5 Ways to Banish Stress

Feeling a bit stressed these days? You're not alone.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), two-thirds of all visits to a family physician are stress-related. While stress may seem like something with which everyone must cope, it's actually a very real medical condition and one that should be taken seriously. Stress can be linked to many major causes of death -- heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

According to HowStuffWorks.com, when under stress your brain sends messages to your body to release certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The hormones cause your heart rate and blood pressure to rise, your muscles to tense up and your breathing to become short and shallow. Your digestive and immune systems shut down so that you can focus all your body's energy on the task at hand. Because the entire body can be affected by stress, it's difficult to pinpoint one symptom that can be indicative of the condition. Headaches, bodily aches and pains, insomnia, anxiety, etc. -- all of these symptoms may be traced back to stress.

Stress can affect personal and professional lives. Sixty-two percent of Americans say work has a significant impact on stress levels, according to the APA, and job insecurity is a major factor. In light of mass layoffs and economic uncertainty, job stress has taken on even greater impact.

So how does one handle stress? Here are some suggestions for remaining calm.

1. Visualization: Many people find meditation or positive visualization a good way to tame stress. Envision a calm and peaceful place and take yourself there whenever you feel stress coming on. Even quietly chanting that the situation will pass soon can help calm nerves.

2. Remove yourself from the stressful situation: When possible, get away from the stress for a few moments. For example, if a work report is causing you to tear your hair out, leave the office, take a brief stroll and grab a snack. Coming back to the task rested and calm may bring a new perspective. This can also work for a parent agitated by a child. Instead of putting the child in a "time out," put yourself in one instead. Find a quiet spot (even a bathroom) and take a few deep breaths.

3. Try exercise: Exercise can be very good at pumping endorphins through the body, which provide a feel-good sensation. Exercise can also work the tension out of the body and give your mind something else to think about.

4. Do something you enjoy: Maybe you enjoy the pampering of a massage or pedicure, or the thrill of being out on the golf course. Turn your mind to a task you enjoy and take some time out to do it. A life balanced by work and enjoyable activities could be less stressful.

5. Talk to a doctor: Some bio-feedback or counseling may guide you through ways to alleviate stress. A family physician may also think it's a good idea to prescribe medication, primarily if stress is short-term from a traumatic event. You can work with doctors to develop a program that works for you and your overall health.

Stress is something everyone experiences, but can be managed with a variety of techniques.

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