Stress isn’t all bad. It may help us focus better on an exam or a deadline. On the other hand, chronic stress can keep us from performing as well as we should. And when stress bleeds over into sleep time, it can keep us awake for hours—or wake us up in the middle of the night, and keep us awake. Excessive stress has been traced to a multitude of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, substance abuse, and obesity.
Our bodies were designed to deal with occasional stress but not the never-ending kind. Chronic stress is like walking around with a personal smoke alarm on that never quite shuts off. We feel edgy, anxious, on guard. The body ignores the immune system and the need for daily repairs in favor of staying constantly battle ready. No wonder we feel tired—and no wonder the body breaks down!
Stress may be a more powerful pain generator than repetitive motion. And in fact, pain and stress can feed off one another, creating a vicious cycle. Learn ways to reduce and manage stress better with the articles at right.
Women are more easily stressed by problems centering on the home and by conflicts or illness in people they know. Men are more significantly affected by job loss, legal problems, and work-related issues. Men are also more likely to get depressed over divorce or separation. Depression in women is more likely to spring from interpersonal conflicts or low social support.
Men tend to try to de-stress by planning rational solutions to problems or with positive thinking, humor, day-dreaming, and fantasies. Women, on the other hand, often choose to connect with their social support. Unproductive approaches to stress include self-blame and wishful thinking.
Optimism helps us deal better with stressors. It helps us make positive choices, set goals, and expect positive outcomes. Optimists are more likely to eliminate, reduce, or learn how to manage their stressors instead of ignoring, avoiding, or withdrawing from them.
Optimism predicts better outcomes in stressful medical procedures and helps to prevent depression in the elderly. It’s associated with healthy aging and more happiness. Studies have shown that optimists are not as likely to have high blood pressure. Stress plus anger, however, can prolong tension-type headaches and lead to depression and slower wound healing.
The workplace has become a major stressor, contributing to the risk of hypertension and heart disease. What stresses us out, however, is not the job, but our attitude toward it. People who are angry over high job strain or who are worried about chronic work overload have much higher levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol in their bodies in the morning—before work has even started! The lack of a sense of control over a job has also been associated with higher stress and elevated blood pressure.