Monday, November 20, 2006

Feeling Stressed?

(HealthDay News) -- You just missed a deadline at work, you're supposed to chaperone your son's school field trip, and your mechanic called to tell you your car's transmission is shot.
Stressed to the max?

Everyone experiences stress. And many people are stressed every day. But, stress isn't always as obvious as in the example above. In fact, some people don't even realize how much stress they're under until they suffer serious physical consequences of that stress.

Psychologist Anie Kalayjian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, said she's had patients end up in the emergency room, convinced they were having a heart attack, but instead, it was just the body's extreme response to stress.

"If you're a person running around with high energy or nervous energy, you may not realize that you're stressed until you collapse!" said Kalayjian.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, some possible signs that you're under too much stress are: Anxiety, back pain, stiff neck, depression, fatigue, trouble sleeping, unexpected weight changes, headaches, relationship troubles and high blood pressure.
"People need to start proactively trying to prevent episodes before they have extreme reactions," recommended Kalayjian.

But that doesn't mean you should make managing stress just another item on your "to-do" list, cautioned Gail Elliott Evo, the integrative medicine coordinator at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

"We talk so much about stress now. It's to the point that people are now feeling judgmental when they experience stress and can't eliminate it. But, unless you're a guru sitting in a temple in Tibet, I don't think you can avoid stress. There will be periods where you'll have stress," she said.

Still, managing stress or reducing it as much as you can is a smart idea, because constant stress leaves your body flooded with stress hormones, which can increase your risk of heart attack and other serious health problems.

"Stress causes physical and psychological reactions. It can alter your sleep. It leaves you constantly in fighting-mode and leaves your immune system suppressed. You may get sick a lot," Kalayjian said.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing stress.

"Some things will be right for one person but not for another. Be open, and try things. Give something a try, and if it's not right for you, move on to something else. You'll eventually find something that's right for you," said Evo.

Some of the approaches she recommends include: Massage, healing touch, yoga, tai chi, walking, meditation and guided imagery.

Kalayjian said a good place to start de-stressing is with deep breathing.

"One minute per each hour of the day, you need to sit and do nothing but focus on breathing. No phones, no lists, no responsibilities. It's almost like how you recharge your battery for your mobile phone. We need to recharge, too," she said.

She also recommends exercise. "Don't wait to feel stressed. Get at least a half an hour of exercise every day. It gets a lot of the toxins and stress out of our bodies," Kalayjian said.
Kalayjian also advocates something she calls "journaling."

"It helps to put things on paper and outside of yourself. You don't have to store it in your heart, body or mind. When we journal, we let go of things and that acts as a release," she said.

She also suggests getting organized. "Many people waste 20 percent of their time looking for things. Try to be organized. Label things. Have organizers. It seems very mundane, but helps tremendously in saving your energy," Kalayjian said.

Evo said many people use a combination of techniques to relieve their stress.
"Be playful with it. Try different things," she said.

Kalayjian agreed, adding that people need to "learn how to have a sense of humor, to laugh and make others laugh, too."

Finally, Kalayjian advised that if you try several different methods to "de-stress" and just can't seem to relax, you could probably benefit from seeing a psychotherapist.

More information
The National Mental Health Association offers tips on coping with stress.

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