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April is Stress Awareness Month. Stress is unavoidable, but there are things you can do to manage it, and improve the quality of your life. Following are some tips on how to understand and manage stress.

Stress, in its purest form, can be explained through the Fight-or-Flight Theory. Supported by Walter Cannon's research in 1932, this theory shows that when an organism experiences a shock or perceives a threat, it quickly releases hormones that help it to survive. In humans, as in other animals, these hormones help us to run faster and fight harder. They increase heart rate and blood pressure, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to power important muscles. They increase sweating in an effort to cool these muscles, and help them stay efficient. They divert blood away from the skin to the core of our bodies, reducing blood loss if we experience an injury. In addition, these hormones focus our attention on the threat, to the exclusion of everything else. All of this significantly improves our ability to survive life-threatening events.

Not only life-threatening events trigger this reaction. We experience it almost any time we come across something unexpected or something that frustrates our goals. When the threat is small, our response is small and we often do not notice it among the many other distractions of a stressful situation. However, if this reaction continues to happen over long periods of time, it can cause your health to deteriorate.

There are very few situations in modern working life where this response is useful. Most situations benefit from a calm, rational, controlled and socially sensitive approach.

In the short term, we need to keep this fight-or-flight response under control to be effective in our jobs. In the long term we need to keep it under control to avoid problems of poor health and burnout.

Not all stress is negative. Positive stress adds anticipation and excitement to life, and we all thrive under a certain amount of stress. Deadlines, competitions, confrontations, and even our frustrations and sorrows add depth and enrichment to our lives. Our goal is not to eliminate stress but to learn how to manage it and how to use it to help us.

Some facts about Stress:

  • 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects due to stress
  • 75-90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints or disorders
  • Stress has been linked to all the leading causes of death, including:
    • heart disease
    • cancer
    • lung ailments
    • accidents
    • cirrhosis
    • suicide
  • Nearly half of all American workers suffer from symptoms of burnout, a disabling reaction to stress on the job.
  • There are multiple factors that can lead to stress, both external and internal.

    External Factors:

    • "Fight or Flight" response to a challenging event
    • Threat to survival or health
    • Pressure at home or at work
    • An unhealthy living or working environment
    • Noise
    • Crowding
    • Pollution

    Internal Factors:

    • Anxiety over events beyond one's control
    • Hurrying through life
    • Relationship problems
    • Fatigue or feeling overworked
    • Unbalanced Diet / Too much:
      • caffeine
      • alcohol
      • sugar
      • nicotine

    There are many signs of stress. Some short-term physical symptoms include:

    • Faster heart beat
    • Increased sweating
    • Cold hands and feet
    • Feelings of nausea, or "butterflies in stomach"
    • Rapid breathing
    • Tense muscles
    • Dry mouth
    • A desire to urinate
    • Diarrhea

    Some short-term behavioral symptoms include:

    • Reduced enjoyment of work
    • Interference with clear judgment and decision making
    • Difficult situations are seen as a threat and not a challenge
    • Damaged positive mind frame and self-confidence
    • Energy is consumed by distraction, anxiety, frustration, and temper

    Some long-term symptoms include:

    • Change in appetite
    • Frequent colds
    • Asthma
    • Back and neck pain
    • Digestive problems
    • Headaches
    • Skin eruptions
    • Sexual disorders
    • Fatigue

    The effects of stress can be very damaging to your health:

    • Burn-out or breakdown
    • Depression
    • Heart Disease
    • Anxiety
    • Cancer
    • Immune system disorders
    • Hypertension

    Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce stress:

    • Relaxation techniques / deep slow breathing
    • Exercise
    • Time management
    • Listen to your favorite music
    • Play with a child or a pet
    • Nutrition (avoid caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and eat well-balanced meals)
    • Laugh
    • Positive attitudes
    • Identify the source of your stress and work to change it
    • Professional therapy

    Talk to your doctor if you feel you may be suffering from stress-related illnesses.


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