Pampering Yourself Toward Stress-Reduction


The very word makes our bodies tense and causes us to want to run for cover. Whether it’s financial, personal, job- or holiday-related, stress is a pervasive part of many of our lives. Americans spend an estimated $9.4 billion a year learning how to avoid and cope with it, making it no small wonder that 1998 is the 35th anniversary of Valium and sales seem to be as strong as ever. Consider this:

* More than 75% of visits to primary-care physicians are for stress-related problems.

* 89% of adults describe experiencing “high levels” of stress.

* The National Safety Council estimates that 1 million American workers miss work on an average day because of stress-related problems.

* 40% of worker turnover is stress-related.

* U.S. Department of Labor statistics recorded 123 on-the-job murders last year, and estimates that 20% of the 1 million workplace assaults were committed by co-workers.


Time magazine once referred to stress as “The Epidemic of the ‘80s.” And is there a more ‘90s phrase than “going postal”?

In its most basic form, stress is our response to change. It’s not what happens to us, but rather how we react physically and emotionally to the pressures of everyday life. Stress chemicals are released that prepare our body for emergency action, causing our blood pressure and heart rate to increase, our muscles to tense, releasing stored fat into our bloodstream for energy and suppressing our immune system.

Stress in itself is not good or bad. We all have a survival mechanism known as the fight or flight, or “stress,” response that enables us to respond more effectively to challenges. Feeling stress can be a positive thing. It can help us anticipate danger before it arises and propel us to come up with ways to lessen the risks and rehearse what we plan to do. The key is to not allow it to escalate to unmanageable levels.

Relieving stress is as important a task as you can undertake, particularly during those times when it seems that one more unreasonable deadline at work will make your head explode.

In order to do this, the most important thing you can do is change your outlook. Don’t say negative things, stop over-generalizing, filter out the negatives and for gosh sakes, stop jumping to conclusions, even if it is the only real exercise you get.

Eliminate as many stressors as possible, learn how to relax, exercise and eat correctly.

Sometimes, the best way to relieve stress is to just flat out pamper yourself. Who doesn’t feel better after a massage, facial, manicure or pedicure? Curling up with a good book on the beach or in front of the fireplace, listening to some soothing music or eating a yummy frozen yogurt are also stress-busters of choice for many.


We all know, too, that one person’s pampering is another person’s pain. So, do what’s right for you. If you’d rather have that chocolate chip cookie to help take your mind off of how stressed out you are, then indulge in this and let go of any guilt.

So, bring yourself back to a state of balance, recognizing and reducing stress and engaging in activities that will take your mind off those things that make you want to burst. And, don’t forget to pamper yourself!

* Dr. Karen Wolfe, an author and lecturer on the topic of stress, is manager of health improvement for Health Net in Southern California.

* Next week: stress and exercise.