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Donít Let Stress Manage You

April 05, 2011

Women’s Center Class Offers Effective Techniques for Combating Stress

Physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension—otherwise known as stress—is a common malady, and its sources are endless. Money, relationships, health, work… Worries over any of these issues can cause stress levels to build up.

While stress may be natural and, at times, inevitable, trouble begins when we ignore the signs overload, waiting until stress begins to negatively impact our day-to-day lives. And often we do just that.

But stress can be managed—quite effectively, too, according to Washington Women’s Center Clinical Coordinator Kathy Hesser, R.N. You just have to be able to recognize the signs of excess stress and go about choosing healthy alternatives to reduce its impact.

Next Wednesday, April 13, from 7 to 8 p.m., Hesser, in conjunction with a certified music therapist, will present a "Stress Management for Women" class at the Women’s Center.

"I’ve seen the issue of stress coming up a lot in all the classes we do," Hesser says. "Women are seeking out ways to deal with their stress and ways to counteract it, be happier, get better sleep and deal with issues like growing older or living with a diagnosis like breast cancer or diabetes."

Hesser points out that reactions to stress can create a vicious cycle, if we’re not careful.

"We all find that when we’re getting overly tired and suffering from poor time management, we tend to fall back on coping mechanisms, whether it involves overeating, drinking coffee, drinking, smoking or even drug abuse," she explains. "These behaviors can all be signs of stress. Some are fairly mild, but these things can be underlying signs of unmanaged stress. Look at how you’re feeling. Are you having upper back pain? Do you grind your teeth? Do you find yourself always tense?"

So, the question, Hesser says, is: what do you do about it?

"Sometimes the first step is to increase your body awareness and how you’re holding your body," she points out. "Look at your posture and how your body changes in response to certain people. Can you learn to take a breath and step back and not let outside influences change how you’re holding your body—rather than letting outside influences control you? Often I talk with women at the center who are dealing with things like chronic pain or diabetes, and it can cause a loss of sensation and an alteration in how you see things."

During the class, Hesser will spend some time explaining how stress affects physiological functions, how to better understand the different manifestations of stress, and what happens when the body is under stress over an extended period of time. The class, however, will not be one-sided.

"I don’t like to lecture," according to Hesser. "Instead, I prefer to put things out there and get people’s responses. I’ll throw a question out there to the audience and that makes it more interesting and keeps things focused on our participants."

Plus, women who attend the talk should walk away with some concrete techniques to effectively manage stress, she says.

"Julie, our music therapist, is going to talk about music and yoga as ways to help you de-stress, and she’ll give some helpful strategies for how to incorporate these things into your routine," Hesser says. "Then, toward the end of the class, we’ll have a relaxation session using music and breathing to help reduce stress."

Stress affects almost everyone, and women of all ages can benefit from attending, she adds.

"We have had women attend classes to support their moms, and we’ve had women in their late-70s come to classes," she says. "Every single one of them has participated fully when we’ve had restorative yoga practices at the end of class, and afterwards everyone has said, ‘Wow! I feel so good right now.’"

The best part of coming in for a one-hour evening class, Hesser says, is that it gives a great preview of some of the center’s popular which are tailored to women’s unique needs.

"I think that’s the fun part about these little hour-long classes is that they introduce people in a small way to our other programs," she says. "For instance, you come in for the stress management class and get a little sample of our yoga program. It’s easy to see in five minutes how you can feel better by incorporating something like yoga into your weekly routine.

Often women who come to the Women’s Center for classes tell Hesser about their needs and what they would like to see in the future. This, she says, helps match community members with helpful services and programs.

"Recently someone came for a massage," Hesser says. "It turns out that she was leader at a church for women’s cancer support group. She said how much she loved the Women’s Center and she wanted to do a tour and have me talk to her group. I said, ‘Sure, of course!’ Every one of the women who came for the tour was a cancer survivor, and every one of them found a class or program that she could benefit from."

And that’s what the center is all about—meeting women’s needs, she says.

Don’t stress!

To learn effective techniques for managing stress, join Hesser for the Washington Women’s Center’s upcoming "Stress Management for Women" class, part of the center’s free Evening Lecture Series for Women. The class will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, in the Women’s Center Conference Room. The Washington Women’s Center is located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, Suite 150 in Fremont. For more information about programs and services at the Washington Women’s Center, call (866) 608-1301 or (510) 608-1301.

To register for classes, call (800) 963-7070 or go online at www.whhs.com/womenscenter.