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Stress Reduction: 5 Simple Tips

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Stress is hard to avoid. From minor daily annoyances (traffic jams, missed school buses, spilled coffee) to major life events (such as the death of a loved one), stressful situations are all around us. "Stress itself isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's merely your body's reaction to its interaction with the environment," explains Robin Molella, M.D., a consultant in the division of preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Some things that cause the body to have that stress reaction are actually enjoyable things -- like riding your favorite roller coaster or watching an edge-of-your-seat thriller. That adrenaline rush is the body's physiological reaction to stress.

The trouble really comes in when we're in distress -- especially for long periods of time. In response to chronic stress, the body produces a variety of hormones (such as cortisol) that flood the system, raising blood pressure, speeding up the heart rate and priming the body to be ready for fight or flight. "But prolonged exposure to those hormones contributes to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, mood problems and unhealthy coping behaviors," says Molella.

The key to managing the negative effects that stress can have on the body is to figure out healthy ways to relieve stress on a daily basis. "There's no one-size-fits-all cure," says Molella. "Try several techniques until you find what works for you."

Get active

Not only is exercise good for your body, it's also good for your brain. Doing just about any physical activity produces endorphins (those wonderful feel-good hormones) while also helping to lower blood pressure and counteract the negative effects of the fight-or-flight hormones released when we're stressed. And you don't have to be a super-athlete to reap the benefits. Even just a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood can help.

Take a deep breath

One of the simplest relaxation techniques is to just focus on your breathing. "Anytime you feel stressed, just take a couple of cleansing breaths in a slow, measured fashion -- focusing on breathing in fully and then letting the breath all the way out," says Molella. This is beneficial because, while stress hormones ramp everything up (blood pressure, heart rate), deep breathing slows it all down so that your body feels calmer instantly.

Adjust your attitude

You can't control some of the stressful situations you encounter on a daily basis -- like someone cutting you off in traffic, a co-worker taking credit for your brilliant idea, or picking the slowest line at the grocery store -- but you can control how you handle them. "You can either choose to fume about it



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