Stress is bad for your health: Tips for keeping it under control

In last week’s column I talked about the rise of workplace stress and management techniques for the work environment to avoid the necessity of taking a stress leave.

Today I’d like to discuss stress in general, its negative health consequences and some ways to manage this force in your day-to-day life.

Stress is the result of any emotional, physical, social, economic or other factors that require a response or change. It is an inevitable part of life. In small amounts and under the right circumstances, stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Our bodies have automatic responses to deal with stress.

Our heartbeat and respiration may increase, blood pressure will rise, digestive reactions will change and we will have an increased production of blood sugar for energy. Also, immune and allergic systems will slow down during the body’s stress reaction. These reactions among others are very well-suited for necessary short term reactions to get us through a dangerous or tense situation.

Problems arise when we have ongoing or long term stress, which doesn’t subside immediately. Our bodies will still react in the same way and don’t have a chance to return to normal functioning. These physical reactions are not healthy or necessary in the long term.

Long term stress can lead to more frequent sickness, existing chronic illnesses can worsen and we experience all the negative ramifications of increased blood pressure. Frequent headaches, teeth grinding, chest pain, shortness of breath, increased hart rate, muscle aches, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue and insomnia are other health complications that can occur as a result of stress.

Our physical health is not the only thing negatively affected by stress. Psychologically, we can also struggle as a result. Anxiety, irritability, sadness, anger, mood swings, depression, slowed or racing thoughts as well as changes in appetite, increased use of substances, social isolation or poor performance at work and in relationships are all potential negative effects from stress.

Physical changes in the brain can also be demonstrated to result from prolonged stress and contribute to precipitating various forms of psychiatric disorders to which we might be predisposed.

With all of this in mind, it seems obvious that finding ways to minimize stress in our lives is a good idea.

Whenever possible, eliminate sources of stress. Reducing workload or extra activities and sorting out interpersonal conflicts are some ways to do this. However, in many cases, the source of stress is not something we can eliminate or change.

Still, there are several lifestyle practices that can help to maintain good physical and mental health in the midst of stress.

Healthy eating habits and regular exercise can go a long way to reduce stress and make life enjoyable. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly are less likely to get sick after stressful situations than people who do not exercise. Do not neglect yourself when life gets busy.

Learn to relax. Stretching and deep breathing exercises can be done practically anywhere and don’t take up very much time. Various forms of meditation can also help.

Get enough sleep every night. Our bodies recharge as we sleep and it is important for our health to get the recommended seven or eight hours of sleep every night.

Make time for family and friends. Your relationships will be stronger and these are the people who can support you during difficult or stressful times. Don’t neglect them.

Where there are real problems that can be solved, however, relaxation will never be as good as solving the problem. Sometimes problems are not as insurmountable as one thinks. Discussing your situation with someone, a professional counselor if necessary, may help you to see solutions where none were obvious before. It often takes courage to take the necessary steps to solve the problem but it will pay off in the long run.


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