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How to Manage Stress

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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.

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