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There is no denying that stress is a part of life. You may experience stress for a number of reasons: responsibilities at work and at home, financial crises, or transitions. Although you cannot eliminate stress completely, it is possible to reduce its impact on your life.

What Is Stress?

It is a natural part of life. Life without any stress would be dull and boring, but too much of it becomes unpleasant and tiring. Stress is a physical and psychological response to a demand, a threat or some kind of problem that requires a solution. It stimulates you and increases your level of awareness. The body's reaction to stress is called the "fight or flight" response. The response occurs whether the stress is positive or negative in nature. Positive stress provides the means to express talents and energies and pursue talents. However, continual exposure to negative stress lowers the body's ability to cope in general.

Your signs of stress may be different from someone else's. Some people get angry. Others have trouble concentrating or making decisions. Some feel worried or depressed. For some, stress may lead to health problems, including:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach and more severe problems, such as GERD and colitis
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heart problems


Work, money and family are among the most common sources of stress. It may be tempting to say life would be better without stress, but the things that cause stress are often the things that are most important to us.

However, if you think that certain dramatic situations – the death of a spouse, mate or close family member; a major injury or illness; a divorce – cause you the most stress, think again. In reality, it is the totality of daily chronic hassles that cause the most significant stress impacting your health.

Problems commuting to work, balancing work and family life, dealing with children's school issues, an increasing workload, getting little sleep, trying to do it all, inability to relax, no time to deal with nagging problems and more. We're all aware of these stresses and strains in our lives. We fight them everyday.

The most common stressors include:

And, of course, stress during the holidays may add unnecessary stress to our everyday stressors. That's distressing!

Recognizing Stress

Short-term reactions to stress include faster heartbeat, increased sweating, rapid breathing and tense muscles. Long-term responses may include digestive problems, fatigue, increased blood pressure or headaches. A person may also experience psychological responses such as fear, worry, depression, irritability or despair. Ongoing stress may lead to substance abuse and compulsive behaviors, such as eating disorders, excessive gambling or overspending.

Excess stress can seriously interfere with your ability to perform effectively and can affect your health, vitality and peace-of-mind, as well as your personal and professional relationships. That's why it's so important to recognize the signs of stress and learn to manage the stress in your life.

Use this helpful tool to help you identify stress:

Ongoing stress may lead to issues such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Compulsive behaviors, such as eating disorders, excessive gambling or overspending

The effects of stress don't stop with emotions and behavior. Some experts suggest that if stress isn't managed, it can lead to serious physical conditions. It's important to pay attention to how you're feeling and behaving, and look for clues about your stress level. It may be time to get professional help if you:

  • Feel unusually sad or cry a lot
  • Are excessively anxious
  • Can't concentrate
  • Worry constantly about trivial matters
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Feel tired all the time
  • Find it difficult to do your job or get along with family and friends
  • Are irritable or angry
  • Drink more alcohol than usual

If you think you need a therapist, check your benefit plan to see if an employee assistance plan or counseling services are available to you.

Coping Strategies

Finding relief from your stress is important. If you don't it can lead to mild health problems such as insomnia and headaches, and also may worsen or contribute to other health conditions.

The art of managing stress is to keep yourself at a level of activity that is healthy and enjoyable. Stress is a process that builds, so try to be aware of its early signs and make the necessary changes.

Managing Stress

Online Seminars

Kathleen Zelman

Best Holiday Ideas

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD
Watch now | Speaker blog | Speaker biography
Program aired Dec. 13, 2011

Opportunities to eat around the holidays seem endless. Learn how you can make this year different using a "social weight maintenance" plan. You'll get ideas to help you de-stress and enjoy the holiday season without triggering a six week eating frenzy and packing on those extra pounds.

Arleen Fitzgerald

How to Survive the Holiday Seasons

Arleen Fitzgerald, L.I.C.S.W., Behavioral Health Consultant
Watch now | Speaker blog | Speaker biography
Program aired Nov. 16, 2011

While you try to make everyone happy and juggle added activities, you may find that holiday stress can quickly deflate the joy of the season. Learn ways to cope with what can be a stressful time, and define what you want the holidays to be for you and your family.


Managing Stress Presentation

Identify sources of stress, discuss solutions for dealing with stress and practice problem solving techniques. View presentation