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Staying Healthy in Times of Stress

Stress Can Make You Sick, but It Doesn't Have To

Attitude Is Everything continued...

"The main principle is that the effect on the immune system is not a factor of what's happening in the environment, but it's an effect of your perception of it," says Segerstrom, who is assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. "To the degree that you feel threatened or overwhelmed, the immune system will be affected more."

Segerstrom says that people who focus only on negative information to the exclusion of more positive information will perceive more stress and, therefore, suffer more serious consequences in their mental and physical health. That's why it's important to keep a balanced perspective on events going on in the world as well as closer to home.

Relieving Stress and Getting Help

To ease the negative effects of stress on your health, experts recommend the following tips to reduce your stress and keep your life in balance:

  • Attempt to maintain a normal routine. Sticking to a schedule can help you feel more in control of your life even when the circumstances around you are chaotic.
  • Make and keep connections with friends, family, clergy, and other confidants. Maintaining a strong social support network can act as a buffer against stress.
  • Make time for things that you enjoy, whatever that may be, such as playing with your children or pets, exercise, reading a book, etc.
  • Give yourself a break and stay away from things that rile you in times of stress. Limit contact with people or things that cause stress, especially around bedtime.
  • Participate in a volunteer activity. Assisting others in a time of need can be empowering.
  • Take care of yourself. Don't let stress affect your diet, sleep schedule, or exercise habits.

Tovian says there are also several warning signs to look for that can signal when stress levels are exceeding healthy limits. Symptoms of stress overload include:

  • Disruption in sleeping habits
  • Change in appetite or diet
  • Change in mood, such as a loss of optimism or feeling overwhelmed
  • Inability to put stress in long-term perspective or see the bigger picture
  • Increase in anger or irritability

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