We all have stress sometimes. For some people, it happens before having to speak in public. For other people, it might be before a first date. What causes stress for you may not be stressful for someone else. Sometimes stress is helpful – it can encourage you to meet a deadline or get things done. But long-term stress can increase the risk of diseases like depression, heart disease and a variety of other problems. A stress-related illness called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after an event like war, physical or sexual assault, or a natural disaster.
Physical reactions you experience when you're stressed are no accident. The human body developed these defense mechanisms to deal with the threat of predators and aggressors. But modern life is full of new threats. Your body's well-adapted defenses against physical dangers may not be as effective at dealing with the stress you feel while managing a huge workload, making ends meet, or taking care of an ill parent or child.
Instead of protecting you, your body's response to stress, if constantly activated, may make you more vulnerable to life-threatening health problems.
Stressful events are a fact of life, but you can take steps to manage the impact these events have on you. You can learn to identify what stresses you out, how to take control of some stress-inducing circumstances, and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally when you face events you can't control.
These strategies can include exercise, relaxation techniques, healthy nutritional choices, social support networks and professional psychotherapy. The payoff of managing stress is peace of mind and — perhaps — a longer, healthier life.
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