Julie Amparano

Stressed out?

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Turn on the television and what do you see? More talk of layoffs. Another company is going under. The economy is still slumping. Unemployment is still rising.

Walk into the office and the news isn’t much better. The recession is forcing your company to cut back on personnel. Mandatory furloughs are helping the company’s bottom line, but straining your family’s budget. They’re telling you to do even more with less. The work is piling up, forcing you to take more and more home, and your work day is creeping into the night.

If that isn’t stressful enough, terrorism still has Americans worried about their personal safety. Osama Bin Laden continues to threaten launching a wide-scale terrorist attack. And now North Korea, who many believe hacked into important U.S. agency Web sites, is renewing fears about nuclear warfare.

These are stressful times and that anxiety is taking a toll on Americans.

“People are so worried about everything,” says Vanessa Mendez, a Glendale office worker who was laid off last year but was lucky enough to find another job. “We’re worried about keeping our jobs, we’re worried about making ends meet, we’re worried about terrorism.”

Like Mendez, nearly half of all Americans report that they are more stressed today than a year ago and one-third of those queried rated their stress level as “extreme,” according to a survey recently released by the American Psychological Association.

What’s more, the demand for behavioral therapists has risen about 40 percent, and most of that was driven by money-related fears, says Richard Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of ComPsych, one of the nation’s largest employee-assistance mental health programs.

If left untreated, stress can wreck havoc on your system. However, there are healthy ways of coping with today’s stress – if you learn to recognize the symptoms and discover how to relieve stress.

How stress affects us

When stress gets beyond our ability to cope effectively, it takes a toll, impacting our emotional well-being, relationships, and even physical health. Psychologists categorize stress symptoms into three groups. Here are the things to look out for:

1. Cognitive symptoms: anxiety, ruminations, or obsessive thinking; doom-and-gloom thoughts.

2. Behavioral symptoms: difficulty sleeping, poor eating habits, alcohol or drug abuse.

3. Physical symptoms: gastrointestinal symptoms; aches and pains; headaches, respiratory problems and asthma; or lowered immunity to common illnesses.

The longer the stress continues, the worse the symptoms can get. Many times, people don’t realize that stress is causing these problems. Recognizing the symptoms is important in helping people find ways to reduce stress or seek medical attention.

Source: Psychology.com

Stress (n, stres):

Forces from the outside world impinging on the individual. Stress is a normal part of life that can help us learn and grow. Conversely, stress can cause us significant problems.

Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones that prepare us for action (to fight or flee). If we don’t take action, the stress response can lead to health problems. Prolonged, uninterrupted, unexpected, and unmanageable stresses are the most damaging types of stress.

Many of our ways in dealing with stress – drugs, pain medication, alcohol, smoking and eating – actually are counterproductive in that they can worsen the stress and can make us more reactive (sensitive) to further stress.

Stress can be best managed by regular exercise, meditation, or other relaxation techniques, structured time outs, and learning new coping strategies to create predictability in our lives. The management of stress depends mainly on the willingness of a person to make the changes necessary for a healthy lifestyle.

Source: Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary

Beating stress

You can beat stress with five easy techniques. One of these is sure to help.

1. Relaxation: Techniques center on refocusing your attention to something soothing and calming. It doesn’t matter what relaxation technique you choose, whether it’s meditation, tai chi or prayer. What matters is that you try to practice relaxation regularly to reduce stress.

2. Exercise: Exercising daily, even if it involves walking, can help beat stress. That’s because physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.

3. Music: If you can’t quite master relaxation techniques, try listening to music. Experts say it is similar to relaxation, especially if you choose calming tunes.

4. Yoga: The ultimate goal of yoga is to reach complete peacefulness of body and mind, helping you relax and manage stress and anxiety. The best part of it is that it combines exercise with meditation.

5. Massage: Most people use massage for relaxation, relief of stress and anxiety, or to reduce muscle soreness. Massage can also cause your body to release natural painkillers, and it may boost your immune system.

Source: The Mayo Clinic

Coping with job-loss stress

Don’t hide: Tell your family about the job loss. That includes your spouse, significant other, mom and dad and children if you have any. Psychologists say to be reassuring with children and let them know that all will be okay. Next, don’t isolate yourself. Keep going out with friends, family or attending networking events. With a national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, you’re definitely not alone. Hiding information adds to the stress level.

Get benefits: File for unemployment benefits immediately. Find out about continuing your health benefits and if that option is too expensive, seek alternative plans. Knowing benefits will be coming in or are still in place helps to ease anxiety.

Me” time: Experts say after being laid off, it’s good to take some time off for reflection. Figure out if this is a good time to change careers or find a job that will make you happier. Take time to pamper yourself. This will get you into a better mental state, making you a better job candidate.

Get back into the job market: Start looking for work. Use your former workdays for job searching. This will provide structure to your day, give your day purpose, and offer a sense of accomplishment.

Stay healthy: Exercise regularly. Eat well to keep yourself healthy. Stress can lead to binge eating or result in a loss of appetite. Practice relaxation techniques – such as prayer, meditation or yoga – to stave off stress. If you feel yourself slipping into depression, seek professional help.

Top 10 stressful life events

Of the 10 stressful events in life, two are evident in this recession – job loss and financial turmoil. Here is the list of life’s 10 most stressful events:

1. Death of spouse
2. Divorce
3. Marital separation
4. Jail term or death of close family member
5. Personal injury or illness
6. Marriage
7. Loss of job due to termination
8. Marital reconciliation or retirement
9. Pregnancy
10. Change in financial state

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