STRESS is your body's reaction to all the demands placed on it. By increasing the ability to listen to your body's signals, you can begin to manage your stress more effectively.

Your body talks to you - constantly - but you usually ignore it. You wake up in the morning and you notice a sharp pain in your neck. But you continue with your daily routine. In the train, you reach up for the strap and the pain stabs at you.

You reach the office, check your e-mails, do your work and ignore the twinges in your neck when you pick up the phone.

At the end of the day when you can relax for a moment, you finally "hear" the voice of your body and go to the doctor, who says you need extensive treatment. If only had "listened" to your body earlier, you lament, you could have nipped the problem in the bud.

How can you listen to yourself better? Awareness is the key. You have physical, emotional and mental reactions to stress. While these three types of reactions often overlap, with awareness, you may be able to catch yourself at the onset of your stress and determine which of these three tends to be your initial habitual response.

Once you understand where your stress is manifesting in the body, you can better choose the most appropriate action to manage it.

Here are some early steps for stress relief once you become aware of your body's signals:

PHYSICAL STRESS: TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY

When the voice of your body is physical, you will first hear it through aches, pains and discomforts: headache, upset stomach, faster heartbeat, insomnia, anxiety, blood pressure rising and increased sweating.

Paying attention to your personal wellness will prevent the loud cry of pain when it is too late. Find the physical exercise that works best for you and start now.

Eat nutritiously, get enough sleep and rest, and use the conscious deep breathing technique to calm the body: close your eyes, and take a slow inhale expanding the belly. Count to four as you inhale through your nose, hold the breath for four counts, then exhale through the nose counting to four and again hold the breath for four more counts.

Repeat the process until calmness sets in. This yoga breathing exercise can create a profound sense of relaxation in the body.

EMOTIONAL STRESS: SPEAK

If you notice that you are angry, irritated, frustrated, sad, disappointed or fearful, you are probably reacting to emotional stress.

Speaking about your stress is a simple yet profound way to manage your emotional reactions. We often keep things bottled up, and this inner containment causes a chain reaction that produces pain, illness and more serious conditions. By talking to someone you trust - a friend, your spouse, a colleague - you will reduce your stress from 100 per cent to 90 to 80 to 70 per cent.

Then you can deal with the situation in a much more healthy way. So find your support people, and help others by listening to them as well.

When it is appropriate and you are "ready" to talk to the person causing you stress, speak with emotional intelligence. Describe the situation and how you feel without blaming the other party. This can be the start of a fruitful dialogue.

MENTAL STRESS: THINK POSITIVE

So often, the voice of stress is a mental reaction which comes through your self-talk, your conditioned voice-in-the-head which is running at a non-stop pace throughout the day.

Self-talk is like your favourite radio station, always on, but you don't hear it until you tune in to the channel. And when you tune in to this voice, you will be shocked to discover that it is mostly negative, filled with complaints, insecurities, grudges, resentments, frustrations and justifications, pulling you down and sabotaging your best efforts. Catch it and stop it.

As your self-talk is often repetitive and persistent, an excellent way to counteract it is by repetitive positive affirmations: "This will be a great day", "I am confident and dynamic" or "I'll take the challenge and stretch myself."

You cannot eliminate stress from your life, but a well-managed stress management plan through increased body awareness can put you "in control" of the stress rather than letting it control you.

Once in control, you are in a better position to take action steps so the problem areas do not recur. In the process, you will find yourself more focused and relaxed.