. Lathrop

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