Contributors to this article:

What is Stress?

Stress is the emotional and physical  way in which we respond to pressure.

Stress can cause both mental and physical symptoms. The effects of stress are different for different people.

The mental (emotional) symptoms of stress include:

  • Tension
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling excessively tired
  • Trouble sleeping

The physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Dry mouth
  • A pounding heart
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stomach upset
  • Headache
  • Frequent urination
  • Sweating palms
  • Tight muscles that may cause pain and trembling

It’s almost impossible to live without some stress. And most of us wouldn’t want to, because it gives life some spice and excitement. But if stress gets out of control, it may harm your health, your relationships, and your enjoyment of life.

Examples of “overload” situations are common in today’s world:

  • You and your spouse both work full time while you are raising your family. At the same time, your parents are retired, in ill health, and are dependent on your help with shopping and running errands.
  • You are a single person living alone, and your salary isn’t rising as fast as the rate of inflation. It’s getting harder each month to pay the bills.
  • You are a divorced parent and share the custody of your children with your former spouse. But the friction between the two of you on matters concerning the children is becoming more bitter and more frequent.
  • The expectations and competition at your workplace is becoming fierce. You find yourself coming in early, staying late, and taking on more work than you can handle.

Managing stress involves learning about:

  • How stress affects the mind and body
  • How to identify the warning signs of stress
  • How to develop good stress-management techniques
  • When to seek professional help
Nice To Know:

Many addictions are linked to a stressful lifestyle, such as overeating, smoking, drinking, and drug abuse. These are used as an escape or a temporary way of “switching off” – but they do not address the underlying problem.


Facts about stress

  • According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, two-thirds of office visits to family doctors are for stress-related symptoms.
  • Almost everyone experiences events that they find difficult to cope with. In a recent poll, 89 percent of people said they had experienced serious stress in their lives.
  • According to one study, middle-aged men under severe stress who lacked emotional support were five times more likely to die within seven years than those who had the same amount of stress but had close personal ties.
  • A recent study indicated that stress-management programs may reduce the risk of heart problems, including heart attack, by up to 75 percent in people with heart disease.
  • Stress-related mental disorders have been called the fastest-growing occupational (work-related) disease in the U.S.


What Causes Stress?

We may think of stressful events as unpleasant ones, such as losing a job or having difficulties at home or at school. But changes for the better can also cause stress, like a new baby, a wedding, and a new house.

In an ideal world, maybe we could get away from stressful situations, or change them. Too often we can’t do that – but we can learn to control our response to those situations. And we can develop techniques that will reduce the effects of stress on our mental and physical health.

Here are some different life events that are identified as stressful. They are rated on the “Holmes-Raye” scale, which scores them according to the stress they cause (the higher the number, the greater the stress).

  • Death of a spouse – 100 points
  • Divorce – 73 points
  • Marriage – 50 points
  • Pregnancy – 40 points
  • Buying a house – 31 points
  • Christmas – 12 points

Nice To Know:

Job-related stress is extremely common. According to the Jobs Rated Almanac, the five most stressful jobs are:

  1. President of the United States
  2. Firefighter
  3. Senior corporate executive
  4. Race car driver
  5. Taxi driver

The five least stressful jobs, according to the Jobs Rated Almanac, are:

  1. Medical records technician
  2. Janitor
  3. Forklift operator
  4. Musical instrument repairer
  5. Florist

What’s Stressful For You?

What’s stressful for you may be quite different from what’s stressful to your best friend, your spouse, or the person next door. For example:

  • Some people enjoy speaking in public; others are terrified.
  • Some people are more productive under deadline pressure; others are miserably tense.
  • Some people are eager to help family and friends through difficult times; others find it very stressful.
  • Some people feel comfortable complaining about bad service in a restaurant; others find it so difficult to complain that they prefer to suffer in silence.
  • Some people may feel that changes at work represent a welcome opportunity; others worry about whether they’ll be able to cope.

Nice To Know:

Q: Are some people more vulnerable to stress than others?

A: Yes. Personality type plays a role in reaction to stress. For example, people who drive themselves hard and are impatient (sometimes called Type A personalities) may be more at risk for stress-related physical problems. Certain occupations, such as law enforcement or air traffic control, are clearly more stressful than others. In addition, people with a personal or family history of mental illness may be affected more by stress.

What Are Your Personal Signs Of Stress?

People react to stress in different ways. Once you identify your own signs of stress, they can serve as your personal early warning system.

Think of yourself as a car that’s equipped with lights and gauges to warn you if any problems are developing. If you keep an eye on the gauges and catch the trouble early, the problem may be easy to fix. If you ignore the warning signs, you may be in for a major repair job.

You should assess yourself for four types of stress signs:

  • Changes in body functions and physical health
  • Changes in emotions and feelings
  • Changes in behavior
  • Changes in thoughts

Use these checklists to identify your own signs of stress. There is space on the checklists for a second opinion, because people close to us may notice changes that we are not aware of.

Changes in body functions and physical health

Do you get more:

Are you having this sign of stress?

Has some one else noticed you have this sign?



Muscle tension


Nervous stomach


Breathing problems


Frequent urination






Changes in emotions and feelings

Do you feel more:

Are you having this sign of stress?

Has some one else noticed you have this sign?











Changes in behavior

Are there changes in how much you:

Are you having this sign of stress?

Has some one else noticed you have this sign?



Eat (too much or too little)


Want sex (less or more than before)


Drink alcohol


Use drugs


Changes in how you think

Are you finding it harder to:

Are you having this sign of stress?

Has some one else noticed you have this sign?

Remember things




Look on the bright side


Do you find yourself feeling:





Now go over the lists, and pick out the signs of stress that you consider the most important – the ones that are really interfering with the way you function and enjoy life. Then mark on the next chart whether they are related to your body, your feelings, your behavior, or your thoughts.

Your main signs of stress:


















What you’ve recorded on these charts are your personal early warning signs of stress. When they occur, it’s a sign that you should practice relaxation techniques to help keep stress from overwhelming you physically and emotionally.

How Does Stress Affect The Body?

To understand what stress does to us, imagine you lived tens of thousands of years ago, at a time when humans were threatened by hungry animals such as saber-toothed tigers and wolves. Our caveman ancestors had to be able to react instantly, either by fighting the beasts or running away.

So humans evolved the ability to respond to a stressful situation instantly, by preparing the body for “fight or flight.” Under sudden stress, you will get a burst of exceptional strength and endurance, as your body pumps out stress hormones:

  • Your heart speeds up
  • Blood flow to your brain and muscles increases up to 400 percent
  • Your digestion stops (so it doesn’t use up energy that’s needed elsewhere)
  • Your muscle tension increases
  • You breathe faster, to bring more oxygen to your muscles

Sometimes we can still benefit from this “fight or flight” response – like the case of a mother whose child was pinned under a concrete slab during a tornado. Under stress, she found the strength to lift the huge slab with her bare hands, even though it later took three men to move it.

But much of the time in modern life, the “fight or flight” response won’t help. Yet those stress hormones still flood your system, preparing you for physical action. And if you are under stress frequently, it can harm your physical health.

How Stress Can Hurt Us

It has been estimated that two-thirds of all visits to physicians are for stress-related problems. Recent evidence indicates that the physical changes associated with stress may contribute to the leading causes of death – heart disease and cancer.

The effects of stress include the following:

  • Stress can cause chronic fatigue, digestive upsets, headaches, and back pain.
  • Stress can affect the blood cells that help you fight off infection, so you are more likely to get colds and other diseases.
  • Constant stress can increase blood pressure and can increase the risk for stroke.
  • Stress can increase the danger of heart attacks, particularly if you are often angry and mistrustful.
  • Stress can make an asthma attack worse.
  • Stress triggers behaviors that contribute to death and disability, such as smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, and overeating.
  • Stress can lead to diminished sexual desire and an inability to achieve orgasm.
  • Stress makes it harder to take other steps to improve health, such as giving up smoking or making changes in diet.

Dealing With Stress

Here are some of the best ways to manage stress.

The TARP method. This technique has been proven effective for many. A tarp is a protective cover thrown over something – a car or boat, for example – to protect it from the elements. Likewise, the TARP method offers a form of protection, too – protection against the distressing and sometimes harmful effects of stress.

The TARP method teaches simple techniques that can be used any time, anywhere, to control your response to stressful situations. It consists of four steps:

In addition to the TARP method, other activities and methods also can help manage stress.

“Tune in”

Tuning in is important, because if you don’t tackle your stress early, it can interfere with your sense of well being and your health almost before you know it. And the effects of stress often get worse as time goes on.

Whenever you notice yourself feeling the beginnings of stress – for example, when you feel irritable, tense, distracted, or fatigued – scan yourself for signs of stress.

How-To Information:

Follow these four steps to scan yourself for signs of stress:

1. Scan yourself for physical signs of stress, starting with your head and working down. For example:

  • Do you have muscle tension?
  • Do you have sweaty palms?
  • Do you have rapid breathing or rapid pulse?

2. Scan your behavior for signs of stress. For example:

  • Are you pacing or fidgeting?
  • Is your voice too tense, too loud or too quiet?

3. Scan your emotions, remembering some feelings that may be in the background. For example:

  • Do you feel nervous, moody, depressed?
  • Do you feel frustrated?
  • Do you feel lonely?

4. Scan your thoughts and thinking patterns. For example:

  • Are your thoughts always turning to your worries?
  • Are you having trouble with concentration or memory?

Learning to spot signs of stress instantly can take practice. But if you make a point of scanning your body, behavior, feelings, and thoughts regularly, it will get easier.

Nice To Know:

Some people may find that a single sign will always tip them off that they are under stress. For example, they may notice that they always start to sweat, or tap a foot, or talk fast. Other people may have a “menu” of warning signs, any one of which could alert them to the beginning of stress.


Once you know how to “tune in” to your signs of stress, you will be better able to analyze the situations that are stressful to you. These “stressors,” as they are called, could be either external or internal.

External stressors are things and events outside your body that can make you feel threatened or out of control. For example:

  • Physical irritants like noise, pollution, heat, or humidity
  • Work demands or conditions
  • Frightening events, like narrowly escaping a traffic accident
  • Social or family demands, changes, or problems

Internal stressors result from one’s own attitudes and thinking patterns. For example:

  • Do you always talk to yourself with words like “should, must, and ought?”
  • Do you feel like a failure if you are late, or if things don’t go as planned?
  • Do you have “me last” syndrome, feeling you have to look after everyone else’s needs before you think of your own?
  • Do you feel worthless unless everyone likes you all the time?
  • Are you guilty of “awful-izing,” which means always expecting the worst? For example, if family members are late, do you often imagine they are injured or dead?

Need To Know:

Sometimes, your body itself can cause stress. For example, it is stressful to have to live with constant backache or other nagging sources of pain. Or, if you are not sleeping well (perhaps because of stress), you may be more stressed than ever the next day because you are so tired.

How-To Information:

A stress diary can be helpful in the analyzing stage. For one week, write down all the stressors you can identify. Don’t leave anything out. Here’s an example:


7:30 am

mad at Jimmy, too slow getting off to school

8:00 am

traffic jam; thinking about mistake I made yesterday in Peterson proposal

8:30 am

too much work; John keeps on giving me more

9:30 am

worried about cost of fixing car

10:05 am

tense about making the phone call to Jimmy’s school

10:20 am

terrible noise from street-repair crew; headache

When you have about a week’s worth of diary entries, study them. See which of them are caused by external events (for example, other people making you late) and which are mostly caused by your own way of thinking or feeling (for example, you are worried about something that may never happen).

In some cases, you may find that stress is caused by a combination of internal and external factors. For example, you might be worried about the cost of fixing the car, and make it worse by blaming yourself for not earning more money.

Sometimes, just by keeping a stress diary you will be able to see solutions to problems that have been bothering you. For example:

  • If the commute is a major source of stress, try a different way of getting to work.
  • If you are worried about your future at work, discuss this with your supervisor; you may find your worries are groundless.
  • If you are always rushed, you may be able to work out better ways to manage your time.
  • If your children are upsetting you at a certain time of day, have a family conference and agree on a different way of doing things.

Unfortunately, we often cannot simply remove the cause of our stress. But we can change the way we deal with it, both in the short term (as “first-aid”) and in the long term (developing a stress-resistant lifestyle).


“Responding” in the days of early man meant fighting the source of stress or running away from it. Your body will still produce a physical “alarm response” that pumps stress hormones through your body, tensing your muscles and speeding up your heart. This “alarm response” in most cases doesn’t do us any good – and it can be harmful.

You can learn to turn off the alarm response and regain control. You can learn to respond calmly, and deal actively and positively with your stress, whether it is caused by outside or internal factors.

Four useful techniques for responding calmly are:

1. Time out. A brief time out is the simplest possible approach to stress:

  • Stop the activity (or the conversation) that was causing you stress.
  • If you can move away, go to another room, or go for a short walk.
  • If you can’t move away, count to 10 silently before you speak again.

2. Breathing. You can often tell if people are under stress because of the way they are breathing. For example, customs officers have noticed that smugglers are the people taking fast, shallow breaths. If you learn to control your breathing, it will help you regain control over the effects of stress.

  • Watch babies breathing; their abdomens expand when they breathe in.
  • Watch a tense adult breathing; there may be no movement of the abdomen. All the work is being done by the chest.

Abdominal breathing can be very soothing, because it slows you down. It is also efficient, bringing a good supply of oxygen to your brain. Prepare for stressful times by practicing your breathing now:

  • Check your breathing pattern by putting one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. If your lower hand moves and your top hand does not, you are doing abdominal breathing. But if your top hand moves and your bottom one does not, you are doing chest breathing.
  • To do abdominal breathing, get your stomach relax. Breathe in deeply, then breathe all the air out. Let your lungs fill with air again naturally, while your stomach expands.
  • Practice this “belly breathing” whenever you have spare time (for example, while you are driving).
  • Whenever you are stressed, worried, or tense, use your breathing to help calm yourself down. Take a deep breath and quietly let it go out completely, then let your abdomen expand as the air comes back into your lungs. Keep noticing your abdominal breathing for another few breaths.

For a variation on this breathing technique, try “10-to-one countdown” breathing:

  • Start with abdominal breathing, letting all the breath out and then allowing your abdomen to expand as your lungs fill up again.
  • When you breathe out again, say “10,” letting go of tension as if it is being carried out of your body with the air.
  • Next time you breathe out, say “nine,” and so on, all the way down to “one.”
  • When you get to “one,” start again.
  • Each time you breathe out, tell yourself you are letting go of tension.
  • Many people repeat this sequence slowly for a period of 15 to 20 minutes. They find that with each new countdown, they reach a deeper level of relaxation.

When we are under stress, we often feel things are happening too fast. Another technique, called slow-down breathing, can help you get settled down and in control. It starts with abdominal breathing, and uses cue words to help you focus and clear your mind. Examples of cue words are:

  • As you breathe in, silently say “calm”
  • As you breathe out, silently say “smiling”
  • As you breathe in, say “present”
  • As you breathe out, say “now”

Practice breathing techniques for five or 10 minutes until you get the feel of it, then again several times a day for a few moments. Then it will be instantly ready to use as a “mini-tranquilizer” whenever you notice yourself starting to feel tense or out of control.

3. Progressive muscle relaxation. This technique will help you get rid of the muscle tension that is a major sign of uncontrolled stress, and which can lead to headaches, back pain, and muscle pulls. It is based on the principle that muscles go to a deeper level of relaxation after they have been tensed.

  • Lie on the floor or on a firm bed, or sit in a chair that has good head support.
  • Close your eyes and breathe deeply two or three times.
  • Next, tighten up the muscles of different parts of your body in turn; keep them tight while you count silently to five; then let go and imagine the tension going out as you relax and smooth the muscles.
  • Start with your face. Squint your eyes, tighten your teeth and jaw, and wrinkle your forehead. Feel the tension while you count silently to five, and then let go of it. Feel the warmth of relaxation coming to your face.
  • Next, pull your shoulders up until they nearly touch your ears. Feel the tension while you count silently to five. Then let go.
  • Now progress through the rest of your body, tightening muscles while you count slowly to five, then letting the tension go. Start with your stomach and chest muscles, then your lower abdomen, buttocks, and thighs. Finish with your lower legs, curling up your toes and tightening calf muscles to feel the tension in your foot, ankle, calves, and knee.
  • When you have finished, notice the tension and release in all your muscles. Breathe deeply a few times, and feel relaxed, refreshed, and comfortable.

4. Thought-stopping. This is a good technique for dealing with stress that comes from your own negative feelings. When you notice negative thoughts, just say “stop!” to yourself. It may sound too simple to be effective – but it works, even though you may have to repeat the word several times until the negative thoughts are interrupted.

Sometimes, using mental images can help you stop the negative thoughts:

  • Imagine that the negative thoughts are coming from a tape recorder, and that you can push the “stop” button or turn down the volume to zero.
  • Imagine sticky paper that catches your negative thoughts as they fly about.
  • Imagine a “stop” sign that blocks your negative thoughts.
  • Imagine a box that your negative thoughts get trapped in.
  • Imagine you are driving through a car wash that washes the thoughts away.

Need To Know:

And the secret is…

The secret to making these four “respond” techniques work is to practice them several times a week, until you feel comfortable. Then use them. And don’t give up on them too soon. All too often, people will only try something a couple of times and give up after a few days. It may take a while before you are getting the full benefit of these techniques.


There are simple things you can do to help your body and mind withstand stress. These will help you improve your immune system, your energy level, your self-esteem, and your sense of well-being.

1. Relaxation. Relaxing regularly will help prevent stress.

  • Set aside just 15 minutes every day, whether you are feeling stressed or not.
  • Go through whatever relaxation procedures work best for you. Techniques such as yoga and stretching can be effective, as can progressive muscle relaxation.

2. Regular exercise. If you know people who run, swim, or bicycle regularly, you may notice that they have less stress than others. When your body is in first-class condition, your mind and emotions will also benefit. Regular exercise is one excellent way to “stress-proof” yourself, or at reduce the bad effects of stress.

Exercise can make you look better, sleep better, concentrate better, and withstand disease better. It will also improve your mood and make you feel better about yourself. The best exercise for stress-proofing is aerobic activity, which uses your whole body. This includes jogging, bicycling, brisk walking, cross-country skiing, aerobic dancing, swimming, rowing, skating, and stair-stepping.

  • If you are not used to exercise, start with walking. Walk briskly for about 20 minutes, three times a week.
  • As you get in shape, take longer walks, or switch to a more vigorous form of activity.
  • If you don’t have access to a lake, mountain, or country road to row, ski, or bike on, substitute on machines at home or in a gym. But whenever you can, get out into nature. The quietness and change of scene will help your stress levels.

Need To Know:

Some exercise safety tips:

  • If you are over age 35 and not used to vigorous exercise, check with a doctor before you start, or stick to walking.
  • Begin every exercise session slowly (including walks), and don’t speed up until your muscles are warm.
  • Don’t race. Take the talk test. If you don’t have enough spare breath to hold a conversation, slow down.
  • At the end of your exercise session, walk around slowly for a while to cool down.

3. Eating right. You will be much better able to withstand stress if your body feels good, and it can’t feel good if you don’t feed it properly.

  • Make sure you have three good meals a day, with plenty of fruit, vegetables, and filling food like bread, rice, or noodles.
  • If you get hungry between meals, plan for a nutritious snack like fruit, yogurt, or a bagel. If you take a snack to work with you, you won’t be tempted by junk food.

Eating well will give you a sense of control that can help to reduce your stress levels, as well as making you feel good physically.

4. Chemicals: alcohol and drugs. People may be tempted to take a drink or drugs to deal with stress. It doesn’t help. Alcohol may seem to calm you down, but it only masks the symptoms of stress for a while. Excessive alcohol (and drugs) will give you a rebound; you are likely to feel more stressed than ever when the effects wear off.

One or two drinks a day, such as a glass of wine or beer with dinner, usually won’t harm you. If you are regularly drinking much more than that, cut down – and if that is hard to do, get some help.

5. Tobacco. People often say that a cigarette “calms their nerves,” but tobacco is really a stimulant. If you are afraid that quitting would cause you too much stress, talk to your doctor about prescribing a nicotine patch or gum to help ease the difficulty of withdrawal. Patches or gum work best if you also join a quit-smoking group or use a good self-help program that helps you learn to be a nonsmoker. In the long run, you will become a calmer person if you stop smoking.

For more information about how to stop smoking, go to Smoking: How To Stop.

6. Caffeine. People have different reactions to caffeine, and most people can take two or three cups of coffee or tea a day without trouble. But you might try cutting down your caffeine intake, to see if you are less jumpy. (If you get a headache for a few days, don’t worry; that’s a normal withdrawal symptom, and it will go away within a week.)

Other Ways To Manage Stress

In addition to the relaxation practices described in the “TARP” method, there are many activities and methods that can help manage stress. These include:

  • Humor
  • Hobbies
  • Meditation
  • Biofeedback
  • Massage Therapy


Many stress-management experts recommend keeping a sense of humor during difficult situations. Laughing releases muscle tension and helps a person maintain perspective.

Activities as simple as watching a funny movie, listening to a tape of a comedian’s routine, or sharing time with a humorous friend can provide a psychological lift and relieve stress.


Regular leisure activities are important in reducing stress. Many people benefit from making time for positive leisure pursuits rather than, for example, spending time watching television in the evening (although that, too, can be relaxing to some degree).

Relaxing hobbies include gardening, painting, bicycling, photography, carpentry, collecting, and many others. In order to obtain the most relaxation and enjoyment, the satisfaction should come in doing the hobby, not in the results. An individual who pursues gardening for relaxation may not grow prize-winning vegetables, but they can be eaten. An amateur photographer may not sell photographs, but they can be admired by friends and family.


Used for many years in Eastern cultures, meditation is becoming more widely accepted in the U.S. as a relaxation technique. Meditation reduces heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline levels, and skin temperature.

There are a variety of meditation techniques that share a common goal: to achieve relaxation by clearing the mind of stressful outside interferences. Meditation involves achieving a state of consciousness in which the individual focuses on a single thing, such as a key word, sound, or image.

Meditation techniques rely on quiet surroundings, sitting still, and a repetitive mental pattern. Various techniques are taught in instruction books and through religious and nonreligious organizations.


Biofeedback provides a way for people to learn to control activities over which they normally have no awareness, such as heart rate and muscle tension. It is considered by many health professionals to be a valuable therapeutic tool for reducing stress. Biofeedback involves no discomfort and no risk.

Biofeedback relies on sensitive electronic equipment. Sensors are placed on the body at various locations to measure skin temperature and muscle activity. The sensors are attached to a monitor that detects fluctuations when a person is anxious and displays signals in the form of beeps or light flashes. By watching the monitor, a person learns to control these stressful responses.

Massage Therapy

Massage is the gentle practice of manipulating the body’s tissues in order to soothe and heal. It is one of the most ancient of the healing arts, and more people today are relying on it for natural, drug-free relief from the effects of busy, overstressed lives. Massage can relax the entire body and provide new energy that lingers long after the massage is over.

A number of research studies have shown that massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, improves range of motion, and increases the production of endorphins, which are the body’s own natural painkillers. There are a number of massage therapy techniques, including Swedish massage and Shiatsu.

Massages can be for the full body or particular areas of the body, such as the back and shoulders. Some people choose to wear some clothing during a massage; others prefer to undress or use a dressing gown. During a massage, the person is warmly covered, and only the part of the body on which the therapist is working is uncovered.

Need To Know:

A word about medication

Medication can be useful for dealing with short periods of acute stress, where the anxiety is severe and disabling, to help people regain control and begin coping. It can relieve symptoms temporarily, but it does not address the underlying problem.


When To Get Extra Help For Stress

Self-help techniques for stress management have tremendous potential. They are easy to use, they’re economical, and they are good for your general health. However, there may be times when you need other help in dealing with stress.

To help you decide if you need additional help, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is stress really the problem? Sometimes, people may be too quick to blame stress if they are tired, or their backaches, or they are having trouble eating or sleeping. Check with your doctor to rule out physical reasons for these symptoms before you conclude that they are caused by stress.
  2. Is it more than stress? You may have psychological problems that are more complicated than stress. If you are frequently depressed, often feel panic, or think you may have a phobia (an abnormal fear of an object, experience, or place), consult a doctor or psychologist.
  3. Do you need technical help? Technical help can come in the form of books, videos, consultations with experts or the leader of a stress-management group. Here are some suggestions.

Consultation With An Expert

You may want the guidance that comes from individual consultation with a professional. An expert in stress management can do an assessment to identify which techniques would best suit your skills, temperament, and needs. Professional that help individuals cope with stress include:

  • Psychologist
  • Psychotherapist
  • Nurse
  • Physician
  • Exercise instructor
  • Dietitian

Stress-Management Groups

Stress management groups can offer help that is relatively inexpensive. In addition to expert guidance, you will benefit from the support of other group members. Before you join a group, find out what stress management techniques they offer, and see whether they match your tastes and needs.

Living With Stress

Remember that a world without stress would be very dull indeed. Once you understand your own stress patterns and have learned how to control them, you can live life to the fullest.

Stress: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions related to stress:

Q: Are some people more vulnerable to stress than others?

A: Yes. Personality type plays a role in reaction to stress. For example, people who drive themselves hard and are impatient (sometimes called Type A personalities) may be more at risk for stress-related physical problems. Certain occupations, such as law enforcement or air traffic control, are clearly more stressful than others. In addition, people with a personal or family history of mental illness may be affected more by stress.

Q: My friend went for a massage and said it really helped her relax. How does it work?

A: More Americans today are turning to massage therapy for natural, drug-free relief from the tension that comes from today’s busy, stressful lifestyles. Massage is the gentle practice of manipulating the body’s tissues in order to soothe and heal. It provides a way to release physical and mental tension. A number of research studies have shown that massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, improves range of motion, and increases the production of endorphins, which are the body’s own natural painkillers.

Q: Lately my husband has been under a lot of pressure at work. When he gets home, he’s been drinking quite a bit, more than usual. Should I be concerned?

A: Some people use alcohol as a way of “switching off” the stress in their lives. But drinking does not address the underlying problem. Many addictions are linked to a stressful lifestyle, such as overeating, smoking, drinking, and drug abuse. One or two drinks a day, such as a glass of wine or beer with dinner, is usually not harmful. If your husband is regularly drinking more than that, he should cut down – and if that is hard to do, get some help.

Stress: Putting It All Together

Here is a summary of the important facts and information related to stress:

  • Stress is the emotional and physical strain caused by our response to pressure from the outside world.
  • The mental symptoms of stress include tension, irritability, inability to concentrate, feeling excessively tired, and having trouble sleeping.
  • The physical symptoms of stress include dry mouth, a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, stomach upset, frequent urination, sweating palms, and tense muscles that may cause pain and trembling.
  • The four types of stress signs include changes in body functions and physical health, changes in emotions and feelings, changes in behavior, and changes in thoughts.
  • Stress has been linked to serious diseases such as heart disease and cancer, and to a variety of other physical and emotional disorders.
  • One method of stress management is called the TARP method, which involves noticing early signs of stress, figuring out the causes, dealing with the effects on the body, and developing good stress-reduction techniques.
  • Other methods of managing stress include humor, meditation, hobbies, biofeedback, and massage therapy.
  • Medication can be useful for dealing with short periods of acute stress, but it does not address the underlying problem.
  • Some people find it helpful to see an expert in stress management, who can assess which techniques best suit their skills, temperament, and needs. Professional who help individuals cope with stress include psychologists, psychotherapists, nurses, physicians, exercise instructors, and dietitians.

Stress: Glossary

Here are definitions of medical terms related to stress:

Adrenaline: Epinephrine, the hormone that serves as a stimulant in the body, increasing blood pressure and heart rate, among other roles.

Hormones: A chemical substance produced by a gland and released into the bloodstream. Hormones can stimulate or inhibit various vital processes in the body.

Massage: The gentle practice of manipulating the body’s tissues in order to soothe and heal.

Phobia: An abnormal fear of an object, experience, or place.

Yoga: A discipline that focuses on the body’s muscles, posture, breathing mechanisms, and consciousness, in order to attain physical and mental well-being through mastery of the body.

Stress: Additional Sources Of Information

Here are some reliable sources that can provide more information on stress:

Articles on stress provided by MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health and National Library

American Academy of Family Physicians: An overview of stress

American Institute of Stress 
Phone: (914) 963-1200

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