Though causes of
stress can be plentiful, there are multiple ways to combat stressors and the
negative toll they can take on the body.

Christina
Geithner, Ph.D., and an ACSM-certified health/fitness instructor, says people
experience stress in different ways, depending on the severity and duration of
the stressor. Stress can have a positive impact in that it can motivate
as well as help maintain focus and alertness. On the down side, stress may
result in feelings of being overwhelmed or out of balance, and can cause
anxiety and depression.

Geithner says
that stress can have numerous disruptive effects on the body – not just the
mind – including fatigue, headaches, stomach upset, sleep problems, backaches,
changes in appetite, increased cortisol secretion (the so-called "stress
hormone"), changes in weight (loss or gain), increased resting heart rate and
respiratory rate, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, muscle tension,
sweaty palms, and cold hands and feet.

"Stress is a
common problem in today's society, largely because increased pressure to
perform on the job has created work/life imbalances," Geithner said. "Other
major stressors include death of a spouse or family member, divorce, marriage,
and personal injury or illness." She also cited job demands, a move or change
in a work or living situation, relationship issues or arguments, financial
issues, and holidays as possible causes of stress.

Many methods of
stress reduction exist, including breathing, meditation, progressive relaxation,
and exercise. All tend to reduce anxiety, depression, heart rate and blood
pressure, and enhance a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing.

"Exercise serves
as a distraction from the stressor, and results in reduced muscle tension and
cortisol secretion," Geithner said. "The additional benefit of exercise is that
when done alone or used in combination with other stress reduction methods, it
also improves physical fitness and has the potential for more profound effects
on chronic disease risk reduction than other stress reduction strategies."

As part of a
stress management routine, Geithner suggests eating a healthy diet, getting
adequate sleep, practicing breathing exercises, and including aerobic as well
as mind/body exercise such as yoga, t'ai chi, or pilates.

Make time for
activities and people you enjoy on a regular basis, and laugh often," she said.
"Try to accept that you can't control everything in your life. Make choices
that support your well-being and reduce your stress, rather than add to it.

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