Meditation, especially Transcendental, is an obvious choice for creating quiet because it can lower blood pressure, ease a racing heart, and even reduce pain response ( NeuroReport, 2006, vol. 17, no. 12). Take it Outside
Not only can being in nature put personal problems in perspective, but the vitamin D in sunshine also raises serotonin levels, says Robyn Benson, doctor of Oriental medicine. She suggests spending 15 to 20 minutes up to five times per week outside, sans SPF. Too much sun is risky, though, so time your outings for early morning or late afternoon when UV rays are at their weakest.
Positive thinking is another shortcut to tranquility. For instance, participants in a 2005 University of California study who affirmed their personal values prior to completing a stressful task showed significantly lower cortisol levels (Psychological Science, 2005, vol. 16, no. 11). "Your brain only knows what you tell it, so as soon as you feel stress, repeat a mantra or visualize a place where you feel loved and calm," says Kathleen Hall, PhD, founder and director of the Atlanta-based Stress Institute and author of A Life in Balance (American Management Association, 2006). Or simply reflect on what makes you thankful. "It's impossible to experience gratitude and the stress response at the same time," says Hall.
Surround yourself with allies
"Friends are the essence of a long life," says Hall, who suggests making time to e-mail and phone pals, and sharing a weekly meal together. "We get endorphins and serotonin just by talking to a friend, but be in her physical presence and your brain produces the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which is very good for the body."
Don't overdo it
It's no secret that moderate exercise is a powerful natural antidepressant, releasing endorphins and regulating blood sugar. But too much activity can trigger the brain's stress response, releasing cortisol and adrenaline. Balance long runs with easy hikes, and factor in at least one day of recovery per week. "We're all about yin and yang," says Robyn Benson, DOM, founder of Santa Fe Soul natural health and healing center in New Mexico. "If you're the type of person who puts all her energy out there through exercise, you need to find ways to build yourself back up, whether it's yoga, tai chi, or low-key walking."
Katie Arnold lives and writes in Santa Fe, New Mexico.