Stress Awareness and How It Benefits You
Steve Gaeng, Ph.D., a psychologist with Crossroads Psychological Associates and a member of CA’s Medical Advisory Board
The connection between stress and illness is well-documented. Emotional stress, particularly chronic stress, is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the U.S.: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. Stress can be a significant contributing factor to infections, asthma, diabetes, ulcers, plaque buildup on arteries, and various forms of mental illness such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. But stress awareness can help.
On the positive side, stress, particularly acute stress, can at times be a positive force that boosts our immune system, increases motivation and improves productivity and performance.
While environmental, psychological and biological stress are a normal part of human life, the key to effectively managing stress involves monitoring our exposure to stress, as well as developing healthy “stress-busting” activities and habits. An example of managing our exposure to stress would be realizing that, while getting married, moving to a bigger house or getting a better job could all be considered positive activities, attempting them all simultaneously may create more change and challenge than we can effectively manage at one time. Spreading these undertakings over time can be an effective strategy of managing our exposure to stress.
Stress-busting activities such as adequate sleep, good nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and maintaining supportive relationships can mediate the effects of stress and help maintain balance in our lives. While it’s common and tempting to put aside our stress-busting activities during times when demands upon us are high, this is the most important time to maintain our healthy habits.
When feeling over-stressed or overwhelmed, it is important to realize that perceived demands are exceeding our ability to address them effectively. It is usually helpful to reduce the demands by determining which demands are most important or most time-sensitive and address the other demands later. Asking for assistance is often an effective strategy when feeling overwhelmed. While it’s common and tempting to put aside our stress-busting habits during times when demands are high, this is the most important time to maintain our healthy habits.