Look past fear so you can realize you have more control than you thought.

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In 14 years of medical practice, I have never seen so many patients who say they are feeling the effects of stress.

For a long while now, most of us have been struggling with economic realities and the need to change how we live. But now more people also are seeing that these adjustments will have to be long-term and maybe even permanent.

Long hours at work (or no work at all), less pay, more marital strain and a general lack of tools to manage stress are making Americans unhappy, anxious and sick.

Short of a major and miraculous economic revitalization, I think the first step to a better life is adaptation. The quicker we come to terms with the idea that our lifestyles have changed, the sooner we can become happier and less stressed.

Even when change is not necessarily bad, it can be stressful. Humans are creatures of habit. We like things a certain way and resist changes.

But once a change has been accepted and the necessary adaptations are put into motion, the “new normal” may not be so bad.

If we try to look past the fear so we can focus on what’s most important in our lives, we may realize that we have more control than we thought.

The most important thing in life is health — your own and that of those you love. As a doctor, I can tell you that once your health is gone it is difficult and sometimes impossible to regain it.

So now, more than ever, you must respect your body. Give it the best fuel you can, exercise it well, give it the rest it needs to run at its best. Nutrition, exercise and sleep are not luxuries; they are necessities.

Also essential in life is our humanity. We need to create bonds with family and friends to feel happy. Unfortunately, many of us have lost sight of our need for the human connection, the ability to count on one another.

I often watch people at restaurants. Most of them sit down, order, eat and leave in less than 20 minutes. There’s so little conversation and laughter.

How many times have you eaten while in someone’s company — yet you essentially were by yourself? How many times have you seen people at a table, each engrossed in a cellphone? How many times have you stopped a conversation with a live person to take a phone call?

Electronic distractions — TV, movies, emails, text messages — have taken away our ability to truly connect.

When I think about the best times I’ve had, I rarely remember the food I ate, or whether we were at a pricey restaurant. But I always remember the people I was with.

Friendship, laughter and that human connection have no cost, yet they are priceless.

We need shelter, water and food for survival. Most Americans have access to all three. We have no war in our country. Our children enjoy opportunities many of the world’s children can’t even imagine.

In so many ways, life is good.

Of course, bad things will happen. They always do. But not all change is bad. How we deal with changes is what will make us overcome them, and maybe even embrace them. Laugh, be kind, care and be human.

(Katarzyna”Kasia”Ostrzenska,M.D.,ismedicaldirectorofBayMedicalCenterinSt.Petersburg,Fla.,andisboardcertifiedininternalmedicine.Shecanbereachedatwww.baymedical.com,orvisitDr.KasiaonFacebook.)