12/01/2011 - With holidays in full swing, days becoming shorter and to-do lists growing longer, it's likely if you're feeling frazzled. Making it worse, stress has a way of making you, well, more stressed! It creeps into your life, saps your energy, and makes you bad-tempered. Did you know that it also harms your health?
When we feel stress, we're experiencing physical and emotional reactions passed down from our ancestors—who were dealing with hazards more life threatening than the decision to host the family holiday dinner. In general, though, the threats they faced were occasional. Today, stress is nearly constant, which wears on our health.
Anxiety causes a cocktail of chemicals to spill into your blood stream. If the source of stress goes away, chemical levels subside. But if your body is constantly reacting to stress, the cumulative effects of the chemical reaction cause fatigue, irritability and an increased susceptibility to illness or disease.
Studies have linked stress to both cancer and heart attacks. It can also cause other health problems, including headaches, gastrointestinal distress, depression, anger and violence.
If tension is getting to you, talk to your doctor. He or she can suggest lifestyle changes or prescribe medication to help you manage your stress.
Learn to relax. Your health insurance plan as well as a local gym or community center may offer classes in meditation, anger management techniques and stress-reducing exercises such as yoga.
The National Mental Health Association suggests these other strategies to help reduce negative responses to stress:
• Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat a healthful diet and exercise regularly.
• Walk away from it all. Take breaks throughout your day. Go for a stroll during your lunch break. Escape with a book before you start preparing dinner. Just 10 to 20 minutes of quiet time relieves chronic stress.
• Do what you enjoy. Listen to music, enjoy a hobby or visit with friends.
• Share your feelings. Turn to friends and loved ones for support and guidance.
• Practice and prepare. Imagine ways to handle a stressful situation. "Visual rehearsal" can help you picture a situation and defuse it before it happens.
• Find perspective. Even complicated problems become more manageable when they are broken down into smaller parts. Focus on one small task. Then move on to the next. Steady progress can reduce your anxiety.
Exercise your worries away: Physical activity causes the release of endorphins, your body's very own