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Everyday life causes varying degrees of stress which can result in mild tension or sometimes mental and physical breakdown, so we must take positive steps to keep pressures to a minimum.

Conflict and stress between ourselves and both our environment and our fellow men are an inescapable fact of life and one that we learn to live with. Some forms of stress can be beneficial and some can be destructive. Stress becomes a problem, however, when we lose the ability to cope and find ourselves, as a result, suffering from varying degrees of mental or physical breakdown.

The way stress affects us depends on many factors such as the intensity of the stress to which we are subjected as against our ability to contain and adapt to it. And this, in turn, depends on the type of person one is -- as a result of the character traits inherited at birth, the experience of one's formative years and the effects of subsequent successes and failures in coping with life's many ups and downs.

While almost everyone would find losing a job distressing, some people may suffer from such loss of self-esteem that they find themselves unable even to look for another job for fear of failure; others, after getting over the initial blow, will take positive action by either looking for a similar job, reckoning that their experience is an asset, or by changing direction, citing their enthusiasm and willingness to learn as a plus.

Interestingly, all human beings share the same reactions to at least one form of stress -- and that is when our very survival is threatened by, for instance, an unexpected physical attack.

Fear and panic, forms of sudden intense stress, provoke a chemical and physical response in the body. Large amounts of the hormone adrenalin are released directly into the bloodstream and this has the immediate effect of preparing the body for either 'fight or flight'. The result is that the person can show unusual 'strength' in fighting off an attacker or uncharacteristic 'speed' in running away from danger.


A variety of external events, often beyond one's control, will invariably cause stress. Most forms of loss are a good example. The death of a loved one, a job loss and the inability to pursue a hobby or sport though illness or altered financial circumstances are obvious examples.

Conflicts and arguments both at home and at work are also stress-inducing, the more so if they are prolonged and unresolved. On-going and often heated, angry disagreements between parents and teenage children can be particularly damaging -- especially because both sides feel strongly that they are in the right. Even activities which should be pleasurable, such as family holidays, can be a source of conflict because family members spend much longer than usual in each other's company, and all may have different expectations of what the holiday promises.

Uncertainty also causes stress and tension. This can occur in the workplace when people are unclear about what targets they should be meeting, or when hard work or good ideas go unacknowledged. One of the most poignant examples of this uncertainty at home is when children are waiting exam results.


Stress first shows itself in minor physical problems such as recurring headaches, some indigestion or occasional bowel irregularity and often restless nights due to 'anxiety' dreams. Women particularly are sometimes affected by skin problems such as eczema which disappears when the stress is relieved.

More severe symptoms are obvious in cases of acute stress such as when a person loses a loved one either because of separation or death. Loss of appetite and sleeplessness, as well as sudden bouts of weeping and inability to concentrate, affect the person's everyday life. In such cases, medical help is usually necessary, if only temporarily, to help the person through the period of readjustment.


There are a variety of physical illnesses which are undoubtedly related to stress endured over a fairly long period. Digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion can be stress-related. There is also good evidence that stress can contribute to stomach or duodenal ulcers and to high blood pressure which, of course, can lead to heart attacks and even strokes.

In addition, recent medical research seems to suggest that stress causes a partial breakdown of the immune system (which normally fights off infections and keeps abnormal cells in the body under control) so that people under stress are more likely than others to suffer from viral infections and may take longer to recover.

There is also evidence that links certain cancers -- for instance, breast cancer -- with stress. It is possible that the immune system may be sufficiently damaged by stress to allow cancerous cells to proliferate.


Since stress is unavoidable, what is the best way to cope with it ? Some stress is relatively short-lived and some is long term, yet in both instances it is necessary to identify the source of stress and take positive action to reduce it.


In some instances, this may mean confronting people and expressing anger, frustration and other pent-up feelings even if it means losing one's temper. This is particularly so in relationships where much more is usually gained by clearing the air than is ever lost by the outburst. In fact, if you are able to express your feelings clearly to others, then it is more likely that they will take your views into account.



When stress is unavoidable and long term, such as that induced by the chronic or serious illness of a loved one, it is necessary to ease the burden as much as possible. Seek outside help to deal with some of the everyday problems of caring for an invalid. While giving all the emotional support that you can, leave yourself time to relax and to pursue and activity which not only takes your mind off things but actually gives you pleasure. Far from being selfish, such actions will make you better able to cope with the ongoing situation in a positive and cheerful way which, in turn, will have beneficial effects on the patient.



You are better able to deal with stressful events in everyday life if you eat healthily, take exercise and get plenty of sleep. You should also avoid too much alcohol, which is a depressant, and too much caffeine and nicotine, both of which are stimulants. Try to allow some time each day for rest or relaxation. Some people find yoga or some form of meditation helpful but, if you enjoy them, a little gardening, a quiet walk or even watching a favorite television program undisturbed can be just as beneficial.



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