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Stress 101: The Basics

Stress is something that touches us all, sometimes more forcefully than others. But what exactly is stress? And more importantly, what do you do about it? Stress can be defined as a state of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium. For real people, this means that when our lives or bodies are pushed out of kilter, we experience stress.

We tend to find our “existent equilibrium” in our daily lives in that we can usually predict what is going to happen and plan accordingly. Stress tends to tap us on the shoulder when something unexpected or difficult makes an appearance in our routine. For example, you wake up, get the kids dressed and off to school, get your daily caffeine infusion (more on that later), and hop in the car with enough time to get to your eight o'clock meeting. So far, so good. But what happens when you get on the freeway and notice that you're not moving, and neither is anyone else? An unexpected traffic jam can increase your stress level immediately, causing anxiety about what is going to happen if you're late for the meeting.

As difficult as being late or experiencing delays can be, the reality is that many of us experience much more serious stresses in our lives. Job layoffs, divorce, illness, terrorist attacks, and other major life events are all too common and effect our stress levels greatly. Even life events that are positive can bring stress, such as moving, having a child, or getting married. Unfortunately, stress is cumulative, so the more stress in your life, the more likely you are to be impacted by it. Regardless of the cause, too much stress effects us physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. Physically, people often report stomachaches, headaches, muscle tension, and sleep disruption. People report feeling irritable, anxious, worried, depressed, and forgetful. Often people can become negative, procrastinate, or turn to drugs and alcohol for escape.

Fortunately, there are things that can be done about stress. Although you may not always be able to control what is going on around you, you can control how you react to life events. Physically, it's important to pay attention to your body. Practice relaxation, eat well and exercise. Sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can increase your stress levels, so consider cutting back. Make sure that you keep doing the things that you enjoy and spend time with people who are supportive. Look at what you can and cannot control in your life and prioritize what needs to happen. Most importantly, ask for help when you need it. If your physical symptoms persist, call your doctor. If you need some help coping with stress, call Canopy, Inc, to set up an appointment with an EAP counselor.

Stress is a normal part of the human experience, and no one has found a way to eliminate it entirely. However, there are ways to deal with stress more effectively, so that you can manage your stress level as well as whatever life brings.