Stress & the body's response

Stress puts us at increased risk of numerous health problems, including

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

This is why it's so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life.

Why we react to life stressors the way we do

Our reaction to a potentially stressful event is different from anyone else's. How we react to stressors in our lives is affected by such factors as:

  • Genetics: the genes that control the stress response keep most people on a fairly even keel, only occasionally priming the body for fight or flight. Overactive or underactive stress responses may stem from slight differences in these genes.
  • Life experiences: strong stress reactions sometimes can be traced to traumatic events. People who suffered neglect or abuse as children tend to be particularly vulnerable to stress. The same is true of victims of violent crime, airplane crash survivors, military personnel, police officers and firefighters.

You may have some friends who seem laid-back about almost everything and others who react strongly at the slightest stress. Most reactions to life stressors fall somewhere between those extremes.

Learning to react to life stressors in a healthy way

Stressful events are a fact of life. And you may not be able to change your current situation. But you can take steps to manage the impact these events have on you.

You can learn to identify what stresses you and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in the face of stressful situations.

Stress management strategies include

  • Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep
  • Practicing relaxation techniques, learning to be mindful and present
  • Fostering healthy friendships
  • Having a sense of humor
  • Seeking professional counseling when needed

The payoff for learning to manage stress is peace of mind and — perhaps — a longer, healthier life.

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