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Chronic stress is something many people deal with, and it has a high price tag associated with it.

Stress is normal. Sometimes it is positive, such as when you get that promotion you’ve been working toward. Sometimes it isn’t, such as when you continually feel as though you are being threatened and don’t have a chance to relax periodically. That kind of chronic stress can be incredibly destructive when it comes to your health.

Not only can chronic stress affect your body physically, it can also affect thoughts, feelings, and behavior. When your head hurts, you can’t think, and you feel unproductive at work, you might think you are just coming down with something when the truth is that these symptoms are all just caused by the effects of chronic stress. Stress can make you sick, and it can increase the severity of other symptoms or diseases. For example, chronic stress has an adverse effect on serious health problems such as the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Skin conditions
  • Chronic stress is something many people deal with, and it has a high price tag associated with it:

  • Approximately 43 percent of all adults have negative health effects caused by stress.
  • Between 75 percent and 90 percent of all visits to see physicians are prompted by complaints and ailments caused, at least in part, by stress.
  • Stress costs U.S. businesses more than $300 billion per year, which is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has called it a workplace hazard.
  • Chronic stress reactions, if left untreated, can lead to emotional disorders. More than 50 percent of those disorders continue throughout an individual’s lifetime.

    If you can identify the symptoms of stress, that’s the first step in being able to do something to relieve it. The following table categorizes symptoms according to whether stress is affecting your body, behavior, or mood.

    Body Behavior Mood
    Change in sex drive Angry outbursts Anxiety
    Chest pain Drug or alcohol abuse Feeling overwhelmed
    Fatigue Exercising less frequently Irritability or anger
    Headache Overeating or undereating Lack of focus or motivation
    Muscle tension Social withdrawl Restlessness
    Problems with sleeping Tobacco use Sadness or depression
    Upset stomach    

    Once you’ve identified the fact that stress is harming you, the next step is doing something about it. Start with making sure you get plenty of sleep at night and that you are eating a nutritious diet. Watch portion control and don’t eat dessert as often; you should limit yourself to at most once or twice a week. Tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol can all hurt you, so you should avoid them altogether or at least cut back on them. Don’t use illegal drugs, either. None of these short-term approaches will help you deal with the stress, and they can make things worse instead of better.

    Other effective solutions include the following:

  • Exercise regularly. If you are out of shape, talk to your doctor first and start slowly, but what you need is a regular time, five or six times a week, when you work hard enough to sweat. Try things like alternate resistance training along with going for a walk, using a treadmill, or doing something else that will get your heart rate going.
  • Make time to laugh. President Abraham Lincoln used humor as one of his best weapons against stress and severe mental depression. He once told Ohio Congressman James Ashley that if he could not tell funny stories, he would die. Humorous stories were like oxygen and water to him. Laughing relieves chronic stress, so find some things that make you laugh.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, a massage, meditation, tai chi, or yoga might all help.
  • Spend time enjoying the company of family and friends. It will do you good to reconnect with people you care about over a delicious meal.
  • Take time for hobbies. Pick up some books to read during the next year or find some relaxing music to enjoy.
  • Not all stress relief is equally effective. You might think you are managing your stress by watching television, playing video games, or surfing the internet, but if you are doing these things instead of more constructive activities, you are actually making the problem worse. Short-term relaxation can lead to increased long-term stress because you are not making good use of your time.

    If you implement a plan for relieving chronic stress and it doesn’t seem to be working, that is the time to check in with your physician. Maybe something else is going on physically. You could also consider seeing a counselor or therapist. Make sure it is someone you are confident can really help you; otherwise, move on to someone else. Someone who is good can help you identify sources of stress and figure out new ways of coping with it.

    If you experience one or more of the following symptoms, especially while doing something physical, ask for emergency help:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Pain that you feel going into your shoulder or arm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Why are these symptoms more urgent than chronic stress alone? They might indicate a heart attack; if they do, then you need immediate medical care.

    Stress, true enough, is both good and bad. However, though it can seem overwhelming, there are simple and effective steps you can take to relieve it, such as exercising, laughing, relaxing, and spending time with your friends and family. Now, don’t you feel relieved already?