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September 2012
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Understanding Stress

Get your worries under control

Maybe you’ve had headaches or stomach pain. Or you’ve found yourself snapping at family members and tossing and turning at night, unable to fall asleep.

The cause of all these different symptoms could be the same problem — stress. Not only can stress result in a number of short-term issues like the ones above, if left unchecked, it can also do long-term damage to your health.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s way of reacting to a potentially dangerous situation. The rush of adrenaline that accompanies your body’s stress response is good news out in the wilderness where you might need a burst of energy to outrun a bear, according to the Mayo Clinic. But in a modern environment when the source of stress is the evening commute or work pressure, that same physical response can be harmful, particularly when it is chronic.

Chronic stress can harm your body and produce numerous aches and pains, including the following:

  • Back pain
  • Anxiety
  • Bowel changes
  • Jaw pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

Recognizing stress

So, how do you know when you’re too stressed out? The following are some signs to look for, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

  • You feel tense. When your body is stressed, you’ll feel tightness in your neck, back and shoulders. Pay attention to your body so you can recognize this symptom.
  • You’re experiencing a life change. Stress is often triggered by life changes, such as a job loss, a new child, getting married or financial problems. Look for signs of stress during these times.
  • You’ve gained or lost weight. Weight loss or weight gain are common when a person is stressed.
  • You feel helpless or out of control. According to the Cleveland Clinic, when a person is stressed they may feel like events are catastrophic and unmanageable.

Take control of stress

If these sound like symptoms you're experiencing, it’s time to take action. There are a number of things you can do to manage chronic stress, according to The National Institute of Mental Health.

First, it’s important to take care of yourself physically. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating properly and exercising. It’s also important to focus on your mental well-being. Look to friends and family as a support system or seek out a mental health professional. You can also take time to do things you enjoy, such as listening to music, writing poetry or taking a long walk on the beach, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And practice some relaxation skills, such as deep breathing or meditation.

If you recognize and learn how to manage stress, you can help prevent it from taking a physical and mental toll on your body.

For further reading

Check out the following resources for more information on handling stress:

  • The Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com)
  • The Cleveland Clinic (http://my.clevelandclinic.org)
  • The National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov)

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