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In life-threatening situations, like when a car is coming straight at you, fear is a good thing and readies you for self-defense. Trouble is, today’s stressful way of living makes us feel as if a car is always coming at us, says Dr. Jerry Gelbart, a psychiatrist at John Muir Health’s Behavioral Health Center. Our bodies are on red alert throughout the normal course of the day—and stay in a constant fear state, creating stress.

The problem with living in the red zone, says Gelbart, is that we don’t have a chance to rest and can’t appropriately shift our bodies’ resources to vital processes such as digestion, sleep and immune functions. “The body is not built to stay in the danger mode,” says Gelbart, pointing out that stress is often the culprit in many serious health problems, including high blood pressure, digestive illnesses and heart disease.

So, how do we de-stress? The next few paragraphs present several practical strategies. But before you check out the details, consider the big picture and the following stress-busting tips from Gelbart:

  • Ask yourself, “What am I afraid will happen if I don’t get everything done or please everyone?” A great deal of stress relates to fears of failure or being rejected.
  • Examine your beliefs about how others judge you and what that means about whether you think you’re OK or not.
  • Learn mindfulness—perhaps starting with books by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh—to focus on what’s essential.
  • Imagine being 120 years old and looking back on what was important. What would you have done differently? Think now about your values and live accordingly. Achieving inner harmony and self-acceptance is an effective way to lower stress.

Stress Busters

Just Say ‘Om’

A Walnut Creek yoga teacher fields queries about the stress-relieving benefits of her practice.

In the following Q&A, Marcia Conroy, a yoga teacher at the City of Walnut Creek Seniors’ Club, talks about the stress-reduction benefits of practicing yoga.

How does something as physical as yoga alleviate mental and emotional stress?
We carry stress in our muscles. If you get in the habit of stretching, you’re releasing that stress. And yoga also calms the mind, so you can be more focused on addressing other issues.

Do you have to be super flexible to reap the benefits of yoga?
People who are inflexible are the ones who really should be taking yoga. It would be very helpful in terms of how they feel and move.

Was stress reduction one of your reasons for getting involved in the practice of yoga?
It was all of my reason for starting yoga. I would go into class completely tight from work. By the time came out, I was like a wet noodle, and there wasn’t a single work worry on my mind. I came to yoga because of stress, and kept with it to stay healthy.

For information about yoga classes at the Walnut Creek Seniors’ Club, call (925) 462-5285.