Stress basics

Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever-increasing demands of life. Surveys show that many Americans experience challenges with stress at some point during the year.

In looking at the causes of stress, remember that your brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones to fuel your capacity for a response. This has been labeled the "fight-or-flight" response.

Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop stress of modern life means that your alarm system rarely shuts off.

That's why stress management is so important. Stress management gives you a range of tools to reset your alarm system.

Without stress management, all too often your body is always on high alert. Over time, high levels of stress lead to serious health problems. Don't wait until stress has a negative impact on your health, relationships or quality of life. Start practicing a range of stress management techniques today.

Stress relief

Do you know anyone who isn't at times stressed out these days? The pace of modern life makes stress management a necessary skill for everyone. Many people juggle multiple responsibilities, work, home life, caregiving and relationships. Learning to identify problems and implement solutions is the key to successful stress reduction.

The first step in successful stress relief is deciding to make stress management an ongoing goal, and to monitor your stress level.

Once you start monitoring your stress level, the next step is identifying your stress triggers. When or under what situations do you experience the most stress? Some causes of stress are easy to identify, such as job pressures, relationship problems or financial difficulties. But daily hassles and demands, such as commuting, arranging child care or being overcommitted at work, also can contribute to your stress level.

Positive events also can be stressful. If you got married, started a new job and bought a new house in the same year, you could have a high stress level. While negative events in general are more stressful, be sure to also assess positive changes in your life.

Once you've identified your stress triggers, you can start thinking about strategies for dealing with them. Identifying what aspect of the situation you can control is a good starting point.

For example, if you have a difficult time falling asleep because you're stressed out, the solution may be as easy as turning off the TV when the evening news is too distressing. Other times, such as high demands at work or when a loved one is ill, you may only be able to change how you react to the situation.

And don't feel like you have to figure it out all on your own. Seek help and support from family and friends. You may want to ask them what stress-relief techniques have worked well for them.

And many people benefit from daily practice of stress-reduction techniques, such as deep breathing, massage, tai chi or yoga. Many people manage stress through practicing mindfulness in meditation or being in nature.

And remember to maintain a healthy lifestyle to help manage stress — eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Having a healthy lifestyle will help you manage periods of high stress.

Stress won't disappear from your life. And stress management isn't an overnight cure. But with ongoing practice and incorporation of resiliency into your lifestyle, you can learn to manage your stress level and increase your ability to cope with life's challenges.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques are an essential part of stress management. If you're an overachiever, you may put relaxation low on your priority list. Don't shortchange yourself. Everyone needs to relax and recharge.

Relaxation is invaluable for maintaining your health and well-being, and repairing the toll that stress takes on your mind and body.

Almost everyone can benefit from learning relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques can help to slow your breathing and to focus your attention on the here and now.

Common relaxation techniques include meditation, tai chi and yoga. But there are more-active ways of achieving relaxation. For example, walking outdoors or participating in a sports activity can be relaxing and help reduce stress.

It doesn't matter which relaxation technique you choose. What matters is that you select a technique that works for you and that you practice achieving relaxation regularly.

Apr. 08, 2014