SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Cut your stress by adding to your toolbox

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'Don't chain your worries to your body. The burden soon becomes heavy and your health will give too much of itself to pick up the extra load." -- Astrid Alauda, "Dyspeptic Enlightenment"

One factor that can affect every element of our wellbeing is stress. Physiologists define stress as how the body reacts to a stressor: a stimulus that causes stress.

Stressors can be real or imagined. We deal with pressures every day. Handling your stress in a positive way can help your overall wellbeing. Everyone has to deal with stress. There are steps you can take to help you handle stress in positive ways.

One way to manage your stress is through relaxation.

There are many way to relax. If you're feeling stressed, taking a few deep breaths will make you breathe slower and help your muscles to loosen up. Stretching is another technique to make you feel less tense. A nice massage to your neck and upper back is an effective way to relieve stress.

Simply doing something you enjoy may help alleviate stress. We all have a passion that makes us feel good, but often we don't take the time to do the things that we really want to do. It could be listening to music, reading a good book, taking a walk or just catching up with friends and family. Think of this as an order from your doctor, so you won't feel guilty!

Problem solving is another way to handle your stress.

Make a list of your stressors and figure out which ones you can control. Take action on the little ones first. Learn how to calmly look at a problem, think of possible solutions, and then tackle it head on. Being able to solve small problems will give you confidence to conquer the big ones. The confidence you gain will go a long way to helping you feel less stressed. Next get organized. Plan how you're going to spend your time. Prioritize your goals in writing, and keep that list as a guide.

Finally, set limits.

My mom is always telling me I am not Superwoman. We are all human. Figure out what matters most to you and what you can realistically do. There are only so many hours in the day. Set boundaries for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to say "no" to requests for your time and energy.

Taking care of your body can decrease the effects of stress.

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night will help you recover from the day's stress. Also, being well-rested helps you think more clearly and handle problems as they arise.

Good nutrition can also decrease stress. Fueling up on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help you manage stress. Don't be fooled by the jolt you get from caffeine or high-sugar snack foods.

My son and I were talking about healthy eating. He told me that many middle school kids were drinking popular energy drinks for breakfast and lunch and skipping nutritious meals. He heard they were bad for children, but didn't know why.

I explained to him that energy drinks are full of sugar and caffeine. The sugar provides calories without nutrients. High amounts of caffeine can cause the body to lose calcium, resulting in weak bones. Caffeine can also give you short term energy that makes you feel more alert. Unfortunately, it will wear off, and you could wind up feeling more tired than you did before.

For many people, exercise is the pinnacle of stress relief and relaxation. Physical activity can not only help relax muscles but improve your mood. Research shows that regular, moderate activity can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.

As we move through the month of April, evaluate your own health. Identify ways of managing stress that not only work for you but that you will be able to sustain throughout the year.

Christy Druffel received her bachelor of science degree from Oregon State University in exercise sport science and fitness program management She has been working for the YMCA for the last 15 years and is the Director of Healthy Living.

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