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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Stress Can Be Managed

Stress Can Be Managed

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wed., July 15, 2009
By Donna M. Wigand, LCSW

LAYOFFS, FORECLOSURES and other day-to-day tensions are forcing many of us to deal with levels of stress we have never dealt with before.

Feeling stressed is a normal reaction to the demands of life, but if it is not properly managed it can impair your health and leave you feeling trapped and hopeless.

Stress can be divided into two basic types: acute and chronic.

  • Acute stress is more common, less harmful and temporary. It is caused by an event from the immediate past or anticipated in the near future.
  • Chronic stress is more prolonged. It can come from work-related problems, relationship difficulties or financial troubles.

A quick self-assessment can help you determine whether stress is impairing your life.

  • Do things upset me more often? Am I easily irritated?
  • Am I losing control of important things in my life?
  • Do daily activities make me nervous or worried? Am I less confident than I was before?
  • Have I been feeling more sad or hopeless than usual?
  • Do I get tired or fatigued even on days when I've had enough rest?

Mild stress can be a useful motivator. When stress builds up, however, it can impair your physical, emotional and social well-being.

Symptoms of stress include headache, fatigue, poor concentration, feeling sad and hopeless, heart palpitations, chest pain, abdominal pain or gas, diarrhea or constipation, numb hands and/or lips, memory loss, irritability, anger and loneliness.

The most effective way to reduce stress is to eliminate sources of anxiety. Keep a diary of times when you feel most anxious or worried. Make a list for yourself of what is (or even might be) worrying you. Then make a list of what made or makes you feel good.

Next, practice these effective strategies for coping with stress:

  • Think positive. Instead of repeatedly worrying about problems, focus on the positive aspects of your life, and on how you can resolve conflicts.
  • Take a break. Taking deep breaths, counting to 10 and listening to music can give you the time you need to relax and put things into perspective.
  • Get exercise. Going for a walk, stretching or working out will improve your mood and give you new energy to address problems.
  • Get support. Find someone you trust to discuss your feelings and worries. Talking about your problems will help you feel more worthwhile and secure. Ideally, your friend will help you find the answers to your problems from within yourself, not just suggest solutions.

If these techniques don't work for you, or if your stress begins to seriously reduce your quality of life, consult with your health care provider.

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can greatly reduce stress. In some cases, antidepressant medicine may be needed, at least temporarily, to help you out of your stressed-out rut.

A balanced diet is important. Sweets, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine may give a brief illusion of relief. In the long term, though, they usually impair your ability to overcome stress.

Contra Costa residents can call the Crisis Center at 211, or the mental health access line toll-free at 888-678-7277.

If you experience chest pressure, faintness, shortness of breath, or have thoughts about suicide, call 911 immediately.

Wigand is the director of mental health for Contra Costa Health Services.

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