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A Breath of Tranquility

Stress affects the mind, body and spirit. if you’re overstressed, discover what you can do to find peace of mind.

For many of us, stress is part of everyday life. Stress is not necessarily bad — it primes the body for a quick response to the stressful situation and kicks in the fight-or-flight response, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Prolonged stress can impact physical health in many ways, notes E. Rick Via, M.D., family practice physician at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest Fort Worth.

“Depending on the individual, stress may result in symptoms in different parts of the body,” he says. “Some people get headaches; others experience bowel or gastrointestinal symptoms. Other people will experience stress as musculoskeletal pain.”

Chronic stress can also lead to heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). While stress alone does not cause high blood pressure, the AHA notes that stress-related behaviors such as overeating do contribute to high blood pressure, which may in turn damage the heart. For this reason, it’s important to keep your stress at a manageable level.

The National Institute of Mental Health offers these techniques for coping with stress:

• At the end of each day, pat yourself on the back for your good work.

• Be aware of how your body is responding to stress, including energy levels, food cravings and mood.

• Don’t dwell on problems.

• Indulge in healthy coping activities such as tai chi, yoga or meditation.

• Keep in touch with friends, family and others who make you feel happy.

• Maintain good physical health by eating well and exercising regularly.

• Set priorities, and say “no” to overwork.

• If stress threatens to overwhelm you, seek professional help.

“People may have more stress than they can manage on their own,” Via says. “If anxiety affects your everyday life and is not improving with lifestyle modifications, see a health care provider who can help you reduce your stress.”

How do you know when stress moves from stimulating to severe? Via describes when it’s time to get help.

• You become depressed or anxious.

• You have trouble sleeping.

• Your appetite changes.

• You experience other symptoms that impact daily living.

“Frequently, people don’t realize how stressed they really are,” Via says. “Family and friends may recognize changes in your mood long before you do — so pay attention if people start telling you that you’re showing signs of stress.”

Find out if stress in your life could be leading to a higher risk for cardiovascular
disease. See how old your heart is at

(Fall/Winter 2012)