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Stress: How It Affects Your Health And How You Can Cope With It

Mackie Shilstone

Stress is an unavoidable part of life. In one form or another, we can encounter it on a daily basis. Whether it involves being stuck in traffic, trying to meet a crunching deadline, standing on a long checkout line, or any one of a myriad of other scenarios, stress is as much a part of our lives as eating and breathing. How we minimize and manage our stress is a learned skill.

Stress is an unavoidable part of life. In one form or another, we can encounter it on a daily basis. Whether it involves being stuck in traffic, trying to meet a crunching deadline, standing on a long checkout line, or any one of a myriad of other scenarios, stress is as much a part of our lives as eating and breathing. How we minimize and manage our stress is a learned skill.

Not all stress is bad. To a certain degree it is necessary and it can be a healthy catalyst toward helping us achieve or even surpass our expectations. It triggers responses within our bodies that force us to react to and resolve difficult situations. It forces us to choose between our “fight or flight” instincts. However, too much stress can cause burnout, emotional instability, irritability and depression. Chemical imbalances caused by excessive stress may result in wear and tear on the body that weakens the immune system, making us more susceptible to colds, flu and other common ailments. Long-term stress can be even worse. If we don’t get our stress under control, it can be a ticket for a heart attack, a stroke, type-2 diabetes, some forms of cancer or other fatal ailments that can be linked to hypertension (high blood pressure).

So now that we know what the problem is, what can we do about it? There are many stress-reduction techniques and exercises you can do, most of which are so simple and basic they can be done at home or at work with no special equipment needed. You can start by adopting a balanced and healthy diet. Eating foods and meals that are high in protein strengthens the body’s immune system and helps fight off the destructive forces of stress.

Transcendental meditation is another effective stress-fighting technique. Relaxing your body and mind, closing your eyes, focusing on a single-syllable sound (mantra) and silently repeating that mantra over and over in your mind can help put you at ease. Classes in T.M. are offered in most major cities. If you can find one with a competent instructor, I would highly recommend signing up for it.

Biofeedback is another method of combating stress. Basically this means acquiring a greater awareness of how our bodies feel in certain situations that are both stressful and relaxing. For example, try breathing heavily for a few seconds without overdoing it. Then stop, close your eyes, take notice of what your body feels like and make a mental (or written) note of that feeling. Then run in place for a few minutes and repeat the process of stopping and noting what you are feeling. Then think about something very upsetting; then think about something very exciting and, after each, make note of your feelings. Your physical state of arousal while doing these exercises will be similar to how your body responds when exposed to negative stress.

After these exercises, try some slow, natural, breathing techniques, letting your body and mind relax while you’re doing them. Then stop and note, like you did above, how your body feels. What you should have is a means of comparison as to how you feel when both stressed and relaxed. Based on this comparison, you can consciously choose how you want to feel in any given situation and you should be able to produce that feeling at will.

There are many other things you can do to combat stress, as well. You can practice positive thinking, recite calming prayers, listen to soft music or stress-reduction tapes, exercise, cultivate healthy and loving relationships and bond with others in similar situations as you. I cover the subject of stress very extensively and tell you what you can do about it in my book, Maximum Energy for Life. The main thing you need to remember is to be cognizant of those situations you find most stressful and take the appropriate steps to combat them when you feel the symptoms coming on. Relax and enjoy yourself and you’ll live longer and healthier.