How to Cut the Tension

Photo: Phillip Toledano

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.”

Photo: Phillip Toledano

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.

Photo: Phillip Toledano

Case Study 3
Hard-Partying Thirtysomething, ready to try waking up without a hangover.
Solution:Scare yourself straight. All those late nights and multiple cocktails have taken more of a toll than you’d think. Finding out your body’s physical age (which is likely a lot older than your chronological age) through the Body Age program at Equinox’s E Studio will tell you just how much damage you’ve done so far.

Clean out some toxins, even if it’s just symbolic. The Acu-Organ detox at Exhale involves a warm castor-oil poultice and a slow, deliberate massage that hits the liver, gallbladder, stomach, spleen, and pancreas. “When I’m doing this work, I can actually feel where there’s congestion, inflammation, stuck fecal material,” says acupuncturist Robert MacDonald. “And I move things along that channel.”

Meet some new friends. If you’ve been hanging out with the same boozing-and-using crowd for years, they’re not exactly going to be supportive. Try a new sport, or pick up a hobby that doesn’t take place in a bar.

Make your gym routine an obstacle course. Repeating the same workout is way too dull for twitchy substance abusers. “I’d have them stand on a balance board or a Bosu ball and do shoulder presses with hand weights at the same time,” says Cindy Sherwin, head trainer for the GYM.

Get acupuncture. While nobody’s really sure why it works, acupuncture is mainstream enough that it’s even used to treat drug addictions and quell cravings. Noah Rubinstein of Longevity Health advocates a few sessions of ear acupuncture (in Chinese medicine, the ear is a microcosm of the entire body, akin to the foot in reflexology). Inserting four or five needles into key points helps balance anxiety and cravings for food and other substances, he says.

Photo: Phillip Toledano

Case Study 4
Number-Cruncher, hunched over a computer, strangled by deadlines.
Solution:Stop slumping. Bad posture affects blood flow to the brain. At Chirospa, Dr. Steve Gettinger, chiropractor-slash-martial-artist, will not only check your spinal alignment and adjust as needed, he’ll get you clear and focused with a series of calming breathing exercises and hydrotherapy. “I get New Yorkers aligned, but I also get them focused and back on the street with a warrior mentality,” he says. “Like a samurai.”

Have someone take a picture of you sitting at your desk, and analyze it. “You shouldn’t be reaching in weird ways to access stuff,” says Stephen Barlow-Lawson, the president and design director of Biomorph. “If you sit in your chair and rotate with your arms out, that’s your circle of power. Everything you need should be within that reach.” The checklist: The top of your computer monitor should be level with your eyes. Your chair should recline fully. Your elbows should rest on your work surface at a 90-degree angle to your keyboard. And your wrists should have good support.

Sweep religiously. There’s nothing like a million scattered Post-it Notes to inspire a panic attack. Linda Rothschild, an organization expert with the company Cross It Off Your List, suggests stopping for three distinct organizing moments every day: morning, after lunch, and before you leave.

Do a handstand in the late afternoon. When neck muscles are cramped and eyestrain is setting in, a fifteen-second handstand (stabilize yourself against a wall) behind closed doors can be very restorative. Plus, it makes you feel like a kid. Get proper technique first, though; Chelsea Piers offers beginner gymnastics classes for adults year-round.

Photo: Phillip Toledano

Case Study 5
An Overworked, Overtired Mom, who gets three hours of sleep on a good night.
Solution:Use the Internet. “Talk to someone else who’s going through the same thing,” says Elana Katz, a family therapist with the Ackerman Institute for the Family. Fifteen minutes a day of good solid bitching on to an understanding chat group, even if they’re invisible, establishes a connection to the outside world.

Get rid of the Cocoa Puffs. Never mind your kid’s sugar-fueled tantrums; you’re the one finishing off those half-eaten cookies and discarded M&Ms. “When a mother is stressed-out, a lot of the time she doesn’t think about what she’s eating. If there’s junk food in the house, she’ll pick at it, which will affect her energy levels,” says Lisa Young, an assistant adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU. Nap when the kids do. What’s more important, the laundry or your sanity?

If insomnia strikes, pop a pill. Lack of sleep alters your brain chemistry, removes your sense of humor, and eliminates your patience and problem-solving abilities. “It’s advisable to find ways to increase sleep hours, either by having child care or pharmacologic assistance, such as Ambien,” says Dr. Michael Strongin, an OB/GYN associate with Lenox Hill. “Just understand the mother will be unavailable to the child for about six hours.”

Don’t rush back to the gym. Personal trainer Ari Weller suggests long, slow stretches, using a small BodyBall for support. Focus on the back, abs, and midsection; they got the most trauma during pregnancy. He’s also a fan of lots of deep belly breathing (inhale, then slowly exhale while envisioning your stomach meeting your lower back). It’s relaxing, and helps flatten your stomach.

Photo: Phillip Toledano

Case Study 6
A Self-Employed, Self-Medicating Creative Type, who de-stresses with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
Solution:Put your tight jeans on. “If you did a drive-by of this person’s apartment, she’d be in sweatpants,” says Heather Greenbaum of Nu-train nutritional counseling. “When you have that elastic waist, you just keep eating.” Start the day with some exercise, and it doesn’t have to be an hour on the elliptical trainer. A stroll around the neighborhood is fine, followed by a shower and a breakfast with some protein.

Eat your meals at a table, not off your lap. “You’re a civilized person,” says Greenbaum, “so eat like one. Civilized people do not eat in front of the refrigerator or standing over the sink.”

Volunteer at a charity. The freelancer’s schedule allows you to commit to something that will bust you out of work-at-home isolation and put a stop to your neurotic spin, suggests Stephanie Secolsky, a Manhattan psychologist. “Commit to a certain number of days a week at a certain time,” she says.

Adopt a pet. “It gives you something to think about besides yourself,” says Nicole Petron, client coordinator at Bide-A-Wee Manhattan. “It’s like having a child that will never grow up or leave.” You’ve got time to walk and love the pet if you’re home all day, and you’ll be rewarded with something fluffy that’s always happy to see you, no matter how whiny you are.

Binge smart. Go for something less artery-clogging than premium ice cream, like frozen yogurt or Soy Dream. And try to chew at least half the time, rather than gulping. “Chewing makes eating a conscious act, and you’re more in control,” says author and macrobiotic chef Jessica Porter. “You don’t feel quite so insane.”

How to Cut the Tension