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Stress reduction

Stress-reduction techniques boost health, minimize disease risk

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 by: Elisabeth Deffner
Tags: stress reduction, relaxation techniques, stress-related conditions

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Stress is more than a discomfort. Studies indicate that it can be a threat to your health. A study published in the journal Neurology in 2003 found that the people most prone to distress were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease as the people least prone to distress. A Duke University study found that heart patients could dramatically reduce their chance of further cardiac problems by practicing stress-reduction techniques. A study published in December 2005 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that stress can increase the odds of developing skin cancer.

More recently, scientists from Australia's Garvan Institute have found that during periods of stress, nerves release a great deal of neuropeptide Y (NPY) into the bloodstream. NPY directly impacts the cells in the immune system that seek out and destroy bacteria and viruses -- which suggests people may be more vulnerable to illness during periods of stress. And last year, the journal Science reported that stress can even make you forgetful.

So what can you do to keep your stress levels low, and help yourself feel healthier? Following are some tried-and-true tips from fibromyalgia patients:

• Margit Crane suggests a warm bath scented with a favorite aroma. Aromatherapists tout lavender as one of the scents that help people relax. You may want to relax in the tub by candlelight, or add bubble bath to increase your relaxation response.

• Breathe easy. You can find books about different breathing techniques, as well as a number of websites (www.Breath.org and www.Breathing.com, just to name two), which contain tips for relaxation breathing. Or just try a very simple exercise: inhale deeply, and take twice as long to exhale as you did to inhale. A few minutes of relaxation breathing can make a very big difference in a stressful day.

• Prepare for fighting future stressors. Laura Collins created lists of her negative stressors, or "downdrafts," and a list of her positive stressors, or "uplifts." These are things she enjoys doing, things that make her feel better. "When I am experiencing a 'downdraft,' I pick two cards from my 'uplift' deck and do those," she says. "It balances me."

• Take some time for yourself every day -- a few minutes to meditate, go for a leisurely walk, or just enjoy a cup of tea. Laura R. McMullen also recommends scheduling larger blocks of time for yourself. "Take a day off a week," she suggests. "Work your schedule so that you can enjoy one day, or one afternoon, to yourself, where you're not required to do anything."

• Keep an eye on your diet. When Miriam Deniz feels stressed or unwell, she craves broccoli; McMullen found that her outlook dramatically improved when she eliminated all refined sugar from her diet. It is especially recommended that fibromyalgia patients avoid aspartame, caffeine and alcohol.

• Find a passion. Even if it's an activity that sometimes causes you physical discomfort, the pleasure you take in the activity itself may improve your outlook -- and create a relaxation response. For Scherry A. Clarke, that passion is her horses. "They keep me active and busy, help stave off depression, and have raised me up during some of the lowest points of my life with their love and loyalty," she says. "Yes ... I will feel pain from my activities, and sometimes that pain will be mind-blowing; severe enough to literally knock me off of my feet. However, I will never, ever stop trying to get up again. This is my life ... and I can either choose to 'sit it out' or 'dance.' I have chosen to dance."

• Adopt a relaxation practice, such as meditation or hypnosis. Be sure to practice on a regular basis!

• Embrace spirituality. "Understand, with certainty, that you can make your situation more tolerable, no matter what the circumstances," says Celeste Taylor. "Realizing that stress will most likely never change the outcome of a situation, begin to relax and place your faith in God or a higher universal being of your choice. Smile at this comforting realization."

Elisabeth Deffner is the editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine and the National Fibromyalgia Association's e-newsletter, FMOnline. For more information about fibromyalgia and the National Fibromyalgia Association, go to www.FMAware.org.

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