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 Feeling stressed? Learn how to manage it

Stress has to do with how we manage situations affecting our daily lives. A lot of our stress comes from rapid change such as a loss of a job, an illness, death of a loved one or changes in a close relationship. Let’s face it, change is not always welcome, and managing change can lead to stress.
Lowering your stress and tension is very important to your health. Chronic stress and tension can contribute to high blood pressure, headaches, body pain and aggravate many health conditions; and it can predispose to heart disease.   
How do you know if you are stressed? 
Symptoms may vary but here are some common ways to identify if you are stressed:
  • Do you find yourself pacing back and forth?
  • Do you find yourself clenching your fists or grinding your teeth?
  • Do you often feel angry or afraid or helpless?
  • Do you find yourself eating all of the time?
  • Do you find yourself “needing a drink” or something else to “take off the edge?”
Learn to manage and avoid stress 
There is no way to avoid stress altogether, but you can learn how to manage it.
Believe in the positive. In other words, you have to have a “new attitude.” Tell yourself often that things will get better and things will work out. Accept that there are some things that you can control and there are some things that you can’t control.
Get moving. Studies have shown that physical activity will reduce stress. Choose an activity that you can and will do. You don’t have to join a gym or fitness club. Dancing, walking outside or simply any activity that gets you moving will help.
Find support. Reconnect to a family member or a close friend. Plan a simple activity that puts you in touch with others. Go to a meeting at church or in your community. Volunteer to serve others. Sometimes you can help yourself by helping others.
Take time to enjoy. Do you have a favorite movie, a favorite song or a favorite hobby?  Spend a little time doing something that you enjoy. Watch a comedy. Watch your favorite TV show. Go fishing. 
Laugh out loud. Did you know that laughter is very good for your health? What makes you laugh? Studies have found that laughter can:
o Lower blood pressure
o Increase oxygen flow to the brain
o Give a “workout” to many muscle groups in your body, including your face, your abdominal and chest and your back and leg muscles
o Reduce certain stress hormone levels in your body
o Improve alertness and memory
So go ahead and laugh out loud. It’s the ultimate “stress buster!”
Try to avoid “doing too much.” Is your list of “to-do’s” too long? Do you feel that you have to get everything done right away? Putting too much pressure on ourselves can cause stress. Ask yourself – do I really have to get this done today? Try doing one thing at a time and doing less each day.
Steps to take during a stressful situation or feeling
So you did your best to manage any possible stress, but it’s sometimes unavoidable. Use these steps to keep yourself calm and manage your feelings. 
Take a deep breath. Taking a deep breath is simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Simply inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth shut. If you are in a place where you can close your eyes, do so and sit up straight and repeat this for three or four breaths. This will make you feel even better. The trick is to try to breathe slowly and evenly. You will feel calmer immediately. Do this as often as necessary.
Relax your muscles. Tense and relax your muscles. Start with your toes and work your way up your body. Tighten and relax the muscles in your legs, your buttocks, your abdomen, your arms, your hands then your shoulders. Tense each muscle group to a count of five and relax. Roll your head in a circle a few times. Raise your arms up over your head a few times in a gentle stretch.
Take a nap or get some more rest. Sometimes, one of the best things we can do is get some rest. A nap, where you can be in a quiet darkened place for 30 minutes or simply getting a “good night’s sleep,” will decrease your stress level.
Take a warm bath or shower. Warm water can be very soothing and relaxing to tight and tense muscles and to the mind. It may also help boost your circulation and improve blood flow to various muscle groups. Some people find they can also sleep better after a warm bath or shower. 
Admit if you need additional help. If these self-help techniques don’t lower your stress, consult with your health care provider. You may be suffering from a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety that could benefit from additional treatment such as medication or counseling. There is no reason to feel embarrassed or have feelings of shame about getting help for mental health conditions. If left untreated, depression and anxiety or addictions can have serious life consequences.  
If you’re a Highmark member, log in to the member website to get more information about stress management, www.highmarkbcbs.com.
Dr. Rhonda Johnson is the medical director of health equity and quality services at Highmark Inc., an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. She leads Highmark’s efforts to reduce racial and ethnic health care disparities among Highmark members through clinical interventions and improvements in health literacy, language access and health-plan cultural competency. 



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