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Storm before the calm — Bad choices and real anxiety relief

Mar. 02, 2013 @ 12:09 AM

"Mad Men's" Don Draper (Jon Hamm) reaches for his Lucky Strikes to soothe frayed nerves (bad choice); Jack Ford (Timothy Hutton in "Leverage") drinks whiskey whenever he's out of sorts (another bad choice); and Brenda Lee Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick in "The Closer") uses sugary treats to make herself feel better (a third disability-promoting bad choice). The truth is that instead of de-stressing you, nicotine, excess alcohol and added sugar increase anxiety and inflammation. If you give them up, you'll become calmer and happier.

Why do so many folks believe these bad-for-your-mind-and-body substances relieve stress? Well, the further you are away from your last dose, the more you crave it, and craving feels like anxiety. Putting it back in your body soothes that withdrawal reaction and seemingly makes you calmer. But in truth, once they're in your body, these substances wreak havoc on your nerves, hormones and brain.

If you're seeking relief from anxiety, try rethinking your go-to strategies. For a more even keel, try:

1. Taking up daily mindful meditation (we do it). Sit in a quiet spot with your eyes closed for 10 minutes. Pay attention to each breath -- in and out. Then, from your toes to your head, focus on each body part and let it relax, one after the next.

2. Eating 100 percent whole grains and lean protein. It reduces inflammation and gives you sustained energy, which calms you.

3. Defusing built-up tension and stress hormones with exercise. Start with 30 minutes a day of additional walking; aim for 10,000 total steps a day.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.

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