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Reading your body’s stress signals

If you’re like the rest of us, no one ever trained you to pay attention to your body’s signals. After all, you don’t need an interpreter to figure out what a growling stomach or a parched throat means. Yet learning to recognize the way your body shows tension—and doing something to counter it—is a good way to stay healthy.

Unfortunately, many of us walk around in a stressed-out state without even being aware of it. Shallow breathing, muscle soreness, stomach upset and back, neck and shoulder pain are some of the symptoms we often ignore. Stress can also irritate PMS symptoms.

Take a moment to tune into the tension in your body. Are your shoulders practically meeting your ears? Have you taken up nervous habits, like biting your nails, grinding your teeth or twirling your hair?

If so, try these stress-beating strategies:

  • Stretch it out. Roll your shoulders. Rotate your head. Reach toward the ceiling and to either side. Stand up and stretch all over to ease tension.
  • Get creative. Sing, paint, write or dance your way to self-expression.
  • Touch away tension with self-massage. Apply steady pressure to the parts of your body that store tension. Try rolling your feet over a golf ball for a do-it-yourself foot massage.
  • B-r-e-a-t-h-e. Make a conscious effort to draw air in through your nose and out through your mouth several times a day. Besides delivering oxygen to tissues, breathing distracts attention from a stressful situation and helps us focus on the present.
  • Get away from it all. Escape to a space you’ve carved out just for you. Surround yourself with a few special objects: photos, books or other items that have great meaning. Read, listen to music or just close your eyes and imagine yourself in a beautiful, peaceful place.