Stress: how to cope better with the challenges of life

What causes stress?

Feelings of stress are caused by instinct that the body has to defend itself. This instinct is good in emergencies, such as getting out of the way of a speeding car. But stress can cause physical symptoms if it continues for a long time, for example, in response to the challenges of everyday life and change.

In this situation, it is as if your body gets ready to jump the car but you still here. Your body is working more than necessary with no place to put all that extra energy. This can make you feel anxious, afraid, worried and uptight.

What changes may be stressful?

Any kind of change can make you feel stressed, even good change. It's not just the change or event itself, but also how you react to it that matters. What is stressful is different for each person. For example, a person may feel stressed by retiring, unlike others.

Among other stressful situations are a job layoff when your child leaves the house and returns to it, the death of a spouse, divorce or marriage, an illness, an injury, a promotion at work, money problems, moving, or the birth of a child.

Can stress hurt my health?

Yes and it may even make them worse. Talk to your family doctor if you think some of your symptoms are caused by stress. It is important to make sure your symptoms are not caused by other health problems.

Possible signs of stress
  • Anxiety
  • Backache
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Blood pressure (blood) elevated
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Problems in relationships with others
  • Feeling of "shortness of breath"
  • Stiff neck or jaw
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight gain or loss

What I can do to reduce my stress?

The first step is learning to recognize when you're feeling stressed. The first signs of stress include tense shoulders and neck, or clenching your hands into fists.

The next step is to choose a method for managing stress. One way is to avoid the event or thing that leads to stress, but often this is not possible. A second alternative is to change the way you react to stress. Usually, this is the best option.

Tips to handle stress

Do not worry about the things you cannot control, such as weather.
Solve the little problems. In this way, you can acquire a sense of control.
Prepare as best you can for events you know may be stressful, like a job interview.
Try to look at change as a positive challenge, not a threat.
Try to resolve conflicts with other people.
Talk to a friend in whom you trust, with a relative or a counselor.
Set realistic goals at home and at work. Avoid excessive plans.
Exercise regularly.
Eat well-balanced meals regularly and get enough sleep.
Participate in something you do not find stressful, such as sports, social events or hobbies.

Why is exercise useful?

Exercise is a good way to deal with stress, it is a healthy way to relieve pent-up energy and tension. We are aware that exercise releases chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. In addition, it helps you get in better shape, which makes you feel better overall.

What is meditation?

Meditation is a form of guided thought. It can take many forms. You can implement it with exercise repeating the same movements over and over, like walking or swimming. You can meditate by practicing relaxation techniques, exercising, stretching or breathing deeply.

Training to relax is easy. Start with one muscle. Hold tight for a few seconds then relax. Repeat this step for each of the muscles starting with the toes, followed by the feet and moving up through the parts of the body, one muscle group at a time.

Stretching can also relieve stress. Turn your head in a gentle circle. Raise your arms trying to reach the ceiling and bend side to side slowly. Roll your shoulders.

Deep, relaxed breathing itself can help relieve stress (see table at right). In this way, you can get enough oxygen and activate the relaxation response, the antidote of the body to stress.

If you want more help for the treatment of stress symptoms, seek advice from your family doctor.