National Consumers League


NCL Health Issues

Dealing with stress

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Stress is a normal part of everyday life, and it can be both good and bad. It can help a person survive threatening situations by preparing the body for defensive action. The resulting biological changes — a quickened pulse, sharpened senses, tensed muscles — are “fight-or-flight” responses shared by all humans. “Good” stress can stimulate creativity, endurance, and productivity. But prolonged stress can increase the risk of personal injury or disease.


Danger Zones

Too much stress has been linked to a number of chronic health problems, such as heart disease, muscle and joint conditions, and mental health problems. There are three stress danger zones:

  • Unrelenting or Sustained Stress. If the body is kept in a constant state of high alert — with the attending biological changes in full force — its systems will become fatigued, damaged, and unable to repair themselves.
  • Lack of Control. Stress can be compounded by a sense of hopelessness when it involves events or situations that are beyond one’s control. It can be especially debilitating when the stress is recurrent or sustained over a long period.
  • Stress Addiction. Stress can be addictive. For some people, stress feels normal and right. In its absence, these people feel dissatisfied, bored, or unable to relax. Such individuals may, over time, no longer recognize that they are “stressed.”

Stress-Related Ailments

The art of stress management is to allow stress to be a stimulant, not a lifestyle. When stress starts getting out of control, stress-related ailments arise:

  • Short temper
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Insomnia or interrupted sleep cycles (frequent waking)
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Relationship or sexual problems
  • Headaches
  • Upset or burning stomach or diarrhea
  • Muscle tension, twitching or trembling, or dizziness
  • Rapid breathing or irregular heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing

Common Causes of Stress

The top two sources of stress among American adults are work and family. Common causes of stress include:

  • Actual danger (body goes into survival mode
  • Emotional distress (such as grief or depression)
  • Physical stress (such as medical illness or too little sleep)
  • Mental stress (overwork and over commitment)

Many other common things can contribute to stress, including:

  • Some prescription medications (such as antidepressants, thyroid medications)
  • Some over-the-counter medications (such as cold remedies, decongestants, appetite suppressants)
  • Some herbal supplements and remedies
  • Caffeine
  • Withdrawal from substances (such as caffeine and nicotine)
  • Substance dependence (including alcohol)
  • Poor diet (such as deficiency of vitamin B12)
  • Thyroid problems (particularly hyperthyroidism)
  • Low blood sugar

Five Stress Reduction Techniques

Three in five adult Americans say stress has slowed them down and affected their social, family, work, and community activities. So, what’s the good news? Just as there are many causes and symptoms of stress, there are a lot of techniques, activities, and lifestyle changes that can help reduce stress. Here are a few:

  1. Exercise. Exercise, especially aerobic movement, is a great way to release tension and stress. Stress management techniques, such as biofeedback, yoga, and tai chi, are also excellent ways to treat and reduce the physical symptoms of stress. Try massage therapy, aromatherapy, or meditation. Stretching and controlled breathing can also reduce tension.
  2. Talk. Take a break from the stress and talk out your problems with a trusted listener. Sharing burdens with a loved one helps reduce your load, even if just psychologically.
  3. Organize. Prevent stress by staying on top of your responsibilities. Reduce your commitments if that’s what it takes to keep your schedule under control. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and don’t force yourself to multi-task if it’s stressing you out or the tasks are suffering for it. And remember to save time for fun. Mark your calendar if you have to.
  4. Commit. Treat your body right: eat a healthy diet, take a multi-vitamin, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and avoid alcohol and other Legal: illegal drugs that may contribute to overall lack of health.
  5. Escape. When nothing else seems to work, it’s OK to escape the source of stress. Whether it’s taking a short break from the stressful task at hand, or treating yourself to a well-deserved vacation, getting physically away from the stress center will help you mentally remove yourself as well.


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