You’ve heard it all — stress is bad for you, stress can be good for you, too much is distressing, a little a blessing -what does it all mean? The right amount of stress is good for you -what’s the right amount?
First, it helps to know that stress is just our bodies’ reaction to a new situation. Our bodies react in the same way, whether the situation is welcome or unwelcome. Our hearts beat faster, our bodies produce a natural stimulant called adrenaline, we breathe more rapidly, we are more alert, and we may perspire more. All of these responses can be good for you when followed by periods of relaxation. They can give you the “competitive edge” in sports, keep you alert and concentrated for a test, or can literally save your life in an emergency. But, when your body is constantly wound up and can’t relax, these same responses can lead to increased blood pressure, anxiety attacks, and a wide range of physical disorders.
How Much Is Too Much?
There’s no set formula for figuring out how much stress is too much — one person’s stress may be another’s “motivation.” However, if you experience stress-related symptoms such as insomnia, appetite changes, excessive fatigue, depression, headaches, stomach ailments, or muscle tension, you may be feeling the effects of an overly stressed lifestyle -all stress and no relaxation. The key to bringing the stress in your life to a manageable level is to try to avoid or eliminate unnecessary stressful situations. When you can’t avoid them, be sure to balance stressful experiences with periods of relaxation.
Eliminating Excess Stress
Some stressful situations can be eliminated by creative problem solving. For instance, if long lines at the shopping mall drive you up the wall, consider shopping from catalogues, over the phone, or during “off” hours. You might even consider turning “wasted” time standing on line (or sitting in traffic) into extra leisure time -bring along a book, a magazine, a crossword, or even your knitting. Listen to the radio or bring along a cassette player and a favorite tape. Or, take along a pad and pencil and try your hand at sketching. You may not be able to avoid all stressful situations, but you can turn many into positive experiences.
Making Stress Work For You
There will always be minor hassles (and major ones, too) that can’t be avoided, eliminated, or changed. But they can be balanced by periods of relaxation. You can break the cycle of continuous stress by planning time for relaxation. Five minutes of stretching, deep breathing, a warm bath, or uninterrupted silence, may be all you need to break the pattern of tension and fatigue. When you set aside time to relax, you’ll feel refreshed, revived, and better able to handle the situations and challenges you face each day.
- Consider turning “wasted” time standing on line into extra leisure time — bring along a book and read while you wait.
- Be sure to balance stress with periods of relaxation.