Stress: What can you do about it?

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"Knowing there are two kinds of stress is the first step to managing it," says Dr. Michael Cox, a psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"With stress, there are two categories--things you can do something about and things you cannot change," Cox said.

Signs of stress include fatigue, irritability, impatience, worry, loss of sleep and distraction.

Avoiding and denying that stress exists will not make it go away.

Stress that people can do something about--personality conflicts, marital stress and illness--requires action. Lessening these types may be simply a matter of negotiation, compromise, or following doctor's orders.

"Look at the different ways you can change the situation to lessen the stress, make your decision and face the stress head on," Cox said. "Action is the fastest way to reduce the level of stress."

For sources of stress that cannot be changed, such as a death, divorce or deadlines, Cox recommends the following:

Reach out to others for support.
Take good care of yourself--rest, eat right, exercise.
Make time for enjoyable activities.
Learn to relax.
Pace yourself; do not push yourself too hard.
These types of activities can make a person more resilient to stress and depression.

While relaxing seems like it should be easy, it is difficult for some people.

"People under stress often spin their wheels by constantly reminding themselves of what they need to do better and faster," he said. "The best action is to take your mind off the stress."

Cox recommends a few minutes of relaxation at least three times a day using these techniques:

Keep eyes closed.
Picture an enjoyable scene--beach, mountain, vacation.
Maintain the scene and actually feel it--smell the sea, feel the breeze and sun.
Think soothing thoughts.
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By Michael Fox, Ph.D.

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