Relax, Relate, Release

“This is our third [junior high school] administrator in the past four years. And because there is a lack of leadership, it puts more of a burden on the teachers,” says Veronica Lynn Cox, a 45-year-old junior high school teacher and adjunct professor at SUNY Orange in Newburgh, New York.

Over the past four years, Cox, a divorced mother of three, has added 40 pounds to her 5-foot-4-inch frame. An underlying reason for her weight gain is stress. She’s dealing with job stress as well as anxiety over her 22-year-old son’s battle with a kidney disease, which requires him to undergo dialysis treatments three days a week.

“Stress is a word for a challenge to the body. For some people it can be as simple as trying to get up in the morning,” says Bruce McEwen, research scientist and author of The End of Stress As We Know It (National Academy Press; $27.95).

A recent Cornell University study found that even low-level noise in open offices can lead to higher levels of stress. This can result in low morale and contribute significantly to health problems.

When the body is under stress, it excretes several hormones and other chemicals meant to ready the body to combat imposing challenges, explains McEwen. “If these systems are in balance with each other then the body gets through this very nicely,” he says. “When these systems are overused -when we have a lot of stress in our lives -then there is a certain amount of wear and tear that happens. And down the road there can be damage.”

McEwen says the body knows when it’s feeling stress: “We tend to be anxious and [unable to] make decisions. We may lose sleep at night. The combination of sleep loss and feeling anxious makes us hungrier. We neglect regular exercise, and our immune system is being suppressed.”

Stress is an inevitable part of life. But by employing coping mechanisms, we are better able to fend off disease and depression. Cox found a productive way to deal with her stress: “I go to the gym four times a week. I can feel the difference. When I go to work now, I’m wide-eyed and energetic. My faith in God has brought me this far.”

Exercise, rest, and a healthy diet are essential for helping your body, mind, and spirit deal with stress.

There are other things you can do as well:

  • Meditate. Rana Walker, M. Ed., is the founder of Diamond Cutter, a wellness company, and a life coach on the national television program Starting Over. She recommends adding meditation to your regimen. “Prayer is when you speak to God. Meditation is when God speaks to you,” says Walker. She suggests a simple breathing technique that involves inhaling and exhaling four times while sitting up straight in a chair with your palms up and your tongue held to the roof of your mouth. “The more deeply you breathe, the more oxygen gets to your brain and the more clearly you are able to think,” she adds.
  • Strive for