Healthy stress management

April 28, 2011

For many people – especially students, parents and teens – spring can be inherently stressful. Tax season, school projects and extracurricular activities can cause anyone to feel stressed and even overwhelmed.

“Learning how to manage your stress is imperative at any age,” says John Simmons, M.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “Not only does stress affect you mentally, but it can also affect your body if left unchecked.”

When the brain senses stress, it signals to the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. Adrenaline increases heart rate, blood pressure and the amount of sugar in your blood. The hypothalamus also signals the pituitary gland at the base of the brain to release cortisol, thus maintaining elevated blood sugar and blood pressure.

“These stress responses are suitable for short periods of time, but stress can be damaging if it goes on for weeks or years,” Dr. Simmons says. “Higher levels of cortisol for prolonged periods can hinder your immune system. Constant stress can also affect your blood pressure and the fats in your blood, increasing the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.”

Following a few stress management techniques can help you cope with the onset of stress that spring brings. For starters, identify the sources of stress in your life and prioritize them.

“Take it one object at a time selectively dealing with matters in order of priority,” Dr. Simmons says. “Minimize the number of events in your life in order to accomplish the things that are most important.”

Learn ways to calm your body.

“Simple breathing exercises, yoga and meditation all reduce stress,” Dr. Simmons says. “Take a few minutes each hour to breathe deeply, walk outside or do simple stretches at your desk.”

Exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress. “Work up a sweat!” Dr. Simmons says. “Increasing your heart rate through exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers.”

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