How to keep your mind healthy

Stress is the biggest killer of the twenty first century.

It can damage your body and your mind and is a common cause of anxiety.

The symptoms of anxiety include sleeplessness, panic attacks, phobias and an inability to relax. Many physical disorders - including heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, indigestion, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome and alopecia - are caused by stress and anxiety.

The causes vary but include worry about work, money and relationships. Medical treatment often involves tranquillisers or sleeping tablets but it is now recognised that the drugs used can be addictive and may cause many problems of their own.

Here are ten tips for controlling the stress in your life.

1. Learn to recognise when you are under too much stress. Most of us have a weak point. Learn to recognise your weak point. It will tell you when you are under too much pressure.
The commonest early warning signs are:

* indigestion
* headaches
* diarrhoea
* sleeplessness
* palpitations
* tiredness
* wheezing
* irritability
* poor memory
* feeling tearful

If your doctor cannot find an explanation for any of these symptoms then they are probably a sign that you're under stress. Pull back a little. Do less. Take a break.

2. Cut out unnecessary stresses.
Make a list of all the things you are planning to do this week.
Now decide how much time you are going to spend on things YOU want to do. And how much on things that you are doing for OTHER people.
Then see which list is longest.
Work out what your priorities are.
What can you cut from both lists?

3. Let your emotions show.
Do not be frightened to show that you are sad or angry.
Laugh when you feel happy.
Cry when you feel sad.
Bottling up your emotions leads to long-term problems.

4. Organise your life.
By planning properly you will be able to reduce unexpected stresses.

5. Learn to value yourself.
Build yourself up by writing down all your virtues.
Look at the following list of words and underline the ones that apply to you:
careful, generous, kind, hard-working, creative, fair, thoughtful, attentive, honest, conscientious, tolerant, unselfish, friendly, considerate, good-humoured, charitable, witty, wise, clever.
Make a list of all your other skills - and think of all the good things you can say about yourself.

6. Banish boredom from your life.
Try taking up a hobby that you find rewarding.
Or join a voluntary organisation that supports some cause you firmly believe in.

7. Learn to relax properly.
Imagine that you are lying on a grassy bank by a clear country stream.
Close your eyes.
Try to 'feel' yourself there.
Try to hear the water and the birds.
Try to feel the sunshine on your face. As you relax so your whole body - and your mind - will benefit.

8. Get rid of your worries by writing them down.
Get a piece of paper and a pencil.
Make a list of all the things that are worrying you.
Just writing them down will often help.
Now go through the list and decide exactly what you can do about each one.

9. Take your holidays
Some people boast that they haven't had a holiday for years.
That is crazy.
If you are uptight then you need to get away to relax.
Remember that short holidays taken often are probably more good to you than long, infrequent holidays taken when you are too exhausted to benefit.

10. Learn to do nothing.
Most of us are always in a rush.
Try to learn now how to do nothing occasionally.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2003