Have you ever found yourself with sweaty hands
on a first date or felt your heart pound during a scary
movie? Then you know you can feel stress in both
your mind and body. This automatic response
developed in our ancient ancestors as a way to protect
them from predators and other threats. Faced with
danger, the body kicks into gear, flooding the body
with hormones that elevate your heart rate, increase
your blood pressure, boost your energy, and prepare
you to deal with the problem. You probably do confront
multiple challenges every day, such as meeting deadlines,
paying bills, and juggling childcare that make your body
react the same way. As a result, your body's natural
alarm system may be stuck in the "on" position, and
that can have serious consequences for your health.
Even short-lived minor stress can have an impact. You
might get a stomachache before you have to give a
presentation, for example. More major acute stress can
have an even bigger impact. Studies have shown that
these sudden emotional stresses - especially anger - can
trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias, and even sudden death.
Although this happens mostly in people who already have
heart disease, some people don't know they have a
problem until acute stress causes a heart attack or
When stress starts interfering with your ability to live a
normal life for an extended period, it becomes even more
dangerous. The longer stress lasts, the worse it is for
both your mind and body. You might feel fatigued, unable
to concentrate, or irritable for no good reason, for example.
But chronic stress causes wear and tear on your body, too.
Chronic stress can make existing problems worse, such as
headaches. Chronic stress may also cause disease, either
because of changes in your body or the overeating, smoking,
and other bad habits people use to cope with stress. Stress
can also make it harder to recover from an illness.
Reducing your stress levels can not only make you feel
better right now, but it may also protect your health long-term.
1. Boost your positive affect (happiness, joy, contentment,
enthusiasm) by making a little time for enjoyable activities.
2. Identify what is causing your stress. Monitor your state
of mind throughout the day. If you feel stressed, write down
the cause, your thoughts, and your mood. Once you know
what is bothering you, develop a plan for addressing it. That
might mean setting more reasonable expectations for yourself
and others or asking for help with household responsibilities,
job assignments, or other tasks.
3. Build strong relationships. Relationships can serve as stress
buffers. Reach out to family members or close friends and let
them know you are having a tough time. They may be able to
offer practical assistance and support, useful ideas, or just a
4. Walk away when you are angry. Before you react, take
time to regroup by counting to 10. Then reconsider. Walking
or other physical activities can also help you work off steam.
Commit to a daily walk or other form of exercise.
5. Rest your mind. To help get the recommended 7 or 8
hours of sleep, cut back on caffeine, remove distractions such
televisions or computers from your bedroom, and go to bed
the same time each night. Activities like yoga and relaxation
exercises can not only help reduce stress but also boost
6. Get help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consult
with a psychologist who can help you learn how to manage
stress effectively. A psychologist can help you identify
situations or behaviors that contribute to your chronic stress
and then develop an action plan for changing them.
(This article was adapted from an article provided by the
American Psychological Association)