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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Feeling stressed out? Regain your calm .

Sometimes daily life can get the best of us, and our stress levels can zoom off the charts. With family issues, workplace worries, and day-to-day obligations, anxiety can take a toll on how we feel, both physically and emotionally.

To ease feelings of anxiety or tension, try these methods of stress reduction:

Take a Deep Breath
When people are stressed, they tend to take shallow breaths, which can actually increase feelings of tension. Taking several slow, deep breaths can restore a sense of calm, and can be done almost anywhere.Start by exhaling deeply while contracting your stomach, then inhale slowly as you expand your abdomen. Continue inhaling as you expand your chest and raise your shoulders up to your ears. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then slowly exhale in a reverse pattern. Repeat two or three times, and feel the stress melt from your body.

Activity helps the body to relieve tension, and it also releases endorphins, our own ‘feel-good’ chemicals. Any type of exercise is beneficial, so anything from jogging to swimming to a brisk walk around the office can help decrease stress.

Slow Down
When things get hectic, particularly at work, we tend to speed up in order to feel like we are getting things done in a timely manner. If you feel stressed out while doing your job, practice slowing down. Instead of breathlessly answering your phone the second it rings, take a moment to calm yourself before picking up. Slow down your speaking, too; talking at a rapid pace may make you sound tense, as well as cause you to feel flustered and out of control.

Visualize a Stress-Free You
During visualization, also known as guided imagery, you're in control of your own peaceful dream. Imagine a calm, relaxed setting, such as a beach, mountain peak, or your patio, and insert yourself into the scene. Stay with your vision for several minutes, until you feel your mind and body relax. Visualization can be practiced at home or in your office, with or without an audiotape to guide you.

Remember to Eat
Hunger and dehydration can intensify feelings of anxiety and stress, as well as cause headaches. No matter how busy you are, be sure to eat regularly and drink plenty of fluids.

Check Your Posture
Remember to keep your head and shoulders upright and avoid stooping or slumping. Bad posture can lead to muscle tension, pain, and increased stress.

Try Yoga
Yoga, a widely practiced mind-body exercise, can reduce stress and help you feel calm and centered. Yoga poses improve flexibility and strength, and incorporate breathing techniques that aid in relaxation and general feelings of well-being.

Enjoy a Massage
Treat yourself to a professional massage. Massage consists of kneading muscles and soft body tissues to relieve stress, tension, and pain. A good massage therapist can loosen and relax tight or sore muscles. Your whole body will feel relaxed, yet refreshed and invigorated.

Are your feelings of discomfort just shyness, or a sign of a more serious health condition? Here's how to tell the difference.

Imagine this: A woman hates to stand in line at the grocery store—not because sheÂ’s impatient, but because she's afraid that everyone is watching her. As she approaches the clerk, she becomes anxious and self-conscious. Her heart begins to race, her face turns red, and she begins to sweat. She tries to say hello, but her mouth is dry and her body trembles. When she leaves the store, she can't stop thinking that she made a fool of herself. Her feelings of apprehension and embarrassment only get worse on the drive home.

If this sounds familiar, you may have social anxiety disorder, a condition that affects approximately 15 million American adults. Also known as social phobia, it often begins in childhood, typically around 13 years of age, and men and women are equally likely to develop the disorder. Unlike getting the jitters before a speech or presentation, which is simply shyness, social anxiety disorder is much worse—it's the extreme, debilitating end of the shyness spectrum.

Understanding the Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed when people become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations. People with social phobia have an intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them. In fact, they can worry for days or weeks before certain situations. This fear may become so severe that it can interfere with work, school, ordinary activities, and relationships.

Social anxiety disorder affects people differently. Each person fears different situations, ranging from dealing with people in authoritative positions to using a telephone and writing in public. In these scenarios, people may experience intense anxiety that leads to nausea, trembling, muscle tension, stomach upset, diarrhea, heart palpitations, blushing, excessive sweating, dry throat or mouth, and stammering.

Assessing Your Symptoms
Still not sure if youÂ’re dealing with shyness or social anxiety disorder? Remember that dreaded speech or presentation: If you managed to deliver it despite your nerves and breathed a sigh of relief when it was over, youÂ’re probably just shy. If you called in sick to avoid it, chances are, it's social anxiety disorder. In extreme cases, sufferers can't even place a seemingly simple telephone call to order pizza, for example, because they're so worried about how the worker on the other end will react.

People experiencing these sorts of symptoms should seek medical attention as soon as possible since social anxiety disorder can become worse without treatment. And, unlike shyness, social anxiety disorder is often accompanied by depression and may even result in substance abuse if sufferers try to self-medicate. The good news is that most social anxiety disorders can be successfully treated with the right combination of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy. So if you're experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to consult a trained mental-health professional.


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