With proper training, you can learn to control the physical symptoms of stress. The next time you get all worked up, you can lower your heart rate and blood pressure by thinking certain thoughts.
For several months last year, the fate of Todays Computers Business Centers of Norcross, Ga., hinged on a decision from IBM Corp. Owner Keith O'Daniel wanted approval for his troubled company to sell IBM computers. While waiting for a decision from Big Blue, O'Daniel turned bright red. The "normally calm guy" began to suffer bouts of choking and gasping for air. "I couldn't breathe," he recalls. "My esophagus was closing."
The four doctors he saw had trouble diagnosing the problem. O'Daniel was then referred to a stress expert at Atlanta's Northside Hospital Health Psychology Center. Weary from his trek through the medical maze, O'Daniel was game.
Treatment began with a series of biofeedback and relaxation sessions led by psychologist Alan Lankford. In biofeedback, an electronic device alerts the stress sufferer to bodily changes that might ordinarily go unnoticed, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. By watching these stress symptoms displayed on a screen, the patient can pinpoint what thoughts, images, and relaxation techniques reduce the symptoms. O'Daniel reduced his by clearing his mind, slowing his breathing, and imagining the tension leaving his muscles. Now, under stressful situations, he doesn't get all choked up. "I've learned how to reduce stress to the point where it doesn't develop into anything worse," says O'Daniel, whose company finally got IBM's approval. "I take a few deep breaths and concentrate."
Cost: many hospitals teach biofeedback and other relaxation techniques. The cost for 10 sessions can run as much as $1,000.