By Natalie J. Fraize, LMHC

You’re irritable. If you hear one more noise, you feel like you’ll snap. Your heart is racing. You’re reaching for the chips, chocolate, ice cream. Or maybe you have no appetite. You notice yourself rubbing at the tension in your neck, jaw, shoulders, or head. That thought slipped your mind again. Fidgeting, pacing, foot tapping, sweaty palms. And what’s going on with your stomach? You no longer commute to work or maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom, but you never seem to get enough done. You can’t concentrate. You’re exhausted. Whether you realize it or not, you’re stressed.

People perceive feeling stress as negative, but labeling any experience as negative is part of the problem. Stress is normal and eliminating it should not be your goal. The sensations you sometimes notice may be your body’s adaptive stress response which prepares your body to respond if you were in imminent danger. However, the stress response doesn’t serve us well when we experience stress due to deadlines, finances, illnesses, relationships, or fear of what’s around the corner.

The next time you feel stressed, try this exercise. Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your belly and breathe deep into your stomach feeling your hands rise and fall with each breath. Take a deep breath in, counting to four. Imagine you’re smelling fresh spring flowers. Feel your lungs filling with air. Hold the air in your lungs for four seconds. Now breathe out slowly for six seconds, as if you’re blowing seeds off a dandelion. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing for at least two minutes. When you’re ready, open your eyes. Take a moment to notice how your body and mind feel. If you were able to perform this breathing exercise, you experienced the relaxation response. This is the opposite to the stress response.

The goal, when feeling stress or anxiety, is not to eliminate it. Every feeling and sensation we experience is valuable and serves a purpose. Consider pain which, although not pleasant, is extremely important. Feeling acute pain lets us know something is wrong that needs to be addressed. This should be the goal for all emotions, thoughts, and sensations. Notice them without judgment, and then choose if and how you must respond. Avoiding stress does not make it go away, but if you lack the tools to understand and manage your anxiety, it is tempting to avoid and reject what you feel.

As you read this, perhaps you realize that you frequently experience stress, anxiety, or something else getting in the way of fully enjoying your life. Please consider reaching out to me or a trusted provider for the resources and support you deserve.

Natalie J. Fraize is a licensed mental health counselor, who counsels adults ages 18 and up, at Vitality Counseling Center located within Sterling Heart Care at 4330 Maple Road, Buffalo 14226. Learn about Natalie at, or call her for an appointment at 716-202-8428. Learn more about insurance-approved rehabilitation, exercise, nutrition, heart flow, and stress management therapies for cardiac patients at, or