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Sleep Sensitivity

How to Relieve Stress Without Medicine

Stress and bad sleep often go hand-in-hand. But by calming down, it’s possible to achieve a more complete type of wellness.

Stress is making us older and sicker, and not getting enough sleep only makes things worse. The problem, says Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, is when we’re sleep deprived, we’re less likely to connect with loved ones — and that’s the single best stress moderator out there.

“When you are sleep deprived, you don’t feel like talking with friends or family, so you lose that ability to ameliorate stress,” Roizen says.

Although you can’t control stress triggers, especially major life events, the good news is you can control your reaction to them. “For example, being forced to move, or going to a new residence or a new job — that isn’t the stressful part. It is your reaction to it — that is, your uncomfortableness, your feelings about it — and so your feelings are controllable by you, not by anyone else,” Roizen says.

A first line of defense

To better cope with stress, Roizen recommends connecting with loved ones as a first step. Other techniques can help, too: meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation are proven stress-busters.

“The key component is to refocus your mind so that it is not concentrating or not bothered by the event that caused you stress,” Roizen says. A tough workout can fit the bill. “The exercise should be hard enough so that you have to concentrate on that, you can’t think about the other things,” he says. Those techniques work similarly. “When you’re doing deep breathing or meditation, it is focusing on that so intensely that the event that causes the stress doesn’t enter your mind, or if it does, you get rid of it.”

To try progressive muscle relaxation, tense or scrunch up your face, and then attempt to tense every muscle in your body. Next, progressively release them from the outside-in.

“Most of us use some amount of stress to be more productive, but there is an amount of stress that exceeds what you call our buffering capacity,” says Roizen. “That’s when you need to have routine practices and to call on your practices to be able to reduce that stress.”

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