Natural Stress relief

Does your life feel like one disaster after another? Remain cool, calm, and in control with these tips.

| March/April 2000

Suddenly you become a victim of forces beyond your control: You’re late for a theater show, for which your husband spent a fortune. Just as you’re about to leave, the phone rings. On the line, your sister is sobbing. Bad news—she lost her job. You can’t say, “Sorry, sis. I’m off to a show.” But you can’t stay on the phone, either, not with time ticking away and your husband about to explode.

Feel your blood pressure rising? This sort of loss of control is a one-way ticket to stress that wreaks havoc on your mind, body, and spirit.

Stress mobilizes the body’s fight-or-flight reflex, which prepares us to cope with emergencies: It triggers the release of stress hormones that increase respiration and heart rate, elevate blood pressure, and raise blood sugar levels, which get your muscles ready for self-defense or escape.

But in today’s hectic world, the fight-or-flight reflex often works overtime, causing chronic stress and its attendant symptoms: headaches, heartburn, neck or shoulder pain, cold hands and feet, stomach “knots” or “butterflies,” an irritable bowel, chronic fatigue, substance or food abuse, anxiety attacks, and a worsening of other conditions because stress depresses immune function.

How can you keep from being overwhelmed?

“Regain control—or at least partial control—over your stressors,” says Paul J. Rosch, M.D., president of The American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, New York. “Reasserting some control is the key to coping.”

It’s also an argument against taking pharmaceuticals, such as Valium. When you pop pills, you don’t think, “I’m taking control here.” Instead, you think, “I’m out of control, so I need a drug to take control for me.” Sometimes, in the face of overwhelming stress—a death in the family—a short course of drugs may be necessary. But for everyday stress, natural approaches are preferable because they work with you, not for you. The very act of incorporating them into your life represents a step toward reasserting control and relieving your stress.

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