Your Enemy: Understanding and Vanquishing Stress

Stress is a debilitating malady that afflicts both mind and body. There are several types of stress. Routine stress is a reaction to daily responsibilities and the pressures of work and family. Stress is also brought on by abrupt negative changes such as sickness, divorce or unexpected job termination. Traumatic stress occurs in situations in which you face extreme injury or death such as natural disasters, serious accidents, personal assault or war. Since career reinvention and entrepreneurship often involve considerable stress, it is imperative to be aware of what it is and how to combat it.

Symptoms of Stress

One reason stress is hard to diagnose is that many people dismiss the symptoms of stress. You put it down to having a bad day, but in reality it is your body sending out physical and emotional alarm bells. Though when things go wrong it is natural to feel down, if you feel overwhelmed and like you are losing control, watch for warning signs of stress. They include headaches, upset stomach, chest pains, muscle tension, insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness and irritability. Do not ignore such symptoms. Your body is telling you that you need some maintenance. Attend to your stress before it becomes something more serious.

Dangers of Stress

Stress is your body's natural reaction to danger. When you feel under threat, an internal alarm system is triggered. Nerve and hormonal signals prompt your adrenal glands to release a surge of adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline speeds up your heart rate and raises your blood pressure, giving you a sudden burst of energy. Cortisol alters your immune system and inhibits your digestive systems and other bodily functions. Usually, when the danger is past your hormone levels return to normal. However, when you are continually hit with stressors, your stress-response system stays active, disrupting the normal processes of your body. This brings on anxiety, depression, weight gain, problems with sleeping, heart disease and cognitive impairment. Stress is dangerous for diabetics because it raises blood sugar levels. Having diabetes or other chronic ailments is already stressful, so it is imperative that you be sensitive to how stressors in your life are affecting you.

Managing Stress

It is not always possible to make stressors in your life go away. Instead, you need to learn to cope with stress and alleviate it on an ongoing basis. If you notice you are displaying symptoms of stress, make a conscious effort to relax. Schedule down times throughout the day during which you practice stress-relieving exercises. These can include relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, yoga and meditation. Eat a healthy diet of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and lean proteins. Exercise is a great stress-buster. Go jogging, cycling or swimming, or if those activities are too strenuous, take walks in the fresh air. Spend quality time with friends and family. Reduce the impact of potentially stressful oncoming situations by planning ahead, prioritizing your work, pacing yourself and preparing in advance for major life events. No matter how much work you have to do, do not skimp on your sleep. Make sure you get six to eight hours of sleep a day, and take naps when you need them. It is important to give up bad habits like smoking and excessive alcohol and caffeine.

The main thing to remember when combating stress is to slow down and relax. Do not worry if things remain undone. Do what you can and accept whatever you cannot change. Remember that a sense of humor and a good laugh are some of your most powerful weapons against stress.

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