Monday Medical: Strategies to reduce stress

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Researchers agree that a limited amount of stress is an important component of a healthy, happy, productive life. However, too much stress can negatively affect your relationships, job performance and your health. Here are 10 strategies to help you successfully manage stress.

■ Identify the source of your stress. Ask yourself these questions: Why am I worrying about this? Is there anything I can do about it? Is there anything I want to do about it?

■ Learn the principles of time management. Use calendars and lists. Prioritize important tasks. Be realistic about the time you need to finish jobs, and when possible, leave room in your schedule for unexpected demands.

■ Learn to say “no” to things you don’t want or don’t have time to do. Come up with several ways to say “no.”

■ Avoid cutting corners: Adequate sleep and exercise should not be the first things to go. Know that activity and rest are nature’s prime stress relievers. Pay attention to your body. Try to go to sleep at the same time nightly. Look for ways to be more active in your day-to-day life.

■ Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. For a quick lift, eat smaller meals and snack on complex carbohydrates combined with lean protein to provide lasting energy. The combination of fiber, protein and little bit of healthy fat slows the release of glucose into the blood and helps prevent energy crashes and overeating. As often as possible, reduce your intake of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

■ Try relaxation techniques. Take deep breaths throughout the day. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, hold it, and then exhale through your mouth slowly. Repeat this several times. Relaxation strategies such as deep breathing are most effective if you do them before they are needed. Start when you first rise in the morning, then do them when you get in your car, at stop lights, before meals, waiting to use the copy machine at work, in the check-out line, before you go to sleep at night; any time there is a natural break in your day. Other examples of relaxation techniques include progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing, or simply relaxing, the main muscle groups starting with your toes and gradually moving to your head), meditation, listening to relaxation tapes or relaxing music, yoga, massage and aromatherapy.

■ Speak in positive statements. Most of us are very good at blaming ourselves. When we make a mistake, we say things like, “That was really stupid.” Instead of saying something negative, say, “Everyone makes mistakes,” or, “It’s OK to make a mistake. I can learn from this and move on.”

■ Talk to others. Find someone you can confide in. If you can’t talk to a family member, friend or co-worker, you may want to talk to your priest or pastor, a counselor or your doctor.

■ Shun the “super person” urge. No one can be great at everything, and no one is perfect. Put your energy into activities that you do well and give you the most satisfaction.

■ Be sure to build humor into your life. Laughter is a powerful stress-reliever. Start looking for humor in everyday situations. Learn to laugh at yourself.

Although stress is part of life, extreme or prolonged stress can lead to illnesses that will need specialized treatment. If stress is causing physical symptoms, severe anxiety, or making it difficult for you to function normally, please seek medical attention.

Most importantly, understand that stress is normal and can be managed. Try these techniques and improve your overall health and happiness.

Lisa A. Bankard is director of wellness and community education at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at lisa.bankard@yvmc.org.

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