Jim Goodman was convinced that he could work excessively, smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and deal with the pressures of life without any problems.

He changed his mind one day in August when stress triggered his heart attack.``It may sound funny, but the heart attack saved my life and changed my priorities,' Goodman, 43, said. ``I thought I was invincible and that no matter how hard I pushed my body it would come through.'

Now, he does things differently. Goodman and about 50 others attended a free health education program Wednesday at Moses Cone Memorial Hospital entitled ``Are You Stressed Out?'

Psychologist Bill Marshall, who conducted the program, said stress can be positive when handled properly.

``The only time in our lives that we won't be stressed is when we're dead,' Marshall said. ``It's something normal that we need to have, but when it becomes excessive you will pay a price for it.'

Marshall said negative stress occurs when pressures exceed our capacity to deal with them. Work is a major stress producer, he said, along with money worries, family problems and marital problems.

The big five symptoms of stress are difficulty in thinking rationally, becoming rigid in views or beliefs, out of place aggression or irritability, withdrawal from relationships and increases in bad habits.

If you are always forgetting things, have constant headaches and/or backaches, feel sleepy all the time or drive too fast, you may be under too much stress.

Marshall listed ways to avoid, reduce and relieve stress:

Get up a few minutes earlier every morning.

Write things down instead of relying on memory.

Exercise. Walk everywhere you can.

Have more fun, he said. Accept things you can't change.

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