woman overwhelmed by stress

Leading causes of stress (and tips for managing it)

Robert and Suzanne argue more lately, sleep apart, don't talk. Suzanne has headaches. Robert wants to quit work, but complains about the bills and doesn't want Suzanne to go to work. Robert's been drinking lately.

John died last year and his widow writes: "Without John... alone... so alone. How do I feel? Sadness. Guilt. Loneliness. I sleep a great deal and can't seem to get going again."

Perhaps these aren't exactly like your situations at home, but maybe you know someone like Robert and Suzanne or the widow. You also know yourself and your family and the stress you feel when things go wrong.

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Causes of Stress

According to Hans Selye, a pioneer researcher in human stress reaction, stress is the human response to changes that occur as a part of daily living. That's right, daily hassles, even those that may seem to be insignificant, produce a stress-response. And this chronic, on-going stress can have a greater negative impact on us than the larger, more traumatic events of life.

In every family there are times of trouble. No one comes through life without stress; it is a part of every activity. Many of our thought processes involve stress reactions. Stressful events are situations that make us tense or "uptight" because these events place heavy or conflicting demands upon us.

Some stress is helpful. For example, we get excited about an interesting and important task and this challenge motivates us to do a more effective job. For most of us, however, the negative stressful events -- like loss of a loved one or a job, money or health problems, or social tensions -- are more troublesome.

Whether the stress can be categorized as negative or positive, too much of it over a long period of time can result in stress-overload, compromising a person's physical and mental wellbeing. Stress is like an emotional allergy in that our minds and bodies become especially sensitive and may react negatively. And stress affects each of us differently.

Effects of Stress

Feelings of worry, anxiety, depression, or sadness are frequently indications of stress overload. You may experience bodily tension arising from a vague fear that something bad is going to happen, even when no threat exists. You may feel nervous, even have trouble breathing. You may feel dizzy, have a pounding heart or feel that you can't slow down or relax. Often these symptoms are accompanied by feeling "down" or depressed. During such times you might experience restlessness, sleeplessness, or an inability to concentrate. There may also be a lack of interest in food, sex, or life in general. In addition, you may have feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. These human responses to extreme stress are quite common. Some of these feelings are normal and pass quickly, but continued over a long period of time they can become a serious problem.

Research shows that stress overload seems to make some people more prone to certain diseases and illnesses. Stress overload has been shown to be a factor in ulcers, colitis, hypertension, heart disease, migraine headaches, asthma, allergies, alcoholism, certain skin disorders, and even some forms of cancer. Chronic stress, stress that continues for a long period of time, can upset the body's hormonal balance and reduce its ability to resist disease. Whether stress makes the body susceptible depends upon the individual's ability to deal with the stressful experience.

Healthy and Unhealthy Ways Handle Stress

Faced with stressful situations many people act in ways that can be unhealthy for them and their families. For example, the use of alcohol or drugs to reduce stressful feelings may work for a short time, but may result in causing more harm than good. Family relationships are likely to be hurt in some way when a stressed-out family member withdraws and keeps feelings inside, denies problems, or blames others for troubles.

NEXT: There are some healthy ways of dealing with stress. The negative impact of stressful situations can be reduced by dealing with stressful events as a family. Here are three key ways to deal with stress.

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