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Stress Management and Relaxation

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Not only do stress management and relaxation allow for better training and athletic performance, they help prevent illness and injury, and most important, allow for a happy and fulfilling life. Stress that is out of control makes pain worse, interferes with mental clarity and mood, and causes numerous health problems, especially digestive and heart problems, along with high blood pressure. This takes a large toll on your body, leading to chronic fatigue and depression. Your body can react by tensing muscles in your head, neck, and back, causing pain and poor posture.

Beware of chest pain, shortness of breath, or abdominal symptoms, which can be both signs of stress or signs of illness.

If any of these interfere with activities or sleep, or are accompanied by chest pressure or heaviness, see a doctor immediately. Talk about unusual body symptoms with your doctor or health-care provider, or if you can identify stress as the cause, schedule healing sessions into your day—massage, yoga, deep breathing, stretching, or a warm bath. Take deep breaths when you feel tense. Close your eyes and remind yourself that you are in control of your feelings and reactions. Relaxation and stress management are essential components of your health and wellness. Whatever can be done to decrease stress will have a long-lasting, positive effect on many body systems.

Relaxation is the number one way to decrease stress at any minute. There are many types of relaxation techniques to enhance performance, sleep, and overall health, and ultimately, to decrease stress. Just as the body needs rest to repair itself, so the brain needs to relax to allow it to function. Being able to relax is essential to any success. Fine motor skills, accuracy, agility, and coordination is optimal when the mind is relaxed and in control. Without being able to relax sleep is worse, muscles are tight and more prone to spasm and weakness, and nutrition tends to be poor. All this influences not only sports and athletic performance, but also health. Relaxation should be incorporated into every day. Common relaxation techniques are outlined below. Often, simply being aware that stress is the cause of these symptoms is enough to bring some relief. Allowing yourself between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night helps significantly, as does allowing 30 minutes each day to indulge in a relaxation activity. Regular exercise is crucial to stress management, but also be aware that overtraining can also cause stress.

People who manage stress well are happier, healthier, and more productive, as they do not let the stress interfere with their activities. They also tend to be less overweight and suffer fewer chronic illnesses such as heart palpitations, thyroid dysfunction, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, painful arthritis, back and neck pain, bowel problems, and frozen shoulders. Lower levels of stress can also reduce allergies, immune diseases, and even cancer. Athletes who have less stress are more likely to be focused on tasks and less prone to accidents and injuries.

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From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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