TAKE CONTROL: During World War II, Air Force psychologists found that fighter pilots weathered the stress of combat much better than bomber crews. Why? Probably because having command of the airplane made their fear more tolerable. When you're trapped in a perilous situation, try to focus on the things you can do. You can't spare yourself the threat of layoffs, but you can sign up for job training and you can create a fallback plan.
BEWARE OF PROLONGED STRESS: In the face of danger, your body pumps out cortisol, a hormone that helps you metabolize emergency energy supplies. Over time, though, it begins to impede the body's self-maintenance, leading to high blood pressure, decreased cognitive functioning, and a suppressed immune system. According to John Coates, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, when the stock market is particularly volatile, traders' bloodstreams are spiked with the stuff. "Cortisol affects the memories you recall. And it tends to make you recall mostly negative precedents," he says. "You generally see danger everywhere, and that tends to make you very risk-averse."
HIT THE GYM: To test how physical fitness influences stress resilience, Lilly Mujica-Parodi, director of the Laboratory for the Study of Emotion and Cognition at Stony Brook University, in New York, arranged to have first-time skydivers work on visual puzzles on a laptop en route to the drop zone. The fitter they were, the better they performed.
GET IT ON: According to one 2006 study, "penetrative intercourse" reduces the amount of stress people feel before public speaking. In fact, the more sex the subjects had, the less stress they felt. If nothing else, spreading the love will help you adopt a cheerier outlook. And that will bring you one step closer to a powerful coping mechanism called reappraisal: the ability to look at a horrible situation and recognize the good that could come of itor at least appreciate how much worse things could be.
Even Nick Leeson can attest to the wonders of that kind of thinking. After bankrupting Barings, he fled Singapore, only to be arrested in Germany, extradited, tried, and sentenced to six and a half years in jail. While behind bars, he wrote a book about his experiences. That book, Rogue Trader, became a best-seller, and then a movie. The part of Nick Leeson was played by Ewan McGregor. Bet the guys in the office never saw that coming.