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How to Keep Stress From Becoming Distress

How to Keep Stress From Becoming Distress

How much stress is too much?
What is acute stress?
What is chronic stress?
What are some good stress busters?

Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Every day is filled with changes and challenges. Whether it's a tough test, a big game, or a new part-time job, your body automatically reacts to such stresses and strains by raising your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, metabolism, and blood flow to the muscles. However, when this response occurs too often or over too long a period of time, it can threaten your mental and physical well-being. Therefore, if you don't know how to cope with stress, it can easily become distress. back to top

How much stress is too much?
Not all stress is bad. As a matter of fact, life without stress would seem boring and empty. You simply wouldn't have enough to think about or do. Imagine the tension in a violin string: If there is too little tension, the music is dull. If there is too much tension, the music is shrill or the string may even snap. The trick in life, as in violin playing, is to find just the right amount of tension.

Different people respond to the same kinds of stress in different ways. Some people thrive on giving a speech or taking the SAT, while others find the same experience too stressful and can't be at their best. Some people welcome a move or a switch in schools, while others find the change too much to take. The key is to find your personal comfort level for handling stressful situations. back to top

What is acute stress?
Acute stress comes from events that have just happened or those that you expect to happen soon. Such stress can be exciting in small doses, but large amounts can seem overwhelming. For example, it may be thrilling to ride a bicycle fast, but if you try to do it for a really long time, all the while worrying that you could go out of control and get hurt, it would take a toll on you. Stress causes several body changes, such as a faster heart and breathing rate and more blood flow to the muscles if it goes on and on without relief. These changes can lead to a wide range of symptoms. Anyone who has ever had a lousy day will probably recognize the signs:
  • anger
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • headache
  • backache
  • jaw pain
  • pulled muscles
  • heartburn
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • rapid heartbeat
  • sweaty palms
  • dizziness
  • cold hands or feet
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
Acute stress is at least an occasional part of everybody's life. You may think that since it is short-term, it doesn't cause much damage. But short-term stress can be severe, like the trauma from a car accident or a family argument. And some people experience acute stress so often that it makes them miserable. back to top

What is chronic stress?
Chronic stress is long-term stress that wears people down. People who suffer from this kind of stress always feel as if they are under pressure. The reaction is not as intense as with acute stress, but it goes on for longer. People may give up hope that they will ever feel happy. These are the kind of people who are always in a rush, but always late. Some are short-tempered, cranky, and tense all the time.

Chronic stress can be caused by a lot of things: domestic violence or sexual abuse, having an alcoholic parent, having a learning disorder or an illness, school pressure, trouble with friends, living in an unsafe neighborhood—even simply trying to do too many activities and putting too much pressure on yourself.

A buildup of stress can cause problems like alcohol, drug, or tobacco abuse, overeating, trouble sleeping, falling grades, loss of friends, violent behavior, low self-esteem-even suicide. Down the road it can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke, and emotional problems, including anger, anxiety, depression, and negative thinking. back to top

What are some good stress busters?
Some sources of stress you can avoid. For example, if it takes 15 minutes to walk to school and you're always stressing out about being late, you can simply wake up and leave home a little earlier. Sometimes you need therapy to help you understand why and how you repeatedly create stressful situations for yourself. Other sources of stress, such as your parent's divorce or a family move, are out of your hands, but you still have some control over your response to them.
  • Sometimes talking about things that bother you with a friend or an adult can help relieve the stress. It is harder to cope (and easier to get stressed out) when you keep it all inside.
  • Exercise. Regular aerobic workouts are good for the mind as well as the body. More meditative exercise, like yoga, can also be helpful.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Some people forget to eat when they're under pressure. Others go to the other extreme and eat too much. Make time for regular, healthy meals, including breakfast.
  • Be realistic. Don't expect more of yourself than you are able to do. If your life always seems too busy and hectic, it may be time to cut back. There just may not be enough hours in the day to do your homework, clean your room, go to sports practice, take a music lesson, and run for student body president.
  • Make time for fun. Forget your worries for a while, and do something you really enjoy. Try playing music, drawing, writing, cooking, watching a movie, visiting a friend, or walking the dog—whatever is relaxing for you.
  • You can also try some techniques that were especially designed to get rid of stress, like breathing exercises and progressive relaxation. Read more about how to do these stress busters right here on iEmily.
If simple things like exercise, planning a reasonable schedule, and relaxation techniques don't relieve your stress, you may need help. Stress that never goes away can be a sign of an anxiety disorder or depression, and you may need treatment from a health professional. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/22/2001
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