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How to Cut the Tension

From the type-A executive to the beaten-down barista, six prescriptions for reestablishing control of your life.

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Case Study 1
High-Powered Exec, who doesn’t know how to slow down.
Solution: Call in sick. Even the biggest adrenaline junkie needs to unplug on a regular basis. While quick daily breaks—a walk around the block, listening to heavy metal with your door closed, even a midday nap—are good for keeping yourself together most of the time, regular long weekends are even more restorative, particularly if they come with a frisson of rebellion.

Sip coffee, instead of guzzling. It dehydrates you and raises your anxiety level, but no true addict wants to give it up. Either get by with less, or cut it with decaf, says Upper East Side nutritionist Leslie Cooperstein. (Yes, green tea has caffeine along with its nourishing anti-oxidants, but what coffee addict has ever willingly converted?) To maintain energy and focus throughout the day (and combat stressed- out fuzzy-headedness), he recommends loading up on so-called smart foods like complex carbohydrates, whole grains, fish, and vegetables.

If you run, slow down. For a more focused and efficient workout, Jarrod Jordan, a trainer at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers, recommends a slower but more intense program (jog on the treadmill at an incline). He also suggests wearing a Polar chest-strap monitor to track your target heart-rate zone. A 50-year-old man should stay between 110 and 130 beats per minute instead of 165, for example. And switch around: treadmill, bike, rowing machine, and so forth. “It keeps you moving in different planes of motion,” he says. Better yet, he adds, run outdoors when weather permits. “But then, there’s no CNN financial news outdoors.”


Case Study 2
An Actor, doing time at Starbucks.
Solution: Think nice thoughts. Perverse as it sounds, positive thinking is one way to deflect other people’s stress. Alan Manevitz, a psychiatrist specializing in anxiety at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, suggests saying phrases to yourself like: “That person must be having a real emergency. I want to be helpful. I’ll get out of the way.” So what if you’re fooling yourself? Detachment brings inner calm.

Put a deadline on your dream. Being an artist often entails being broke, and being broke is stressful. “Everyone should have a plan A and plan B for their career,” says personal financial planner Karen Altfest of L.J. Altfest & Co. “Plan A could be to spend five years trying to live on your craft, and plan B is to get a conventional job.”

Don’t job-hop, and put yourself on a budget. In the meantime, work a job that offers flexible hours and a regular, reliable income. “Don’t work at Bloomingdale’s, and two months later take a new job, and go through six jobs in a year,” says Altfest. “Know your hours and your rates, and live within your means.”

Get that obnoxious person out of your head at the end of the day. A kickboxing class with lots of grunts and satisfying thuds will unleash that harmful, pent-up aggression, says personal trainer David Kirsch of Madison Square Club. Of course, you can also short-circuit the whole process with brisk walks in the morning and again after work. “It’s the cheapest form of exercise there is,” says Kirsch—which makes it even more ideal for the cash-strapped.


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