On a good day, life is wonderful. On a bad day, a day with too much to do, deadline pressures, surprise jobs thrown your way, sick children … it’s Stress City. Some stress is good for you, pushing you to complete tasks that need to be done. This article is about the other kind of stress, the stress that comes anytime you are faced with a demand, have an unpleasant experience or must do anything you don’t want to do.

Simply put, this kind of stress is bad for your body. As well as medical science knows anything, it knows that over time there is an association between stress and illness. Stress weakens your immune system, lowering your resistance to infection. Stress causes your adrenal glands to release a chemical, which in time becomes toxic to brain cells, which may damage your ability to think and recall. Decreases in blood flow to your intestinal lining makes you more susceptible to ulcers. Your risk of back disorders increases as a result of stress. Stress causes higher blood pressure and heart rates, which damage blood vessels. It also causes extra fats to be released into your vessels, which makes you more susceptible to heart attacks. Stress can even change the shape of your body, adding extra fat to your mid-section.

If you’re looking for ways to deal with your stress, its important that first you know your enemy. A lot of people think stress is intangible. As proven by its impact on your health, it’s not. Stress is a physical, hormonal and chemical event. No, you can’t hold a piece of it in your hand, anymore than you can hold a piece of sound in your hand at a concert. But just as concert sound can truly and permanently damage your hearing; stress can truly and permanently damage your health. Stress is not abstract; it’s concrete.

Much of the information available to the lay public about stress talks about all the wonderful ways in which it may be combated. Meditation, massage, yoga, relaxation techniques, exercise, etc., are commonly listed as ways in which you may reduce your stress. These are all good ideas. Some of them I practice myself for stress relief, and I certainly support their use for others who find them effective.

Those techniques will be of limited effectiveness, though, until you analyze the sources of stress in your life and decide to eliminate or modify those stressors.

Certainly the most obvious solution is to eliminate sources of stress. For instance, if you are the type who leaves for work at the last minute and then stress yourself by driving fast, cutting in and out of lanes and cursing the driving of others on the road, it may be that you simply need to leave for work 10 or 15 minutes earlier so that you don’t feel pressed. If you are having office conflicts or don’t have competent help in the office, are there things you can do to eliminate those problems? Solutions may cost money, but it may be money well spent.

If you cannot eliminate a source of stress, your next goal is to modify your response through cognitive restructuring. When you find yourself faced with a problem that normally triggers stress, instead use it as a trigger for relaxation. I know some people who calm themselves at stressful moments by closing their eyes, drawing in a deep breath and then smiling inwardly with their eyes and mouth. If that doesn’t work for you, try pushing stressful reactions away by imagining a stop (stress) sign in your mind, or by calling a friend or going for a walk.

When you find can’t seem to modify your stress, your final choice may be to eliminate it by opting completely out of the situation. You may need a different lifestyle, a different job, a different relationship. Life is too short to be stuck in something stressful. At this point, it’s time to intelligently plan how to move on to something that is healthier for your mind, body and spirit.

Regardless of which option works for you, the bottom line is always the same: You are in control of your response. It is in your power to decide how to respond to stress. One way or another, you have control over your body’s responses to stress, and therefore over your health and life as well.

Stress Busters 

  1. Don’t be preoccupied with the future or past. Learn to enjoy the moment.
  2. Find spiritual fulfillment. Belief in a higher power is particularly powerful in handling stress.
  3. Lessen input. Cut down on the amount of news you take in, the caffeine you drink and even the visual and auditory messages you absorb.
  4. Be in healthy relationships. Such relationships give us more resilience to deal with life’s stresses.
  5. Set aside time to play. Watch a movie, laugh, play a game, enter into spirited conversations. Rarely when a person lacks balance in life is it a case of too much play and too little work.