This is a good article. I think a lot of us could benefit from the suggestions.

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Learning to overcome stress can be a calming proposition
Copyright 2002 Seattle Times

SEATTLE -- Relax on the run? Yes, it sounds like an oxymoron. But even setting aside five minutes for quality downtime in a day filled with traffic snarls, meetings, deadlines and the myriad demands of home can work wonders for the stressed-out body and soul.

As Bastyr University stress expert Naomi Lester puts it, people go into "fight or flight" mode when they get stressed. Forehead muscles tighten, shoulders cramp, moods swing, blood pressure goes haywire, lunch just sits there, then goes straight for your waistline. It's all tied to the body's wacky emergency-response system, which directs lots of energy and chemicals to the areas of the body that might be needed in high-intensity situations. All that buildup, but no release -- that's the essence of stress.

So here's how to quickly bring back a little personal balance and inner calm as you try to rein in the world.

Put your best face forward: Pressure makes people frown, cringe and scowl, all of which strain the muscles of the face and head. Tooth-grinding and headaches may result.

Try this: Tense your face (Think: Very angry 2-year-old), then release. Repeat several times. This technique works with individual parts of the face -- such as jaw and forehead muscles.

Shoulder it: Pay attention to your shoulders. If you're stressed, they're probably raised slightly, which may increase neck and back tension.

Try this: Hunch the shoulders for a few seconds (but don't strain too heavily), then relax them, letting the muscles ease into a more comfortable position. Repeat. Do the same squeeze-release exercise with the neck, legs, feet, etc.

Feel the heat: Stress forces blood to the center of the body, leaving limbs feeling colder and lighter in weight than usual.

Try this: Imagine that your arms and legs are gradually warming up. Focus on that sensation. Then imagine yourself growing heavier and heavier. The feeling of warm relaxation may balance blood flow through the body.

Visualize world peace: Important meeting coming up? Traffic jam on the way home? Stress causes the mind to wander in a million different places, most of them not pleasant. It's easy to lose focus on what's important at times like this.

Try this: Pick an image or sound -- sailboats on a lake, a family photo or the sound of birds chirping -- and focus intensely on it and nothing else for a few minutes. (Do this only when it's safe.) Soothing distractions can help clear the mind and, oddly enough, restore calm focus on the mission at hand. CDs and cassettes with recorded relaxation messages, available at many book and music stores, may help.

Keep your feet on the move: People tend to sit around and brood -- or pace -- when stressed. Besides being a waste of energy, neither activity reduces stress.

Try this: Take a walk somewhere away from the environment that has left you stressed. Strolling helps you visualize more pleasant thoughts, it uses energy in a good way, and it gives you a healthy physical distance from problems, which may help you reflect more clearly.

Skip dessert: Many people console themselves with lots of food when feeling anxious and stressed. The problem is that the body's metabolism tends to slow down at times like this. Eating for comfort promotes digestive problems, fat storage and weight gain.

Try this: Exercise or talk to someone instead. Eat nutritious foods.

To learn more about coping with stress:

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers (W.H. Freeman and Co., $16) by Robert Sapolsky, explores the science of human stress and how to deal with it.

Managing Stress, Third Ed., (Jones and Bartlett, $58.95) by Brian Luke Seaward, comes with an enhanced CD-ROM featuring relaxation exercises.

Sources: Naomi Lester, Bastyr University; Comprehensive Stress Management, (McGraw-Hill), by Jerrold S. Greenberg; Sharon Salzberg, author.

Cats know what we feel. They don't care, but they know.