6 Instant Ways to Stress Less and Smile More

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Story Updated: Mar 7, 2013

You can't completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can learn to deal with it in a healthy way. And since stress is associated with all sorts of negative health effects like high blood pressure and a weakened immune system, taking a few minutes a day to fight stress keeps you not only happy and smiling, but healthy too.

"Daily hassles and annoyances can get to anyone, but small changes make a big difference," explains Judy Saltzberg, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania's Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program. Here's how to keep smiling:

1. Take it outside.
"The first intervention I advise is physical activity," says Saltzberg. Even if you don't have time for a full workout, you can still boost your happiness. A study from the University of Essex found that just five minutes of walking, biking or even gardening outdoors can lift your mood and improve self-esteem.

Health bonus: Aside from melting away stress, you'll melt calories too!

2. Find time for tea.
Sipping a few cups of tea may make you more resilient to stress, according to research from the University College of London. Study participants who drank four cups of black tea a day had less of the stress hormone cortisol in their body after completing a challenging task than did those who didn't drink tea.

Health bonus: Tea's antioxidants may ward off some cancers, improve heart health and decrease risk of stroke.

3. Pop a piece of gum.
Under pressure? Chewing gum could help, say experts at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia. Researchers found that people who chewed while multitasking reported feeling less anxious and less stressed than their gum-free peers. They also felt more alert and performed twice as well on stressful tasks.

Health bonus: Chewing sugarless gum after meals will not only reduce stress, but it can also help fight bacteria that cause cavities.

4. Indulge in dark chocolate.
Dessert probably puts a smile on your face already, but now there's proof of chocolate's joy-boosting benefits. German researchers found that people who ate 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day for two weeks had significantly lower levels of anxiety- and stress-related hormones in their system.

Health bonus: Dark chocolate may also contribute to lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke or heart attack by 39 percent, suggests a study in the European Heart Journal.

5. Stop and smell the flowers.
Sniff your way to serenity and fight off sickness by keeping a bouquet of roses on your desk, wearing citrus-scented lotion or getting a whiff of cinnamon. Stress can wreak havoc on your immune system, but Japanese scientists found that when people inhaled a scent compound common in flowers, herbs and spices, their systems kept functioning normally in spite of the stress.

Health bonus: Smelling lavender before bed can help you sleep better, according to a study in Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery.

6. Flip your perspective.
Focusing on the positive in a stressful situation can help keep you smiling, says Saltzberg. Instead of stewing on a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, for example, think of it as an opportunity to call an old friend. "Tuning into your thinking and challenging doomsday thoughts can put a situation in perspective," says Saltzberg. And that defuses the tension.

Health bonus: A glass-half-full approach has been linked to faster recovery from injury and illness, according to research in the Journal of Personality.

After a few weeks of practicing these techniques, you'll not only feel happier, but you can rest easy knowing you're healthier too -- which is one less thing for you to stress about!

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The UHS Sports Medicine Program specializes in diagnosing and treating orthopedic and sports-related injuries, providing care on an outpatient basis. The program combines the expertise of certified athletic trainers and physical therapists, who work closely with sports medicine physicians on our medical staff to help patients resume their physical activities as soon as possible.