Life is difficult. We all have stress in our lives. Sometimes managing stress can be an insurmountable problem. It can lead to anxiety and poor health and can adversely impact work and personal relationships.

Take an on-line self-assessment inventory about your stress.

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Stress is neither good nor bad for you.

Stress is with us all the time: mental, emotional, physical. In the right doses, stress adds flavor, challenge, and opportunity to our lives. We all have our own unique resilience to stress. And what is stressful to one person may be relaxing for another. But one principle is universal. Too much stress can seriously affect our physical and mental well-being. It depresses the immune system and can cause physical illness such as high blood pressure, ulcers, or even hear disease.

Hans Selye, M.D., a recognized expert in the field, has defined stress as a “non-specific response of the body to a demand.” When stress becomes prolonged or particularly frustrating, it can become harmful. Once stress has become harmful, it can adversely impact your health and emotional well being. Recognizing the early signs of harmful stress and getting help to manage your stress can make a significant positive difference in the quality of your life.

To use stress in a positive way and prevent it from becoming distress, you should become aware of your own reactions to stressful events. The body responds to stress by going through three stages:

1) alarm
2) resistance
3) exhaustion

Let’s take an example of a typical commuter in rush-hour traffic. If a car suddenly pulls out in front of him, his initial alarm reaction may include fear of an accident, anger at the driver who committed the action, and general frustration.

His body may respond in the ALARM STAGE by releasing hormones into the bloodstream which cause his face to flush, perspiration to form, his stomach to have a sinking feeling, and his arms and legs to tighten.

The next stage is resistance, in which the body repairs damage caused by the stress. If the stress of driving continues with repeated close calls or traffic jams, however, his body will not have time to make repairs. He may become so conditioned to expect potential problems when he drives that he tightens up at the beginning of each commuting day.

Eventually, he may even develop one of the diseases of stress, such as

  • migraine headaches
  • high blood pressure
  • backaches
  • insomnia

While it is impossible to live completely free of stress and distress, it is possible to prevent some distress as well as to minimize its impact when it can’t be avoided.

1.) Try physical activity. When you are nervous, angry, or upset, release the pressures though exercise or physical activity. Running, walking, playing tennis, or working in your garden are just some of the activities you might try. Physical exercise will relieve that “up tight” feeling, relax you, and turn the frowns into smiles.

2.) Share your stress. It helps to talk to someone about your concerns and worries. Perhaps a friend, family member, teacher, or counselor can help you see your problem in a different light. If you feel your problem is serious, you might seek professional help from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. Knowing when to ask for help may avoid more serious problems later.

3.) Know your limits. If a problem is beyond your control and cannot be changed at the moment, don’t fight the situation. Learn to accept what is — for now – until such time when you can change it.

4.) Take care of yourself. You are special. Get enough rest and eat well. If you are irritable and tense from lack of sleep or if you are not eating correctly, you will have less ability to deal with stressful situations. If stress repeatedly keeps you from sleeping, you should ask your doctor for help.

5.) Make time for fun. Schedule time for both work and recreation. Play can be just as important as work; you need a break from your daily routine to just relax and have fun.

6.) Be a participant. One way to keep from getting bored, sad, and lonely is to go where it is all happening. Sitting alone can make you feel frustrated. Help yourself by helping other people. Get involved in the world and the people around you, and you’ll find they will be attracted to you. You’re on your way to making new friends and enjoying new activities.

7.) Check off your tasks. Trying to take care of everything at once can seem overwhelming, and, as a result, you may not accomplish anything. Instead, make a list of what tasks you have to do, then do one at a time, checking them off as they’re completed. Give priority to the most important ones and do them first.

8.) Must you always be right? Do other people upset you–particularly when they don’t do things your way? Try cooperation instead of confrontation; it’s better than fighting and always being “right.” A little give and take on both sides will reduce the strain and make you both feel more comfortable.

9.) It’s o.k. to cry. A good cry can be a healthy way to bring relief to your anxiety, and it might even prevent a headache or other physical consequence. Take some deep breaths; they also release tension.

10.) Create a quiet scene. You can’t always run away, but you can “dream the impossible dream.” A quiet country scene painted mentally , or on canvas, can take you out of the turmoil of a stressful situation. Change the scene by reading a good book or playing beautiful music to create a sense of peace and tranquility.

11.) Avoid self-medication. Although you can use drugs to relieve stress temporarily, drugs do not remove the conditions that caused the stress in the first place. Drugs, in fact, may be habit-forming and create more stress than they take away. They should only be taken at the advice of your doctor.

The best strategy for avoiding stress is to learn how to relax. Unfortunately, many people try to relax at the same pace that they lead the rest of their lives. For a while, tune out your worries about time, success, and “doing right.”

You will find satisfaction in just “being” without striving. Find activities that give you pleasure and that are good for your mental and physical well-being. Forget about always winning. Focus on relaxation, enjoyment, and health.

Be good to yourself!