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How to Manage Stress

Stress. We all live with it each day. But how do you react to daily stress? For some people, life's stressors cause them to become irritable, short-tempered, or unable to concentrate on tasks. Others have interrupted sleep (trouble falling asleep or waking early in the morning with racing thoughts). Then there are those who react by eating junk food -- and a lot of it! (Remember - desserts is stressed spelled backward!) The good news: No matter how busy your schedule, it is possible to manage stress and keep it from ruining your life.

Causes of Stress

Simply stated, stress describes the many demands and pressures that we all experience, to some degree, each day. These demands are physical, mental, emotional, or even chemical in nature. The word "stress" encompasses both the stressful situation, known as the stressor, and the symptoms you experience under stress, your stress response.

The problem with stress is that it activates your sympathetic nervous system, stimulating the release of stress hormones throughout your body. These hormones give you super energy and cause other changes in the body such as the "fight or flight" response.

The "fight or flight" response makes your heart beat faster. You might feel very nervous, making it difficult to breathe. Short term, the "fight or flight" response causes changes that allow you to handle sudden stressful events. When you face fear -- or even recall a stressful or frightening event from the past -- the resulting hormonal changes super-charge your body to a state of high arousal. This prepares you for action.

But long-term stress can be particularly difficult. When stress hormones stay elevated over time, there is a gradual and steady stream of harmful changes to the body. Long-term stress can suppress the immune system, which may lead to the development of diseases.

Stress can be positive or negative, depending on the situation. Positive stressors (called eustress) may include an upcoming wedding, the holidays, or pregnancy. On the other hand, negative stress (called distress) results in the full-blown stress response. If continuous, negative stress can lead to loss of productivity, health problems, and exhaustion.

What Are the Symptoms of Stress?

Stress symptoms vary greatly from one person to the next, but the most universal sign of stress is a feeling of being pressured or overwhelmed. Other symptoms include:

  • Physical complaints (stomachaches, headaches, chest pains, nausea, and diarrhea, and a sensation of numbness or tingling in your hands, arms, and face.)
  • Problems getting along with family members, friends, and teachers.
  • Changes in behavior at home (short temper, unexplained anger, crying for no reason).
  • Regression -- behavior that is not age-appropriate.
  • Dysfunctional sleep patterns, including nightmares, too little sleep, difficulty falling asleep, or even oversleeping.
  • Communication difficulty or personality changes, such as becoming withdrawn or requiring much more attention than usual.
  • Impatience.

If you are experiencing a few of these symptoms, chances are that your level of stress is high. If left untreated, stress can lead to permanent feelings of helplessness and ineffectiveness.

WebMD Medical Reference

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