Newsletter Article | Mar 10, 2008

Is Stress Affecting Your Health?

from the American Counseling Association
sponsored by the ACA Foundation

Stress is something we all face, yet many of us don't really understand what stress is or appreciate the problems it can cause.

Stress is actually a combination of two separate things. The first is the "stressor," the situation that triggers the physical and emotional reactions that we feel. It might be a family problem, a money issue or just that traffic jam going to work.

Our "stress response" is our natural response to a stressor. Our bodies release chemicals that increase our breathing, heart rate, alertness and muscle response. That reaction is inherited from our ancient ancestors for whom survival meant reacting quickly to the threats they encountered. We call it the "fight or flight" response.

But while that was a good reaction back when the stress source was a bear or similar life-threatening situation, today's problems are seldom so immediate or quickly resolved. Instead, we often face prolonged or repeated stress over which we have little or no control.

For many of us, repeatedly facing stressful situations can leave us feeling constantly nervous or exhausted, and can result in very real physical and emotional ailments.

How do you know that stress is negatively affecting your life to the point where you need help? The warning signs can include changes in both behavior and physical well-being.

Stress-related behavioral changes might include anger or impatience over relatively minor things. You might find yourself unable to relax, anxious almost all the time, sleeping poorly and experiencing sexual problems. Major changes in eating, whether no appetite or constantly overeating, are also common reactions. Excessive stress can make it difficult to make decisions or set priorities. You may make more mistakes or become accident-prone.

Physical ailments, such as frequent headaches and neck or back pain, can also be stress-related symptoms. You might find yourself suffering from frequent indigestion, diarrhea or constipation. Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or skin problems like acne or psoriasis can also occur.

Excessive stress is not a problem to be ignored. It has been linked to a variety of serious health and emotional issues. If you find yourself facing high levels of stress that are affecting your health or overall quality of life, seek help. Your family physician or a counseling professional can offer assistance in helping reduce or cope with unhealthy stress in your life.

"The Counseling Corner" is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation's largest organization of counseling professionals. Learn more about the counseling profession at the ACA web site, www.counseling.org.

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