Caring Currents

5-Minute Stress-Busters to Fight Cancer and Other Illnesses

A couple of weeks ago I started the new year off with a post about anti-cancer new year's resolutions. I outlined 5 steps we can take this year to protect ourselves from cancer. A user commented to say that while my tips were valuable, I'd neglected to talk about reducing stress.

And I have to agree: Stress-reduction is an important effort we all need to embark on if we want to stay healthy. This year, researchers have unveiled studies showing that stress not only contributes to cancer and other illnesses but can also cause relapses and recurrences, as well.

So okay, great, stress is bad. But what can we do? Between work stress, money stress, and the stress of caring for our aging family members (not to mention children), we're pulled in a zillion directions already. How in the world are we going to reduce our stress? I get stressed just thinking about it!

So I asked some experts for easy, quick stress-reducers; things we can do for just a few minutes each day to bring some relaxation into our lives. Here are their top 5 tips:

1.Cuddle a Pet. According to psychologists, the relaxation response is automatic when we hold or cuddle a pet. Some experts even say that when a cat purrs, our heartbeat slows accordingly.

2. Indulge In a Laugh. Tack comic strips on your refrigerator or next to your computer, buy a joke book and read a new joke every day, or check out an online humor site like The Onion. One friend buys a daily desk calendar featuring The Far Side comics so she has a new one to chuckle over every morning. Anything that takes your mind off your worries and makes you crack a smile will work.

3. Listen to a Song. Music is one of the great stress-relievers of all time. But if you don't have much time, one song is all it takes; the average pop or country song is 4 to 5 minutes long. When you're emptying the dishwasher or chopping vegetables for dinner, pop in a CD or put on your headphones and listen to a favorite tune on your MP3 player. If possible, sing along - experts say humming or singing along to music releases even more feel-good endorphins.

4. Take Two Deep Breaths. Close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose, drawing the air as deeply into your lungs as you can. Exhale slowly through your mouth, expelling the air until your lungs feel empty, then do it again. Experts say that taking a couple of deep breaths can provide as much beneficial relaxation as meditating if you do it several times a day.

5. Do a Simple Stretch. We've all heard about the benefits of yoga for stress reduction, and five minutes is all it takes to do a couple of simple yoga-based stretches. Stand tall and fold forward at the waist; if you can't touch your toes, just bend your knees and bend forward as far as you can. Then stand up and reach for the sky, stretching your arms as tall as possible. If you have time, lie down on your back with legs straight up in the air, perpendicular to your body. In yoga you do this against the wall; if this is inconvenient, use a table or other piece of furniture to prop them up. This is a great one to do while watching TV or just before bed.