December 23, 2003
"Stress is the complaint of our time. We hear it from everybody, so chances are we are too stressed for a whole lot of reasons. There appear to be many demands on our lives these days. The frequency of change and the pace of life seem faster," says Michael Moriarty, ACSW, an M-Works employee assistance program counselor at the University of Michigan Health System.
People are affected differently by stress. Some feel overwhelmed about lack of time, others are more irritable, and less patient and some are unable to focus well. Stress can cause body aches or a change in appetite as well as an increase in alcohol, drug or cigarette use. Stress also can lead to tiredness, fatigue and change in sleeping patterns.
"It has been proven that overstress or exposure to long periods of stress create serious health effects in terms of our cardiovascular system and blood pressure. Overstress is also linked to diabetes and various other illnesses as well," says Moriarty.
How to be "stress-fit"
By recognizing stress and our limits, we will be able to put into place different techniques or practices designed to manage it.
Have a support system
"Don't go it alone," says Moriarty. "In our culture we tend to really link our competency to each of us being able to handle our own problems and we like being independent. But this can be overdone. We don't need to be a hero about it. Take the advantage of talking to other people about what's bothering you."
Instead of simply complaining about issues, talk over a solution with family, friends or your health provider.
Exercise and leisure
Step away from your stress by setting aside time for exercise, leisure and relaxation. Don't use leisure time as a reward for completing work or chores. Build it in and make it a "must-do."
"Some people like quietness and can use relaxation exercises such as meditation very well," says Moriarty. "They like to be still and quiet; it's very refreshing and restorative. Other people instead like to be active. In those cases, physical activity such as walking, running, yoga or other exercises are very beneficial."
Whichever style is appropriate for you, the main point is to make sure you build this time for de-stressing into your life. In the long run using these small moments to ditch the stressors will protect your health from the damaging effects stress can have.
Other tips to help you cope:
Stress: affecting our body and mind
The stress response is a built-in, healthy response in all of us. The problem, though, is this response is being used too frequently and that is why we see the effects that we do, says Moriarty.
When the stress response is repeatedly used, the hormones that our body uses are always on, which cause our immune system to weaken, he says. So people who are constantly stressed usually become more susceptible to infections and sickness.
Overstress is also strongly linked to depression, Moriarty notes. Prolonged exposure to stress can trigger an initial episode of depression because our sense of competency and self-esteem are closely related to how well we are managing our lives.
"We live and work out
of a very precious mechanism, our physical and mental body, and
too often we neglect it. It's the last thing we protect,"
says Moriarty. "If you take care of your body and mind,
it will take care of you. You will have more energy, more restoration,
and more ability to handle the problems that pop up in your life."
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