We all have stress. We
even need stress, to some degree. It is stress that keeps us moving toward goals.
Unfortunately, many of us have much more stress than we need.
Too much stress can cause serious problems, contributing to diseases
like hypertension, heart disease, reflux, and diabetes.
Stress also contributes to a number of psychological problems,
including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Most people think stress comes from negative events in our lives, like
job loss or loss of a spouse. The truth is, stress can come just as easily from positive
life changes, like getting a promotion or getting married.
Stress basically arises from any change in your environment or
situation, whether good or bad. The greater those changes, the more stress you will
Stress also arises when people engage in tasks that are
negatively-charged or that violate their personal values. People sometimes are put in such
a position at work, where they feel trapped into actions that they think are ill-advised
or downright wrong, but they cannot refuse to do them or simply walk away from their job.
Children can experience stress, too. However, they might express it
more through behavioral changes than words, including problem behaviors, irritability,
vague physical complaints, becoming "clingy," a decline in school performance,
withdrawal, and sleep problems.
In the sections below, we discuss symptoms of excessive stress, ways to
reduce stress, and the role of psychologists in helping you manage stress more
Symptoms of Excessive Stress
Things that could
suggest the presence of excessive stress include:
- Feeling tense and tired much of the time.
- Rushing all the time from one task to another, or from one place to another.
- Spending too much time putting out brush fires.
- Physical or psychological ailments like those listed above.
- Regularly needing a drink to relax or unwind.
- Dreading going to work; increased
- Anxiety and restlessness.
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as
heartburn and nausea.
- Sexual problems.
- Malaise; generally feeling unwell.
- Muscle aches or other pain not due to a
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Managing Stress On Your Own
Here are some steps you
can take to reduce stress on your own:
- Sleep more; most of us are chronically sleep-deprived.
- Eat balanced, sensible meals; don't skip meals or stuff yourself with food.
- Exercise regularly.
- Meditate or do relaxation exercises.
- Involve yourself in a hobby or task that allows you to get really absorbed and zone out
for a while.
- Establish some protected time for yourself, at least every week, where you do what you
want for yourself.
- Limit work hours; the fact that you can fill more hours with work does not mean
that you should, or that you will be productive if you do.
- Learn to say no; the fewer tasks you take on, the less stress you will have.
- Learn to organize and establish routines that allow you to work more efficiently.
- Learn time management skills to make the most of your time.
This might sound goofy, but we really
do think dogs have the right idea sometimes. Look on our Humor
page for 18 Things We Can Learn From
A Dog. It is only partly in jest.
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The Role of the Psychologist
people manage stress in a number of ways.
The psychologist can
clarify sources of stress and help the person evaluate which of these can be modified in
the short-term and long-term.
People often have a
fixed view of their situation and see no room to maneuver away from the stressors in their
lives. The psychologist can bring an objective point of view and help the person
reevaluate his assumptions. Sometimes this can break the logjam and allow him to make
wiser choices that reduce his stress.
The psychologist can
teach specific skills for stress reduction, such as relaxation techniques and time
The psychologists also
can teach assertiveness so that the person is better able to set limits and say no to
others. In addition to the actual skills, the psychologist helps people overcome the
anxiety that can block the use of assertive communication.
Often, the person knows
all too well that he is stressed, but has trouble implementing the changes that would
reduce the stress. In these cases, the psychologist could work to clarify the person's
long-term values and goals, help the person weigh his choices accordingly, and encourage
him to make decisions that are healthier and more congruent with his values.
Finally, when stressors
really cannot be reduced, the psychologist can help the person by offering support and
exploring ways to offset the stress in order to restore some balance to the person's life.
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