Stress affects us profoundly. In fact, at least 60 percent of disease is stress-related. This includes heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, asthma, herpes, genital warts, PMS, menstrual cycles, and fertility. Stress is directly related to worrying. People with the highest amount of worry have two and a half times as much risk of having a heart attack as do people with the lowest amount of worry.

Stress comes in many forms. Stress is often obvious, but sometimes it’s hard to recognize. Stress can be job-related, whether you lose a job or start a new, wonderful one. Moving or traveling is stressful. Sudden weight loss, or a sudden increase in vigorous exercise, is stressful for your body. Illnesses, whether physical or emotional, are stressful, and so are certain medications, especially steroids. We’re also stressed by driving on the freeway or worrying about a teenager’s new tattoo.

Since stress is everywhere and it can’t be avoided, we need to learn how to handle it better. Start with eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep. Next, make time for yourself — at least 30 minutes a day. Spend this time doing whatever you want: reading, writing, painting, or listening to music. Try to spend the time alone, and don’t spend it catching up on work or doing chores. Regular exercise also is a terrific way to handle stress, not to mention the variety of other health benefits it offers. Many people find that talking to a pet or a plant is a great way of letting off steam after a tough day. Joining a support group or going to church also can be helpful.

Knowing a simple technique for relaxation and using it for ten minutes a day will improve the quality of your life and help prevent disease. When you relax, you slow your heart rate, breathing rate, and metabolism, and your blood pressure is lowered — all of which help reduce stress and improve your health. There are many different relaxation techniques, including yoga, meditation, mental imagery, progressive relaxation, and deep breathing.

The easiest method of all is simply to become aware of your breathing. This can be done anywhere, and it works! When you feel yourself getting caught up in a situation, whether it is while waiting in a long line at the market, or while stopped in traffic, simply take a deep breath and relax. Like the character John Cage on the Ally McBeal Show, “take a moment” and take a deep breath.

Lots of classes on yoga, meditation and stress relaxation techniques are offered by community colleges, hospitals, and parks and recreation departments.
There are also many books and video tapes available on this subject at your community library or local video store.