How Stress Is Hurting Your Health

Plus Stress Busting Tips

stressed woman at table
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Between work, family, finances and everything in between, it's easy to feel stressed out. But all that stress can take its toll. Here's how stress is hurting your health—and what you can do about it.

Are You Stressed?

Stress is the way our bodies and minds react to something that upsets our normal balance in life, such as when you feel frightened or threatened. The problem is, your body can't tell the difference between actual danger and a tough day at work. When you're stressed out, your adrenal glands release adrenaline, a hormone that activates the body's defense mechanisms. Your heart begins to pound, your blood pressure increases, your muscles begin to tense and the pupils of your eyes start to dilate.

Often, when stressed, your heart rate increase, but a normal pulse doesn't necessarily mean you aren't stressed. Constant aches and pains, palpitations, anxiety, chronic fatigue, crying, over or under eating, frequent infections and a decrease in your sexual desire are all signs stress is wreaking havoc on your body.

Stress Can Make You Sick

Stress has been linked to a slew of health conditions, including heart disease, the number one killer of American women, and certain types of cancer. Creating some zen in your life can help reduce your likelihood of for these diseases. In addition, many women who experience PMS and menopausal symptoms will find the severity of these symptoms improved dramatically, once a reduced stress level is achieved. Untreated stress leads many people to depression, anxiety, headaches, and a host of other complaints, making reduction of stress an important factor in improving your total health.

Research shows women with children have higher levels of stress-related hormones in their blood than women without children. Does this mean women without children don't experience stress? Absolutely not! It means that women without children may not experience stress as often or to the same degree which women with children do. This means for women with children, it's particularly important to schedule time for yourself; you will be in a better frame of mind to help your children and meet the daily challenge of being a parent, once your stress level is reduced.

Kick Stress to the Curb

You can find many simple and inexpensive ways to reduce your stress level on your own. A good place to start is by eliminating artificial stress reducers such as alcohol, which can mask symptoms and even make symptoms worse. Eat a well-balanced diet which includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein and low in fat. Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine which has been shown to increase anxiety.

  • Aerobic activity such as vigorous walking is, in my opinion, the best way to reduce stress and improve overall quality of life; walk or do whatever type of exercise you feel comfortable with. You may prefer to join a health club; if you do join a health club, go often and make it your special time. Don't concern yourself with your family while you are working out; this is your time and don't let anyone interfere.
  • Go outdoors whenever possible: A little sunshine and activity can have amazing ramifications on your stress level and will enhance your entire outlook towards life. Your improved attitude will have a positive effect on everyone in your family and / or circle of friends: Things which seem overwhelming will soon become trivial matters, causing you to wonder what the predicament was. Not only will you be less stressed, you will be healthier, happier, and more energetic -- ready to face whatever obstacles come your way.
  • Aromatherapy can be tremendous help for alleviating stress. Try using five or six drops of lavender oil in a warm bath or put two or three drops on a cloth and inhale from time to time during the day. Often we reach for cup of tea to placate our aplomb. Next time, try tea made with chamomile, passionflower, valerian, or ginseng as some herbalists recommend.
  • Give yourself permission to be a 'kid' again. What did you enjoy when you were a child? Draw; paint; be creative. Play with Play-Doh, dance, or read. Play music, allow yourself freedom to express yourself without worry that you're not keeping with the image of who you are 'supposed' to be. Just relax and enjoy yourself. We all have a little child in us and it's a good idea to allow expression of the child within from time to time.
  • Don't set unrealistic for goals for yourself. Many of us set ourselves up for defeat simply by setting unrealistic goals for ourselves. For example, if you are dieting, realize you cannot lose 40 pounds in one or two months. Or maybe you are trying to reach a goal of obtaining a particular job position. Whatever your goal is, allow sufficient time to reach your goals and realize occasional setbacks may occur. If you reach your goal without any delays, you will be even happier with yourself for arriving quicker than you planned, but don't expect it. In fact, don't expect anything,. Expectations and reality are often two entirely different things.
  • Learn it is OK to say 'no' occasionally. Often, many of us feel we have to say 'yes' to everyone, every time we are asked for help and feel that we must respond in a positive fashion. But, remember, you cannot be all things to all people. You must first meet your own needs before you can truly give others what they need while at the same time keeping yourself happy. You do not have to do everything your family, friends, and others ask; of course you can help others, but first make sure you have done what is necessary to take care of yourself. Make time for yourself, your number one priority. Once your own needs are met, you will find you have more time for others. And you may find more pleasure in helping others when you don't feel that you must always put others needs before your own.

Other ways to beat stress include; deep breathing exercises, massage, guided imagery and a healthy sex life. A healthy sex life will do a great deal to reduce the stress in your life if it is with someone you are comfortable with. But if you are having relationship problems, forcing yourself to participate when you are not really happy in your relationship will probably do more to increase your stress level rather than to reduce it. So, first, you need to resolve the issues which are causing your difficulties.

If your stress is the result of a specific event such as a death in the family, your physician may prescribe anti-anxiety medication which can be highly effective for short-term stress relief, but such drugs should not be used on a continuing or long-term basis.

When you are facing an unpleasant circumstance, remember what your mother or grandmother probably told you. Take a deep breath and count to 10 before saying or doing anything. Taking a deliberate pause can be an instant tranquilizer, producing a calming effect, and allowing you extra time to reassess the situation before taking possibly regrettable actions on impulse.

If you are still experiencing stress, after trying some of these suggestions, your physician may recommend psychotherapy to help you deal with the issues which are causing your stress. See your physician anytime stress is interfering with your life to the point you are unable to work or meet the demands of your normal daily activities.

Check out these articles for more stress-busting techniques:

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Article Sources

  • Stress and Your Health.