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Stress is the body’s mental, emotional, and physiological response to any situation that is new, threatening, frightening, or exciting. Stress should not be avoided entirely. A certain amount of stress is necessary for optimum health, performance, and well-being. However, your mind and body work most efficiently and effectively when you are relaxed. Performance and enjoyment decline when you feel “stressed out.” Stress can be controlled with simple relaxation techniques. For the best results, set aside some time every day for relaxation using one or more of the following:
Regular aerobic exercise is one of the best methods for reducing stress. Exercise allows us to play out the instinctive fight-or-flight response (e.g., to use the muscles that are tensed for action and to reduce the adrenaline being pumped into the bloodstream). Numerous studies demonstrate that exercise reduces the intensity of stress, shortens the time it take to recover from stress, and can help ward off illnesses that are associated with experiencing too much stress. On the other hand, overdoing exercise can be hazardous and even increase tension and stress. Moderation is key. Balance your exercise by alternating more vigorous days with mild days and always keep it fun!
This is a mental exercise that affects body processes thus producing physical benefits. The purpose of meditation is to gain control over your attention – to internally quiet down allowing you to choose what to focus on and to block out distracting thoughts. Meditation is a simple and very valuable stress-management technique that produces the body’s relaxation response. Some physical benefits of this practice include decreased muscle tension, increased blood flow, decreased blood pressure, decreased anxiety, fears, and phobias, improved quality of sleep, and increased positive mental health.
Close your eyes and breathe easily. Repeat your mantra uninterrupted for approximately 10 to 20 minutes. When you stop meditating, give your body time to adjust. Take several deep breaths and stretch. Try to meditate twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes each time.
Most of us breathe in short shallow breaths, expanding only the chest – especially when feeling stressed. This is termed thoracic breathing and is not the proper, most healthful way to breathe. It does not allow the lungs to fill and empty completely, which can actually increase muscle tension. Breathing from your abdomen allows more oxygen to enter the body and relaxes the muscles. Practice abdominal breathing at least once a day so that it becomes natural. Here’s how:
Studies show that long-term, loving relationships provide people with important stress management tools. Chronic stress can have a negative impact on your health, but having a strong social support network of family and friends can help minimize the negative physiological impacts of stress. (The remains of the workday: impact of job stress and exhaustion on marital interaction in police couples. Roberts, N. A., Levenson, R. W., Journal of Marriage and Family 63(4):1052-1067.)
Your diet has an important part in your stress management program. A poor diet with a lack of nutrients can increase your susceptibility to stress by causing fatigue and irritability. This is even more likely to happen to people who are eating too many meals away from home, missing meals, or eating on the run. Preparation of good food takes time, and good food is necessary to achieving optimal health and relaxation. Healthy food and the nutrition that it provides is vital for life! Here are a few steps to consider:
Information resource: Robbins, Gwen, Powers, Debbie, Bugess, Sharon. 1994. A Wellness Way of Life. Brown and Benchmark Publishers.
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