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De-Stressing Can Refresh the Mind, Body

September 18, 2000|KAREN VOIGHT

Is your schedule so crammed that you're stuck in overdrive, living life at a frantic pace with a short fuse? Do you lose track of what you're saying or forget the next thing you were about to do? If so, chronic stress may be taking a toll on your health.

It may be time to rethink how you structure your day, so you can slow down and "de-stress," schedule time for yourself and fit in more physical activity. This will put more fun in your life and restore a sense of well-being to your mind and body. As you feel less pressured, you'll be encouraged to pay attention to your body's needs. This will make you less likely to snack at the office vending machine or to pick up dinner at the nearest drive-thru on your way home.

Start by streamlining your schedule. This might mean reorganizing your life to get rid of excess clutter, deadlines and obligations. Saying no at the appropriate times can make your life simpler. (My girlfriend says she now makes fewer promises to people, but does a better job at the ones she makes.)

Write out a "to do" list in order of priority and follow through with the important ones first. Don't get frustrated if some of the less important things spill over to the next day. A great tip that helps me: Finish one task before starting another. I've had a bad habit of taking on too much at one time and rushing to get it all done. Finally, I realized that when I take on more than I can handle, it not only increases my stress, but causes me to make mistakes that take even more time and energy to correct.

Other ways to create more time for yourself include sorting mail as soon as you get it and answering phone messages and e-mails right away. Ordering from catalogs and using the Internet for online services can be timesavers too. I've also learned that by consolidating all my errands into one day and planning my route to avoid rush-hour traffic, I can actually free up an extra hour or two per week. This becomes valuable workout time that I wouldn't otherwise have.

Of course, some degree of stress is an inevitable, and often essential, part of life. If you train yourself to cope successfully with life's little surprises, they don't have to wreak havoc with your health. You can learn to bounce back from stressful situations so you can move on effectively. One of the best antidotes to a fast-paced and hectic lifestyle is exercise. I call it nature's Prozac, because when you work out, your brain releases "feel good" hormones that boost morale and put you in a good mood. You also gain a clearer perspective when you're done. Sometimes, just a five- or 10-minute walk will do the trick.

Look for classes in relaxation techniques such as meditation, guided imagery and biofeedback at your local YMCA, health club or senior citizen center. Also, yoga classes are sprouting up all over and can be a powerful way to improve your strength and flexibility while you focus on breathing correctly through various postures and poses. Tai Chi, a flowing and very relaxing series of movements, will improve your balance and coordination while lowering your stress hormone levels. The nice thing about all of these is that you can usually take something you learned in class, such as a breathing exercise or visual image, and use it to handle tension at high stress times.

Eating well throughout your day is also critical. You can keep it simple by avoiding too much coffee, alcohol, sugar and junk food. But also, plan ahead for your meals--waiting until the last minute to decide what to have for dinner just adds to the stress level and makes you grab something fast and fattening. One timesaving idea is to cook extra meat when you're preparing a meal so that you can use it to make healthy sandwiches or salads the next day. When you go out to eat, ask the waiter to put half of your entree in a takeout bag before serving you. This cuts down the temptation to eat too much of those large restaurant portions, and you'll have an easy, healthy lunch or dinner for the next day.

Remember, not all stress is bad for you. Although any major change in your life can bring on anxiety, a healthy amount can keep our lives stimulating, interesting and productive. Use exercise to help you manage the pressures you can't eliminate. So the next time you feel "stressed out," focus on what's important and leave the rest behind while you get up and do something healthy for yourself.


New York-based freelance writer Michele Bender contributed to this column.

* Karen Voight is an L.A. fitness expert whose latest video is "Core Essentials." She's at Her column runs the first and third Mondays of the month.

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