Ease Your Way to a Stress-free Life

Health, Home & Family
on July 7, 2002

Getting cut off in traffic. Too much overtime. A life-threatening illness. Losing out on a promotion at work. Stress affects everyone, but how you deal with it can make all the difference.

Stress is triggered when the brain recognizes a threat–either an immediate sense of physical danger or something less abrupt but still overwhelming, such as being unable to provide financially for your family–says Dr. Steve Cole, an assistant professor of medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine.

"Much of a person's stress may not be so obvious, yet these everyday obligations and pressures eventually can take their toll. When a body becomes overloaded by stress, the brain sends involuntary impulses to other organs in the body," Cole says. "In response, the body increases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration."

Not surprisingly, being in a constant state of heightened alert can pose all kinds of potential health problems, from upset stomach, insomnia, back pain, headaches, and appetite loss, to potentially life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or a weakened immune system.

The good news is that by regaining control of your life and changing stressful behavior, you can ward off the long-term effects associated with chronic stress.

These three suggestions can help you get started:

Get physical. Regular exercise such as walking, gardening, or swimming helps the body burn off stress-related chemicals while strengthening the heart, further protecting the body against harmful stress. Exercise also releases mind-relaxing endorphins, which make you feel good. Choose an activity you enjoy, start slowly, and stick with it.

Use body-calming techniques. Meditation, yoga, prayer, or peace of mind attained through spirituality can buffer stress impactas can a leisurely walk, taking deep breaths, simply being still, and taking a relaxing bath. Find what works for you and use it when you need it.

Be realistic. Dont demand perfection in yourself and others. Learn to say no if you become overwhelmed by activitiesyours or your familys. The National Mental Health Associations suggests you ask yourself, What really needs to be done? How much can I do? Is the deadline realistic? What adjustments can I make? Ask for help if you need it.

And finally, some things just get better with age.

"Think of maturity as one of the great mechanisms for reducing stress responses," Cole says. "The more you have perspective on the world, you can tell the difference between small offenses and the things that you really ought to be worried about."