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Everybody experiences stress, and a certain amount is normal - even good for you. When properly handled, stress can make your life more interesting and exciting.

But stress not only affects you mentally and emotionally, it also causes physical changes that prepare your body for "fight" or "flight." Studies have documented actual changes in blood pressure, heart rate, pulse and other physical changes among subjects in response to stress. This is a built-in survival response that occurs to help increase your alertness and prepare you for quick action.

However, over time, these physiological changes can result in a lot of wear and tear on the body. In fact, over 50 ailments, ranging from depression, sleeplessness, ulcers, headaches, intestinal problems and heart problems have been directly linked to stress. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, up to two-thirds of office visits to family doctors are prompted by stress-related symptoms.

In today's fast-paced world, change is probably one of the leading causes of stress. Whether good or bad, any change in your usual routine can be a source of stress. No two people react the same way to changes in their lives; what is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another. A lot depends on what goes on in our heads and hearts - the meanings we give to life events and the feelings we have about them. But no matter what causes stress, learning how to handle it can reduce the risk to your body's good health - physically, emotionally and mentally.

Remember, we may not be able to rid our lives of stressful events, but we can control the way in which we deal with them. Here are some pointers to help you cope with life's daily stressors:

   • Know your limits. It's okay to occasionally be selfish and say "no" to extra commitments and projects.

    Be good to yourself. Get enough rest. Eat a well-balanced diet - avoiding caffeine, fatty foods and sweets. Make time for work and fun. Take a break from your daily routine to relax and have fun. You'll be better prepared to handle stress.

   • Share your stress. It helps to talk to someone you trust about your concerns and worries. Knowing when to ask for help may avoid more serious problems later.

   • Be flexible. Must you always be right? A little give and take on both sides will reduce the strain and make you both feel more comfortable.

   • Imagery. Use your imagination to create a relaxing scene or a "feel good" moment in your life. For a moment, daydream your cares away.

   • Have a sense of humor. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. A laugh actually releases hormones in the brain which make you feel good. At the same time, they block stress hormones.

   • Avoid self-medication. Medication will not remove the stressful condition. The medication may be habit-forming and reduce your efficiency and create even more stress. Medications should be taken only on the advice of your physician.

   • Take a mini-exercise break. Go for a brisk walk. A change in scenery plus light exercise can be refreshing. Take a few minutes to enjoy some deep-breathing exercises or simple stretching exercises. Focus on the part of your body that is tight. This helps to relax tense back and neck muscles.

   • Get organized. Prepare a "to-do" list you can take satisfaction in checking off. Give priority to the most important ones and do those first.

   • Forgive and forget. Accept the fact we live in an imperfect world and that everyone is trying to do the best they can. Have a forgiving view of events and people.

   • There may be times when you feel your stress and its effects become too great for you to handle alone. Before stress gets out of hand, seek professional help to prevent a more serious situation later on. Some people you can turn to for help include your physician, mental health workers or your clergy.