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Massage Today
May, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 05

Learning How to Manage the Stress in Your Life

By Teresa M. Matthews, LMT, CPT

When you are stressed, your body responds as though you are in danger. It makes hormones that speed up your heart, make you breathe faster and give you a burst of energy. This is called the fight-or-flight stress response.

However, some stress is normal and even useful. But, if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can have negative effects. It can be linked to headaches, an upset stomach, back pain and trouble sleeping. It can weaken your immune system, making it harder to fight off disease. If you already have a health problem, stress might make it worse. It can make you moody, tense, depressed and your relationships might suffer.

Over time, stress can affect your:

  • Immune system. Constant stress can make you more likely to get sick more often. And if you have a chronic illness, stress can make your symptoms worse.
  • Heart. Stress is linked to high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia), blood clots and hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). It's also linked to coronary artery disease, heart attack and heart failure.
  • Muscles. Constant tension from stress can lead to neck, shoulder and low back pain. Stress might make rheumatoid arthritis worse.
  • Stomach. If you have stomach problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease or irritable bowel syndrome, stress can make your symptoms worse.
  • Reproductive organs. Stress is linked to low fertility, erection problems, problems during pregnancy and painful menstrual periods.
  • Lungs. Stress can make symptoms of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) worse.
  • Skin. Skin problems such as acne and psoriasis are made worse by stress.

girl in stress - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark You can relieve stress by making a conscious choice to take good care of yourself. To help limit your stress:

  • Make a schedule to manage your time.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Eat well.
  • Try out new ways of thinking. When you find yourself starting to worry, try to stop the thoughts. Work on letting go of things you cannot change. Learn to say "no."
  • Speak up. Not being able to talk about your needs and concerns creates stress and can make negative feelings worse. Assertive communication can help you express how you feel in a thoughtful, tactful way.
  • Ask for help. People who have a strong network of family and friends manage stress better. Sometimes stress is just too much to handle alone. Talking to a friend or family member might help, but you may also want to see a counselor. You will feel better if you can find ways to get stress out of your system. The best ways to relieve stress are different for each person. For me, I schedule some "Me Time."

Try some of these ideas to see which one works for you:

  • Exercise. Walking is a great way to get started.
  • Write. It can help to write about the things that are bothering you.
  • Let your feelings out. Talk, laugh, cry and express anger when you need to with someone you trust.
  • Do something you enjoy. A hobby can help you relax. Play a game. Volunteer work or work that helps others can be a great stress reliever.
  • Learn ways to relax your body. This can include breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, massage, aromatherapy, yoga, or relaxing exercises like tai chi and qi gong.
  • Focus on the present. Try meditation. Listen to relaxing music. Try to look for the humor in life. Laughter really can be the best medicine. Find a balance between personal, work, and family needs. Start by looking at how you spend your time. Get enough sleep. Your body recovers from the stresses of the day while you are sleeping.

If you're ready to reduce stress in your life, an important step is to find out what creates stress for you. Think about why you want to reduce stress. You might want to protect your heart and your health by reducing stress. Or maybe you simply want to enjoy your life more and not let stress control how you feel. Your reason for wanting to change is important. If your reason comes from you, and not someone else, it will be easier for you to make a healthy change for good.

Another key is to set a goal. Think about a long-term and a short-term goal to reduce stress in your life. And definitely schedule some "Me Time."


Teresa M. Matthews, fitness expert and world champion athlete, has 30 years experience in the fitness industry. She is the president and founder of Health, Wellness & Fitness Professionals, Inc. and is the owner of Arlington School of Massage and Personal Training in Jacksonville, Fla. She is a sports massage instructor for the Florida State Massage Therapy Association and was awarded the FSMTA 2009 Sports Massage Therapist of the Year award. Teresa travels the country teaching self care and wellness classes. Contact her by e-mail at with questions or comments.

 

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