Stress is the way we all react to change. It
includes our mental, emotional, and physical responses to the pressures of
everyday life. Change is a natural and normal part of life, and therefore a
moderate amount of stress is part of normal living. However, how we choose to
control and manage our stress determines whether it has a positive or negative
effect on us.
By Andrea Cooper
These four hands-on therapies can ease your stress, anxiety, pain, and
more. Read on to find the best remedy for you.
Several years ago, Mike, my psychologist, urged me to see someone else for
help in dealing with my stress. But he wasn’t referring me to another talk
therapist. He thought I should try some sessions with Dana, a massage therapist
specially trained to treat trauma victims. I had been abused as a child, and
Mike thought that Dana might help me through...
Stress can be short-term (acute) or long-term
(chronic). Acute stress is a "fight-or-flight" reaction to an immediate threat.
Triggers of acute stress include crowds, noise, and dangerous situations.
Chronic stress requires you to suppress your natural "fight-or-flight" reaction
over hours, days, or even years. Chronic stress triggers include demanding
jobs, family problems, marital problems, money worries, or feelings of
inadequacy or loneliness.
How your body reacts to acute stress
Your brain sends out various hormones, including
cortisol and adrenaline.
Your immune system prepares for
Your heart, lungs, and circulatory system kick into high
Your heart rate and blood pressure
Your breathing becomes more rapid and your lungs take in
Your blood flow increases 300% to 400% to get your
muscles, lungs, and brain ready for any added demands.
releases more red blood cells so that your blood can carry more oxygen.
Stress can be both good and bad
The acute stress reaction is important to protect your body and improve
your performance. For example, your stress reaction helps you maneuver through
a dangerous traffic situation or play well in the championship game. However,
chronic stress can have a harmful effect on your body.
of your body that react to stress can become chronically over- or
underactivated, leading to physical or psychological damage. Circumstances that
can cause such damage include:
More than one stressful situation in your life at
one time, such as a demanding job plus family problems.
caused by a traumatic event (such as a death in your family) that does not
Any kind of stress if you have a heart condition.
Physical damage caused by stress
Stress can negatively affect your heart in many
Stress and the heart
What stress does
Why it's bad for your heart
Can narrow your arteries
Could reduce blood flow through your coronary
arteries, which could cause angina or a heart attack
Increases your blood pressure
Could increase the workload on your heart and
rupture a plaque in your coronary artery, causing a heart attack
Increases your heart rate
Could cause a potentially dangerous irregular
heartbeat (arrhythmia); increases your heart's workload
Stress may also cause or worsen sleep, concentration,
and/or stomach problems; headaches; and back and neck pain.
Psychological damage caused by stress
associated with depression and anxiety disorders and can reduce the amount of
pleasure you get out of life. Chronic stress can numb you to feelings of
satisfaction and accomplishment. Eventually, this numbness could have a
negative impact on your work and your relationships.
suffering from stress sometimes turn to unhealthy habits to deal with their
stress. For instance, many people eat when they are stressed out, which can
mean that they eat too much or eat unhealthy foods. Some people react to stress
by leading sedentary lifestyles or doing passive activities, such as watching
television. Other people abuse caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs to
escape their stress. All of these methods of dealing with chronic stress are
extremely unhealthy and can cause serious health problems, which may lead to
even further stress.
You may be feeling stress if you have one or
more of the following symptoms.
Symptoms of stress
High blood pressure
Changes in bowel movements
Weight gain or
Cold hands and feet
Crying for no reason
Talking too fast
Abuse of drugs, alcohol, sex,
How can I lower my stress level?
Luckily, there are several steps you can take to
help reduce your stress level. Doing so will have a positive impact on your
health and your life.
No single method of "stress-busting" works
for everybody. You may need to experiment with several different methods to
find one that works for you. You may need to combine a few methods to get the
When you find one or more methods that work for
you, your mission is not yet accomplished. You also will need to change the
situation that is causing you stress, if you can, or perhaps change your
reaction to that situation.
Cognitive-behavioral methods can be
the best way to lower your stress level.
Identify your stress triggers. You may want to
keep a journal to record them. For example, does running late make you
stressed? Or is it feeling like no one listens to you at work? Bouncing a
check? Coming home to a messy house? After you identify your stress triggers,
you will be able to plan for them.
You should also recognize
activities that have a positive effect on your stress level, such as meeting a
deadline, riding your bike, or reading before going to bed.
Think of solutions for dealing with your stress triggers.
These solutions include both ways to prevent stressful situations from
happening as well as alternative reactions to them.
Add stress-busting activities to your day
need to shift your focus onto stress-reducing activities as opposed to
stress-producing activities. One study about stress showed that adding
enjoyable activities to your day can help you even more than eliminating or
dealing with your stress triggers. Even small changes can have big effects on
your stress level.
Set aside some time for yourself each day to do
something you find relaxing. The more of these types of activities you work
into your daily life, the more your stress level is likely to improve. The
following are examples of stress-reducing, enjoyable activities.
Stay connected to your family, friends, and
other supportive people in your life.
Talk about your problems and your feelings.
When you don't express feelings of anger or frustration, it can lead to a sense
of helplessness, depression, and even hostility.
Join a support
group in your community to share your feelings.
Exercise. Exercise is one of the best ways of
distracting yourself from your stress triggers. It can help you clear your mind
and work off anger and frustration. Also, exercise has many other great
benefits, such as:
Lowering your blood
Contributing to weight loss.
Try deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. These
techniques can help quiet your mind and counteract your body's physical stress
reactions. You can check local fitness centers and community centers for
classes or instructors.
Other tips for managing stress
Keep your perspective. Take a moment to think
about what's bothering you. Ask yourself, "Is this really that important?" or
"Is it reasonable to become so stressed out about this?" You'll find that the
answer is usually "no."
Identify which of your stress triggers are
within your control and which are beyond your control.
Keep a sense
of humor about life. If you can laugh and look on the bright side of a
stressful situation, you can affect your stress level. Your body and mind both
will be calmed by even a chuckle.
Seek help if you feel
overwhelmed. Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and many
other mental health professionals are trained to help people deal with problems
in their lives. If you feel that you cannot effectively deal with your stress
by yourself, find a professional to help. Ask your doctor, friends, and family
for references, or check your phone book for a listing of professionals in your