May 1, 2009

Taking Charge of Stress

By Miriah de Matos

Everyday millions of people experience stress, but for some people it can become unbearable. When stress becomes unbearable, you may feel anxious, depressed, or irritable. You may also experience symptoms such as headaches, allergic reactions, and insomnia. Some people will try to cope by drinking excessively, smoking, or overeating. Fortunately, once you take charge of your stress, you can lead a healthy lifestyle (www.kids health.org).

Stressful situations in life such as family conflicts, separation from loved ones, working too much, or exposure to violence can lead to the symptoms associated with stress. When you experience stress frequently, the hormones begin to build up inside your body, which causes an overload. Over time, this response can lead to a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, muscle pain, and long-term health conditions including breathing and stomach problems (www.webmd.com).

Fortunately if you take the right steps, stress does not have to be harmful to your health. The American Psychiatric Association offers a number of suggestions to manage your daily stress.

The first is to define how you experience stress, so that you can identify stressful moments before they become unmanageable. One of the easiest ways to do this is to recognize where you are when you feel stressed, anxious, or irritable. For example, if you feel this way at work, then your stressors are work related. Once you identify your stressors, the next step is to identify how you cope with stress. This means finding out whether you deal with your stress by engaging in healthy behaviors, like physical activity, or unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking alcohol. So, in terms of the workplace, the question would be whether you overeat at work or take breaks every hour to stretch?

If you are relying on an unhealthy behavior like overeating to help you cope, the next step is to try and substitute this unhealthy behavior for a healthy one like exercising or breathing deeply for several minutes until you relax. This may not sound easy to do, but as long as you are aware of how you cope with stress and what needs to change, it will be easier to make this change. The improvements you make in coping with stress will bring you to the final step in stress management, which is to begin to take care of yourself.

Taking care of yourself includes such behaviors as eating nutritious foods and getting a good night’s sleep. Sometimes we forget how important taking care of ourselves is to meeting the demands of our families and jobs. To take care of yourself, start by listening to your needs and feelings and make time for activities that you enjoy doing alone or with others. Your family and friends can provide you with support and relief from your stress. It does not take much. Sometimes just having someone to talk to can make all the difference after a stressful day.

If following these tips does not help, you might want to talk to a professional such as a psychologist or even your doctor. He/she can often provide more information and suggestions for dealing with stress. (http://apahelpcenter.mediaroom.com/file.php/100/HispanicStressTipsFINAL.doc)

Stress is a part of all of our lives and will continue to be. But, if we learn to manage our stress, it will no longer interfere with our health. Once you are in control of your stress, you will be on the road to a healthier and more productive life!

Miriah de Matos is a graduate student of Public Health and Latin American studies at SDSU

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