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Stress management

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension.

Information

Emotional stress usually occurs in situations people consider difficult or challenging. People may feel stressed in different situations.

Physical stress is a physical reaction of the body to various triggers. The pain experienced after surgery is an example of physical stress. Physical stress often leads to emotional stress, and emotional stress often occurs in the form of physical stress (e.g., stomach cramps).

Stress management involves controlling and reducing the tension that occurs in stressful situations by making emotional and physical changes. The degree of stress and the desire to make the changes will determine how much improvement takes place.

ASSESSING STRESS

Attitude: A person's attitude can influence whether or not a situation or emotion is stressful. A person with a negative attitude will often report more stress than would someone with a positive attitude.

Diet: A poor diet puts the body in a state of physical stress and weakens the immune system. As a result, a person can be more likely to get infections. A poor diet can mean making unhealthy food choices, not eating enough, or not eating on a normal schedule.

This form of physical stress also decreases the ability to deal with emotional stress, because not getting the right nutrition may affect the way the brain processes information.

Physical activity: Not getting enough physical activity can put the body in a stressed state. Physical activity has many benefits, including promoting a feeling of well-being.

Support systems: Almost everyone needs someone in their life they can rely on when they are having a hard time. Having little or no support makes stressful situations even more difficult to deal with.

Relaxation: People with no outside interests, hobbies, or other ways to relax may be less able to handle stressful situations. Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night also helps people cope with stress.

AN INDIVIDUAL STRESS MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

  • Find the positive in situations, and don't dwell on the negative.
  • Plan fun activities.
  • Take regular breaks.

Physical activity:

  • Start a physical activity program. Most experts recommend 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week.
  • Decide on a specific type, amount, and level of physical activity. Fit this into your schedule so it can be part of your routine.
  • Find a buddy to exercise with -- it is more fun and it will encourage you to stick with your routine.
  • You do not have to join a gym -- 20 minutes of brisk walking outdoors is enough.

Nutrition:

  • Eat foods that improve your health and well-being. For example, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat.
  • Use the food guide plate to help you make healthy food choices.
  • Eat normal-sized portions on a regular schedule.

Social support:

  • Make an effort to socialize. Even though you may feel tempted to avoid people when you feel stressed, meeting friends usually helps people feel less stressed.
  • Be good to yourself and others.

Relaxation:

  • Learn about and try using relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, listening to music, or practicing yoga or meditation. With some practice, these techniques should work for you.
  • Listen to your body when it tells you to slow down or take a break.
  • Make sure to get enough sleep. Good sleep habits are one of the best ways to manage stress.
  • Take time for personal interests and hobbies.

RESOURCES

If these stress management techniques do not work for you, there are professionals, such as licensed social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, who can help. Schedule time with one of these mental health professionals to help you learn stress management strategies, including relaxation techniques. Support groups of various types are also available in most communities.

Updated: 10/23/2012

A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Fred K. Berger, MD, Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, California (3/7/2012).


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