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Stress and Distress
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Everybody has stress factors. That’s part of life. It’s feelings of distress (a negative reaction to stress factors) that threaten good health. Unmanaged stress is the most common cause of ill health in the civilized world. Reactions to stress can produce a plethora of physical symptoms including headache, stomachache, hair loss, hives, and blood pressure and weight change.

There are two main types of stress factors–external and internal. External stressors are things over which you have little control, like your boss or your relatives. Internal (or self-generated) stressors, on the other hand, have to do with things like lifestyle choices and mindset. These are factors that you can, fortunately, choose to change.

Dealing with distress includes identifying stress factors, avoiding negative methods of reacting, and learning healthy ways of avoiding, altering or adapting to stress factors. First, figure out what you are doing (or not doing) that causes you distress. If you have trouble identifying stressors, try keeping a journal for a few weeks. After you’ve identified your stressors, look at how you react to them. Common methods include losing your temper, burying yourself with work, over or under eating, excessive sleeping, smoking and drinking. All these reactions cause more problems.

Since stressors affect everyone differently we must each find an effective means of management that fits our unique needs. However, the basic foundation for all stress management is the same: realizing that you can (and must) control your thoughts, choices and lifestyle. Getting to the root cause of distress will not only relieve current symptoms but prevent recurrences.

In his article "Stress Management for Patient and Physician", Dr. David Posen offers the following tips as part of a healthy stress management plan. (Consult your physician before making any major lifestyle changes.)

Healthy Stress Management Plan

1. Decrease or discontinue caffeine. Gradually wean yourself to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

2. Exercise regularly. Nothing beats aerobic exercise as a means of draining away the “fight or flight” adrenaline produced by stressful encounters.

3. Learn to relax. While exercise dissipates stress, relaxation neutralizes it. Balance work with leisure. Pace yourself. Meditate.

4. Get adequate sleep. People who are tired don’t cope well. Know your sleep requirements (average is 7-8 hours per night, but anything between 6-9 hours is considered normal). If they work for you, "power naps" can be life savers.

5. Cultivate realistic expectations. Examine your thought patterns and beliefs. Adjusting your mental outlook can make a big difference, especially if you can’t change your circumstances.

6. Apply a healthy dose of humor. Laughter is a wonderful gift. Seeing the funny side of things can greatly reduce tension.

In the end, stress management is all about taking charge of your thoughts, emotions, environment and personal schedule. Mastering this will help you achieve your goals for a balanced life, including time for work, relationships and fun. It will also give you the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet life’s challenges head on.

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By Brenda Dickerson. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Sources: www.mentalhealth.com and www.helpguide.org

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