When was the last time you felt no stress, no stress at all? Can’t remember? That’s right—the only time you have no stress is when you are lying quietly 6 feet under. Life comes with stress and we’re told over and over that stress is bad for us and that we should reduce our stress whenever possible (talk about stressful!). It’s easier said than done, we know. But stress is only bad when you make it so.Worrying has evolutionary benefits; it signals a lack of confidence, knowledge or control and it makes us snap to attention when situations call for thought, planning and action. If you think about it, beauty is often about managing the different kinds of stress in our lives—and put to proper use, worrying can actually be good for you.MORE: Stress, ExplainedWorry: The GoodWorrying can help us perform better. When our bodies are in a stressed state—say, due to a looming deadline, or important meeting—blood flow increases to our brain, which helps us think more clearly, and our mood becomes more serious, promoting increased concentration. A recent study from the University of Rochester Medical Center even found that people who consider themselves neurotic (you might call them worrywarts) and are also conscientious (organized and responsible) have lower levels of a protein called Interleukin 6, which, at higher concentrations, is associated with inflammatory precursors to conditions such as heart disease, stroke, asthma, diabetes and some cancers. And a long-term study conducted over 80 years found that people who always see the world through rose-colored glasses do not live as long as those who have a tendency to fret and fuss. A little worry goes a long way.Worry: The BadChronic stress—that is, not the acute stress you deal with when you have a project due and you get it done—brings with it a whole host of nasty side effects. It increases anxiety, causes headaches, hurts sleep, compromises your immune system and can lead to high blood pressure. It can also speed collagen breakdown, making your skin look older, can make acne and eczema flare up, and gives you dark under-eye circles. Unmanaged stress makes you crave sugar. Then eventually you start stressing even more because your jeans don’t fit!Dealing with WorryYou’re never going to get rid of every stressful thing in your day—and for the reasons we’ve shown you, you wouldn’t want to. But you do want to keep your nail biting in check (literally and figuratively!), for beauty’s sake. Here are five ways to keep a healthy, beautiful balance:QUIZ: Are You Too Stressed Out?Reevaluate. Maybe there are too many things on your to-do list, or you’re letting unrelated issues cloud your emotions. Worry is often about a feeling that you’re not in control. So take control! You might not always be able to change a situation, but you can change the way you think about it.Keep a positive outlook. Tell yourself: I have the power to love my job, I can help make the world a better place, I am capable of handling tough tasks. You can do it! Thinking positive thoughts will not only help you manage what worries you, but it’s proven to make you look more beautiful.Relax. Go to a quiet room and close your eyes while taking deep breaths. Listen to imagery tapes, music, meditate and most importantly, move! Some of us may prefer reading, while others would choose a power lift while listening to Metallica at the gym. Whatever it is, we recommend incorporating exercise and deep breathing as part of your stress reduction plan.Get silly. Our favorite stress buster? Laughter! Switch on your favorite comedy while stretching and doing yoga in the living room or go for a walk and call up your funny best friend.MORE: How Stress Affects BeautyReach for a stress-relieving snack. Munch away the effects of stress (inflammations, arterial aging, skin aging, etc.) with vitamin- and polyphenol-rich snack foods.
- Berries: Blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries and blueberries are jammed with antioxidants, which is why they’re great at countering the skin-damaging free radicals generated by stress.
- Guacamole: Avocados are loaded with B vitamins, which stress quickly depletes and your body needs in order to maintain nerves and brain cells. Scoop up the creamy goodness—which comes from healthy monounsaturated fats—with whole-grain baked chips or raw veggies. If you’re watching calories, dip instead of scoop: 2 tablespoons have about 55 calories.
- Nuts: Almost all nuts are good sources of vitamins B and E, plus selenium and zinc. Just an ounce—a small handful—will help replace those stress-depleted Bs (walnuts); give you a good dose of selenium and zinc (brazil nuts), which are also drained by high anxiety; and lower your blood pressure by helping your arteries relax (pistachios). They’re high in calories, so don’t overindulge.
- Oranges: People who take 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C before giving a speech have lower levels of cortisol and better-behaved blood pressure than those who don’t take it. So lean back, take a deep breath, and concentrate on peeling a big, juicy orange. The 5-minute mindfulness break will steady your brain cells, and you’ll get a bunch of C as well.