Stress is a part of life that can be managed

Learning to manage stress is a positive step to take towards enjoying a healthier, happier life. Identifying stressors and learning the techniques necessary to deal with them are the first steps.

Everyone encounters stress. The body perceives all stress as danger and reacts by entering a fight-or-flight mode. Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, breathing becomes more rapid, digestion slows, muscles tense, or we may experience a dry mouth or sweating. Stress symptoms may last for a few minutes or for days. Long term effects are felt when the body experiences long term stress. In this case, health problems may develop such as high blood pressure, muscle or joint pain, shortness of breath, or even diseases such as fibromyalgia, digestive problems or heart disease. The effect on the body is magnified when exposed to multiple stressors. We may feel that we can deal with one stress but add more to that and we often reach the tipping point. Learning to reduce stress can literally save your life!

To reduce stress, begin by identifying the cause. Stress stems from physical, environmental, and mental or emotional factors. Physical causes include anything that increases the body’s demand for energy. If your body isn’t prepared for this increased demand, you may experience muscle pain or worsening of disease symptoms such as increased shortness of breath or fatigue. Environmental stressors include variables that irk the body systems such as smoking, bad weather, or very loud noises. The joy of the holidays or a long anticipated vacation may produce the same results as frustration over the monthly budget or worry about job security.

Here are some tips for dealing with stress:

  • Recognize your body’s signals that you are becoming stressed. Do you start tightening muscles? Do you experience anxiety, nervousness or irritability? Have you noticed yourself forgetting appointments or where you placed items? Take some deep breaths or meditate for a few minutes to stop the progression of your stressed feelings.
  • Plan for stressful situations. Practice in your mind what you will say or do when the situation arises. Learn to say no!
  • Keep a schedule so you can plan around stressful events.
  • If lack of time is a cause of your stress, get up earlier in the morning or delegate some tasks to others.
  • When you notice stress building, take a nap or go to bed earlier.
  • Plan easier meals for stressful days.
  • Avoid foods that affect stress. This might include caffeine, sugar or salt.

To successfully manage stress, learn to identify stressors in your life and what symptoms you experience. As you learn to identify your body’s signals, you will become better at managing stressful situations. For more information about the effects of stress on your body contact your local MSU Extension office for information about PATH (Personal Action Toward Health), an educational series providing stress reduction techniques.

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