Stress: What It Does To You and What You Can Do Back

Stress is the way our bodies react to any change in the status quo . . . good, bad, real or even imagined. Stress creates physical symptoms, including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tense muscles
  • Increased blood pressure

Emotional reactions include:

  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Losing one's temper
  • Yelling
  • Lack of concentration
  • Being jumpy

When left unchecked, stress can lead to health problems, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Ulcers
  • Back pain
  • Colitis
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • A lowering of the body's immune system; in fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians says about two-thirds of all visits to the family doctor are for stress-related disorders

Self-Help Tips

Being able to manage stress is important to living a healthy, happy and productive life. Here are some techniques and strategies to help you deal with stress:

  • Maintain a regular program of healthy eating, good health habits and adequate sleep 
  • Exercise regularly; this promotes physical fitness as well as emotional well-being
  • Balance work and play; plan some time for hobbies and recreation -- these activities relax your mind and are a good respite from life's worries
  • Help others; as we concentrate on ourselves when we're distressed, sometimes helping others is the perfect remedy for what's troubling us
  • Take a shower or bath with warm water; this will soothe and calm your nerves and relax your muscles
  • Have a good cry: tears of sadness, joy or grief can help cleanse the body of substances that accumulate under stress and also release a natural pain-relieving substance from the brain
  • Laugh a lot; when events seem too overwhelming, keep a sense of humor; laughter makes our muscles go limp and releases tension -- it's difficult to feel stress in the middle of a belly laugh; learn to laugh as a relaxation technique
  • Find ways to learn acceptance: sometimes a difficult problem is out of control; when this happens, accept it until changes can be made . . . this is better than worrying and getting nowhere
  • Talk out troubles: it sometimes helps to talk with a friend, relative or member of the clergy; another person can help you see a problem from a different point of view
  • Escape for a little while: temporarily leaving a difficult situation can help you develop new attitudes; when you feel you are getting nowhere with a problem, a temporary diversion can help -- going to a movie, reading a book, visiting a museum or taking a drive can help you get out of a rut
  • Reward yourself: starting today, reward yourself with little things that make you feel good . . . treat yourself to a bubble bath, buy the hardcover edition of a book, call an old friend long distance, add to your stamp or coin collection, by a flower, picnic in the park during lunchtime, try a new perfume or cologne or give yourself some 'me' time
  • Do relaxation exercises daily: good ones include visualization (imagining a soothing, restful scene), deep muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscle fibers), meditation and deep-breathing
  • Budget your time: make a 'to-do' list, rank -- in priority -- your daily tasks, avoid committing yourself to doing too much
  • View changes as positive challenges, opportunities or blessings
  • Rehearse for stressful events: imagine yourself feeling calm and confident in an anticipated stressful situation; you will be able to relax more easily when the situation arises
  • Modify your environment to get rid of or manage your exposure to things that cause stress

Books to Read

The Book of Stress Survival. Alix Kirsta. Simon & Schuster. New York, New York. 1986.

Breaking the Stress Habit. Andrew G. Goliszek. Carolina Press. Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 1987.

Controlling Stress in the Workplace. Rex P. Gatto. GTA Press. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 1991.

The Female Stress Syndrome. Georgia Witken. Newmarket Press. New York, New York. 1991.

The Male Stress Syndrome. Georgia Witken. Newmarket Press. New York, New York. 1994.

The Stress Solution. Lyle H. Miller, PhD, Alma Dell Smith. Pocket Books. New York, New York. 1993.