Understanding and Managing Stress

One of the biggest and yet most avoidable medical conditions is adverse stress. Every year, stress contributes to the poor health and even deaths of millions of people around the world. There is little doubt that excessive stress over a long period of time will have a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing.

However, stress is also one of the easiest to treat and maintain if you are aware of the symptoms and avoid putting yourself in situation that create too much stress. The truth is that a little stress every now and then is actually a good thing, but too many people allow stress to weigh in on their lives to the point where there very health is put into danger.

What is Stress? 

Stress is a natural reaction of your mind and body when faced with a harmful situation. Whenever you feel threatened, there is a chemical reaction that takes place which heightens the senses and amps up your body to avoid potential injury. You probably have felt it when driving your vehicle and faced a potential accident or feeling threatened and feeling your body react in a very quick manner to the danger.

The activation of this chemical will increase your heart rate, quicken your breathing, tighten up the muscle and cause your blood pressure to rise. In short term situations where you react to potential danger, the release of this particular chemical is a very good thing. However, when it is being released over time due to anxiety or other stress-inducing situations, then it may create serious consequences that will threaten your health.

How Stress Affects your Health 

There are a number of ways that stress can negatively affect your health when it occurs over a long period of time.

  • Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke
  • Obesity, sexual dysfunction, and menstrual issues
  • Anxiety, depression and disorders of the personality
  • Skin and hair issues including acne, eczema and even permanent loss of hair
  • Gastrointestinal issues including gastritis, irritable colon and ulcerative colitis

Left unchecked, stress can cause all of these issues and more which greatly affect your health. Plus, stress can lower the resistance of the immune system which makes the person more vulnerable to disease and infection. The sheer number of stress-related issues is considerable and around the world there are millions of people who may be putting their life at risk due to abnormal amounts of stress lasting for a long period of time and not even fully understand what is happening to them.

Symptoms of Stress

The symptoms are sometimes difficult to detect because they are different for everyone to a certain degree. However, the range of symptoms can be broken down into four basic types;

  • Behavior
  • Cognitive
  • Emotional
  • Physical

Behavioral symptoms include procrastination, changes in appetite, fidgeting, and increased use of alcohol, smoking and the like. Cognitive symptoms are demonstrated by inability to focus, worrying constantly, being pessimistic and using poor judgment. Emotional symptoms include feeling agitated or frustrated, having difficulty in relaxing, and low self-esteem. Physical symptoms include headaches, low energy, upset stomach, insomnia, aches and pains, and dry mouth.

However, it must be noted that stress can manifest itself in many other ways, but all of them have the common denominator of being linked to undergoing stressful situations at work, in the home or other places where it will not let up. It should be understood that it is not the situation itself that is the cause, but rather the reaction that is building up the chemical reaction in the body that over time will cause damage to their health.

Fortunately, there are many effective ways to reduce the amount of stress being felt and while it will not entirely go away, it can be held to manageable levels.

Four Ways to Reduce Stress

There are actually a number of ways that you can address the effects of stress and minimize it in your life. By taking a few moments from your day, you can break up the chain of stress that would only build over time.

Exercise: This is perhaps the best way to reduce stress as it not only prevents it from building up, but it will also strengthen your body so that you are less affected. Physical activity in general is a way to burn off stress and provide you with positive relief in a healthy way. In addition, exercising actually activates the chemical in a positive manner which has less of a detrimental effect.

Meditation: Many people use a few minutes of meditation each day to calm down and focus on one thing that strips away the stress they normally feel. Daily meditation can have a powerful effect when it is used at the end of the work day and even before to break the cycle of stress before it becomes a real issue.

Breathing: A part of the meditation process, by taking a few moments to focus on breathing it can greatly reduce the stress that is felt. A combination of meditation and exercise, breathing exercises have a positive effect on relieving stress.

Take Breaks: Generally speaking, it is better to take a two or three short breaks rather than one long one to get your mind off your troubles. When you take a break, pull away from the desk or put yourself outside the task that is causing you stress and relax. By breaking up the stress through little breaks, you can stave off the long term negative effects.

Overall, stress is one of the most problematic issues that people face on a daily basis which affects their health. By taking action through meditation, exercise, breathing techniques, breaks or other activities that stop the buildup of stress, you can greatly reduce the chances of it having a negative effect on your health. It is important to remember that you cannot eliminate stress, but you can bring it down to manageable levels which will improve your overall health and wellbeing.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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