Kill Stress -- Before It Kills You
Author : Kyle Roderick    -   Subject : Health

    The personal and professional transitions of midlife often bring on mind/body stress that can negatively affect health in the short and long term.

    by Kyle Roderick

    "A certain amount of stress helps increase your motivation to do better on the job or around the house," says job stress expert Angela Di Blasi, L.C.S.W., of the Psychiatry Department at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, California. "But if you've got too much stress, your health is going to suffer." It's been well established that one's ability to manage stress profoundly influences midlife and future health, Di Blasi notes. Learning how and when to practice stress reduction now may literally add years to your life.

    Ongoing stress taxes the immune system and darkens our moods. When our immune system is weary, we become more vulnerable to developing everything from colds and flus to cancer. Chronic stress may also interrupt healthy sleep patterns and make us feel anxious or depressed.

    "You can start to manage stress by making the commitment to take responsibility for your emotional life," says David Simon., M.D., medical director of The Chopra Center For Well being in La Jolla, California. Dr. Simon, author of Vital Energy: The 7 Keys to Invigorate Body, Mind and Soul, (John Wiley & Sons, 2000), says that there are numerous medically proven, simple techniques that help relax mind and body. "They're also easy and good for your health," he adds. Here are three winning strategies. 1. Breathe Deeply When Under Stress

    Deep, slow and rhythmic breathing has been found in study after study to help lower blood pressure, slow brain waves and relax the nervous system.

    "When we are stressed, we often take shallow breaths, our hearts beat faster and our thoughts lose focus," says Lori Leyden-Rubenstein, Ph.D., a North Kingstown, Rhode Island, psychotherapist whose practice specializes in stress and anxiety management. The next time you feel anxious, she suggests, take control and take deep breaths; continue to inhale and exhale in long, slow rhythms. Author of The Stress Management Handbook (Keats Publishing Co., 1998), Dr. Leyden-Rubenstein continues, "Breathing deeply helps you shift gears to the point where you can slow down and think clearly about the next healthy action you can take."

    Olympian Relaxation Exercise
    You can learn to calm yourself down like a champion by doing this breathing exercise. Created by sports medicine physicians and endorsed by the United States Olympic Committee, it is designed to rapidly relax tense and anxious individuals.

    Get physically comfortable. Stand or sit with straight back, relaxed arms, and uncrossed legs.

    Close your eyes.

    Empty your mind: stop thinking and seeing mental pictures.

    Focus on your breathing. Put a hand on your stomach; feel it rise and fall with each breath. Is your breathing slow or rapid? Try to slow it down.

    Take a deep breath; feel your diaphragm expanding. Hold it for two seconds. As you slowly exhale, say to yourself, "Relax." Take another deep breath and again hold it for two seconds. This time, as you slowly exhale, say to yourself, "Relaxed and ready."

    To finish your calming exercise, make sure your mind is calm and free of thoughts. Then take another deep breath from your diaphragm, hold it for two seconds, and exhale while saying, "Relax." And when ready, take a last deep breath from your diaphragm, hold it and exhale while repeating, "Relaxed and ready." 2. Prioritize Work and Leisure Time

    Those who feel overwhelmed by work and family pressures can break out of this negative cycle and make life more calm, says Di Blasi, by prioritizing time dedicated to professional duties and family. "Besides helping you get your work done more efficiently, creating schedules for work promotes feelings of balance, empowerment, and hope," says Di Blasi. "Creating a schedule and sticking to it is one of the best coping skills you can use to master stress," she says, "because it often leads to more focused, organized, and motivated behavior."

    To help you start, here are some small steps and radical improvements for prioritizing your time and responsibilities.

    3. Exercise
    According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in San Diego, California, even a moderate physical workout such as walking can generate from 90 to 120 minutes of post-exercise euphoria, or relaxation response.

    One theory about exercise's stress-busting benefits posits that exercise stimulates chemicals called neurotransmitters, which are produced in the brain and are believed to mediate moods and emotions. Exercise helps kill stress, researchers believe, because it releases pain-killing neurotransmitters such as endorphins.

    Furthermore, "Moving outdoors expands your awareness, which is the best antidote for the stress that comes from intense focus on the problem at hand," says Dr. Simon. "Take a walk, ride your bike, power walk, jog in the park, or rollerblade," Dr. Simon suggests. "Even if you're in the habit of driving to your gym or fitness classes, park your car a couple of blocks away and move your body to and from the site."

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