Responding to stress

By Tanya Davis | Published Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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According to the American Psychiatric Association “one-third of Americans are living with extreme stress. Stress is taking a toll on people – contributing to health problems, poor relationships and lost productivity at work.”

Some short-term stress can be positive – causing us to deal constructively with daily problems or meet challenges or deadlines. But, when stress remains long-term – chronically or continuously – it can be damaging both emotionally and physically.

What can be done about stress in our lives?

First, identify what is causing the stress. Consider whether your stressors are:

  • major or minor (ie. lost job or lost keys),
  • temporary or permanent (ie. giving a speech or a poor marriage relationship),
  • relational (ie. uncomfortable living situation or stressful work relationship), or internal (ie. unrealistic expectations or low self-esteem or self criticism).

Once you identify the cause(s), it may be easier to choose strategies to help alleviate the stress. Below are four approaches that may help.

When you need to deal with stress on the spot, try these strategies:

  • Count to 10 before you speak.
  • Take three to five slow, deep breaths.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Say “I’m sorry” if you make a mistake.
  • Begin the day by breaking bigger problems down into smaller ones.

The healthier you are, the better able you are to manage stress. Try to get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Exercise not only helps you get in shape, but it also helps you relieve pent up tension, sleep better and burn up some of the chemicals that are released with the bodily response to stress. It is also important to get enough sleep (about eight hours each night).

Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose lean meats, and eat less refined sugar, processed foods and saturated fats.

Have a healthy attitude. Most people who are resilient to stress do two important things. They focus on immediate issues, what needs to be done right now, and they have an optimistic explanatory style, assuming their troubles are temporary. “I’m tired today,” rather than the more permanent, “I’m washed up.” They’re more specific, rather than universal. “I have a bad habit” vs. “I’m a bad person.”

Find enjoyment in life. Doing things you enjoy is a natural way to fight stress. Try to find one thing to do each day that you enjoy – even if it’s just for 15 minutes.

Left alone, stress can be bad for both your physical and mental health. The time and energy you spend managing your stress will pay off in the long run.

For more information, call Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Wise County at 940-627-3341.

Tanya Davis is a Wise County Extension Agent.

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