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Understanding Stress & How To Manage It

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What is stress and what can you do about it? Find out here.

What is stress? [1] Stress seems to seethe all around us — you read about it in the newspapers and magazines, hear about it on TV, Google it online. There appears to be a consensus out there: stress is hazardous to your health and well-being.

But stress is seldom defined. They tell you to avoid it, that you need to "de-stress" your life, but only rarely does anyone tell you just how to do that. So you worry — you even stress about having stress — rather than doing something about it. After all, what in the world can you do? How To Break Up With A Friend

Actually, the word "stress" is used in two ways, and we need to distinguish them in order to make any sense at all. First, stress refers to a physiological reaction in the body in which the adrenal glands put out cortisol and adrenaline, the heart speeds up,and breath comes faster. You might have an uncomfortable, "pressured”" feeling (actually, this is distress).

The second meaning of stress is an outside situation or event that evokes this stress reaction. I will call this a stressor and reserve the word stress for the physiological reaction.

The making, and unmaking, of a stressor. Like beauty, a stressor is often in the eye (or mind) of the beholder, stressing me out but not you. There are lots of reasons for this: individual temperament and history, the different associations you or I make or don't make, the different meanings we make of various external happenings and situations. The Monogamy Myth: Nothing Lasts Forever

It is important to realize that you can change a stressor into something else, by changing you outlook, or reframing. A noisy environment, for example, may feel stressful, but you may learn to ignore it, to tune it out — one less stressor. Or you might fret at having to do an unfamiliar task, until you realize it's a great opportunity to learn something new.

Stress is neutral. Although most of us perceive stress as a bad thing, actually, in itself, it is neither good nor bad. The notion that all stress is bad is a misconception: there is good stress and bad stress.

The positive kind of stress is known as eustress. Eustress includes excitement, positive anticipation, challenging tasks, determination. Negative stress, which most of us think of as just stress, is called distress. Nice Guys Are The New Bad Boys: 5 Signs He'll Break Your Heart

It is interesting to notice that the physical symptoms are the same, though the mental experiences are very different. It is our reactions to each potential stressor that determine whether it is stressful in the first place (it might be just neutral), and if so, whether it is distressing or positive. Sometimes you can control how you react and therefore whether you have a positive or a negative experience. Say, for instance, you meet someone new in a social situation. This could feel [di-]stressful to you (as it does to some people).

If you change your frame of mind, however, thinking to yourself, "Here is my chance to find out about a possibly interesting, fascinating new person," you may find yourself intrigued and excited by the encounter — eustress[2].

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.

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