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Getting a handle on stress

POSTED September 21, 2012 11:33 p.m.

Stress is a part of life; how you deal with it is what matters. This axiom seems simple enough, but recognizing when stress is overwhelming us and then actually taking steps to reduce its affects is another matter.

When it comes to stress, I am an expert at dealing with true emergencies — I can handle fires, flat tires and criminal acts without breaking a sweat — but the daily pressures of life get me down. I often do not realize that I am reaching the point of pulling out my own hair until I feel a tug on my scalp.

I have been told by more than one doctor that the key to managing stress is living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. A healthy diet and frequent exercise are apparently the cure for everything, including stress.

Once again, knowing that a grapefruit and whole grain toast is the optimal breakfast choice doesn’t stop my sugar and caffeine craving body from making me drive to Starbucks every morning. Of course, after indulging in 2,000 calories of cinnamon dulce latte and Danish delight, I spend at least two hours feeling guilty and depressed about my eating habits —adding more fuel to the stress fire.

Adding to my post sugar rush pity party, is the knowledge that I have probably once again skipped my morning Zumba class due to work demands, household chores or pure laziness.

Once at the office, I spend hours trying to get ahead of my workload, only to find that there’s always something more to be done. When lunchtime rolls around, I often think about healthy options, but usually take the easy way out and grab a fat-filled but fast sandwich and chips.

When the work day is done, I am so mentally exhausted that the thought of putting on workout clothes is more exercise than I can handle. So ends another day of poor eating habits and virtually no exercise. No wonder stress is my constant companion.

I am not alone in my struggle to overcome stress; according to a recent survey of the American Psychological Association, 78 percent of Americans admit to using poor coping skills when it comes to stress.

Many report that meditation or guided imagery — imagining a place of happiness while breathing deeply — works as a stress-reducing technique. I have tried both of these and found that if you’re not in a yoga studio or place designed for meditation, it’s hard to maintain tranquil thoughts.

There is one technique I have found effective, though — vacation planning. I live for vacations. The time I spend planning a get-a-way is almost as relaxing as the trip itself. I think it’s knowing that I will soon have no harder choices to make than where to eat dinner and if I want to swim then shop or shop then swim. Day dreaming about how much fun I’ll have on a trip is like getting double the bang for my vacation buck.

I can’t survive on vacations alone, however, so I will endeavor to eat more sprouts and fewer coffee cakes and remember where I put my running shoes.

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