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Melissa A. Allen, MA, LPC, NCC

Everyone experiences stress to some degree. Stress is the body and mind’s reactions to every day demands or threats. Some cope with stress more effectively and recover from stressful events more quickly than others. The human body is designed to experience and react to stress. Stress can be both negative and positive. Stress can motivate people when in non-life-threatening situations. An example of this would be when they have an interview for a new job, exam, or competitive activity.  Another positive side of stress is it keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger. But stress becomes a problem when stressors continue without relief or periods of relaxation.

There are three different types of stress and within each there are specific stressors. 

  • Routine stress (daily responsibilities)
    • stressors can include pressures of school, work, and family
  • Sudden negative change stress
    • stressors can include illness, losing a job, or divorce
  • Traumatic stress (experienced during an event)
    • stressors can include war or assault 

When we experience stressors, our bodies produce physical and mental responses which causes symptoms. Symptoms may include feeling overwhelmed, drained, irritable, impatient with people including snapping or being short as well as aggressive. Procrastination, worrying more than usual, difficulty concentrating and struggling to make decisions are other internal symptoms. 

Stress can also cause physical distress including aches and pains. Headaches as well as sore eyes are among the top reported consequences. Muscle tension or jaw clenching are common along with digestive problems. Indigestion, constipation, or diarrhea are more specific stomach issues. 

Stress management training can help you deal with stressors in a healthier way. 

The most basic way to diffuse stress is to change your thinking of specific situations so that you no longer see it as stressful.  Learning and practicing mindfulness techniques to change the stress mindset also enhances performance and productivity. 

  • Stay positive and practice gratitude, acknowledging the good parts of your day or life.
  • At the end of each day, take a moment to think about what you’ve accomplished 
  • Set goals for your day, week, and month. Narrowing your view will help you feel more in control
  • Accept that you can’t control everything. Find ways to let go of worry about situations you cannot change.
  • Learn to say “no” to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed. 

Another fundamental of stress management is maintaining your physical health. 

  • Healthy diet
  • 7-8 hours of sleep each night
  • Exercise regularly
  • Minimize your use of caffeine, alcohol, and screen time 
  • Stay socially connected
  • Self-care 
  • Relaxation techniques (meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation)

While stress is a normal part of life, too much stress is clearly harmful to your physical and mental well-being. Consider talking to a therapist or your healthcare provider about your worries. Seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, or are using drugs or alcohol more frequently because of stress.

Gentle reminder: Everyone goes through stress. It’s natural and normal to be stressed sometimes. Expectations of a stress-free life are unreasonable.