You can do this by pacing yourself when you’re under pressure, getting plenty of exercise and sleep, eating healthfully and taking time to decompress on a regular basis (with meditation, rhythmic breathing or other relaxation techniques), says Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “During a stressful period, have a plan that calls for breaks as you go through it” so that you’re not revved up 24/7. Indeed, the body’s “fight-or-flight response can be deactivated quite effectively through diaphragmatic breathing and guided visual imagery,” Buse says. “Someone who has high levels of stress at work could simply take 30 seconds to focus on their breath between meetings and appointments and try to avoid the build-up of stress that could happen over the course of a day.”
If it’s too late for a pre-emptive approach, you can mitigate the let-down effect by helping your body de-stress slowly. “Just like you have a cool-down period after exercising, you want your body to have a tapering down of stress,” Schoen explains. The key, he says, is “to keep your body slightly revved up to keep your immune system from downshifting abruptly” when the stress ends.
The best way to do this, Schoen says, is to seek the right intensity of physical and mental stimulation. For physical stimulation, “moderate exercise in quick bursts – such as jogging or walking stairs for five or six minutes at a time, several times a day – can help,” Schoen says. For mental stimulation, do challenging math problems, crossword puzzles or computer games, or play chess under time pressure for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, he suggests. Do these activities for three days after a stressful period – “that’s the critical window,” Schoen says – and you’ll improve your odds of emerging from the aftermath of stress feeling good, not sick.