Stress in itself is not unhealthy. It’s your body’s response to any physical or emotional demand. But too much unrelieved stress can lower your body’s resistance to disease, contribute to disorders such as stomach ailments and insomnia, and cause changes in the body’s chemistry that can directly affect your heart’s health.

The “stress response” is your body’s physical reaction to a stressful situation. It is commonly called the “fight or flight” response. The physical changes which occur are designed to help your body to fight, or to flee from the threat. When your body reacts to stress it produces more adrenaline which acts as a stimulant to increase your heart and respiratory rate as well as your blood pressure. Fatty acids and cholesterol are emptied into the blood stream, and the blood becomes “thicker’. Muscles tense and prepare for action. When the stressful situation is relieved, your body relaxes and these processes reverse. The key to reducing stress is not in eliminating all stress, but rather in learning to manage your response to stressful situations. Its also means learning how to relax following stressful periods so that your body has a chance to recover. Begin by identifying the stressful situations in your life. Can you avoid them? Can you learn to accept the situations you can not change? Can you respond differently to them? When you find yourself in a stressful situation, try one of the stress-reduction techniques listed below.

Consider how you will handle a potentially stressful situation before it happens. Often stress results from fear of the unknown. By “rehearsing” your response, you can help yourself deal with the situation and defuse your stress.

One time-honored technique that virtually anyone can do is deep breathing. Practice deep breathing whenever you feel “stressed out.” Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a count of five, then exhale slowly through pursed lips. Repeat three or four times until you feel more relaxed.

Take time to relax. Go to a movie, take a warm bath, walk around the park, listen to soothing music, read a novel, put your feet up and close your eyes, or take up a relaxing hobby.

It is not stressful situations themselves, but rather our responses to them that can cause physical and emotional distress. Learn to accept that some things are beyond your control and are not worth worrying about. When you learn to manage stress you’ll be happier, and your heart will be healthier. If you need help in learning to manage stress, speak with your physician.

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