If you are lucky enough to be one of the rare individuals who doesn't suffer from stress, here's some news that may add a little stress to your life.

Stress and stress-related illnesses are costing you a lot of money - if only indirectly.Dr. W. Knox Fitzpatrick, Jr., vice president of medical affairs, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Utah, says stress-related illnesses resulted in his company paying nearly $21 million in claims last year. A poll of Utah physicians reveals 30-35 percent of all patient visits are for stress-related problems.

"That adds up to a lot of doctor visits and doctor bills that we all end up paying for, but many stress-induced health breakdowns could be prevented by reducing the stress that caused them," Fitzpatrick said.

According to Fitzpatrick, stress has become a familiar term used to describe almost anything that disrupts, complicates or overloads our lives. It can be as serious as the death of a loved one, or can result from time spent on a vacation. The busy holiday season is a particularly stressful time for many people.

"The first step in reducing stress is recognizing it," Fitzpatrick said. "The symptoms can be physiological, such as fatigue or headache. They can be social or intellectual, such as irritability or forgetfulness. Stress can manifest itself in psycho-emotional ways, like feeling alienated or becoming defensive or judgmental. And it can result in dependence on drugs and alcohol."

A spiritual breakdown, where personal values and self-worth are questioned and depression forms a wall of non-action, can be the result of ultimate stress, the physician explained.

Fitzpatrick says stress can be reduced or eliminated by following some simple techniques. "Take a 10-second stress break. First simply identify what is annoying you. Just labeling an event can reduce stress. Tell yourself, `I don't have to become too tense over this.' "

He also suggests stopping and taking two deep breaths and exhaling each slowly. Two simple exercises may also help:

-Rotate your head slowly around in a circular motion.

-Slowly roll your shoulders forward and backward a couple of times. Recall a pleasant thought, image, memory or feeling for 10-15 seconds. Take one more deep, slow breath, exhale slowly and return to your activity.

Fitzpatrick notes that stress is a normal result of the events that occur in our lives and cannot be totally avoided. "The trick is to learn how to reduce the effects of stress and at the same time reduce health breakdowns that result in increased health care costs. We should each spend some time analyzing our stress factors and take some positive steps to minimize the stress in our lives."

To further help people reduce stress, Fitzpatrick offers the following 12 suggestions:

-Take six deep breaths.

-Imagine a visit to the Bahamas (or some other scene).

-Stand up and stretch.

-Hug someone.

-Walk to the window and watch the birds.

-Find a friend who'll listen.

-Take an exercise break.

-Have a good laugh.

-Don't take the job too seriously.

-Pick a task you can easily finish in 10 minutes.

-Play a game.

-Change your focus away from work.