Long-term stress can lead to headaches to stomach disorders to depression — even very serious issues like stroke and heart disease. It’s National Stress Awareness Month, and if stress is making you sick, here are some ways to help you cope better with life’s daily challenges.

When Stress Is Good

Typically, we think of stress as bad for our health, but there are times when stress can actually be good, called “eustress”. Eustress can energize you, propel you to act, and keep you on your toes. Examples of eustress: planning a wedding or vacation, preparing for a new baby, but for some people, these same situations can create bad stress or “distress”. Why? It all depends on how the person perceives the stress.

Reframe How You Perceive Stress

By learning to change your reaction to stress, you can better cope with it. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Be realistic. People often worry about things that will never happen — things that aren’t real. If you’re stressing over a real problem, worrying won’t make the situation better. Decide what’s worth pursuing, then let go of the things that aren’t.
  2. Have a positive attitude. Give yourself a pep talk. Repeat sayings like “things could be worse” or “things happen for a reason”. Laugh! Look for something good in a difficult situation. For example, if you lost your job (bad stress), you can look at it as a positive, that is, as a catalyst to do what you really want to do.
  3. Accept what you cannot change. You may not like certain things, but accept them and work around or with them instead of getting angry. You may not be able to change the source of your stress, but you can change how you react to it. Think of things you enjoy. Joys provide balance to stress.
  4. Set up a plan of action — and follow through by taking small steps. You’ll be amazed how good you’ll feel and how you perceive stress when you set a goal. One reason people are stressed and depressed is because they feel like their lives are going nowhere. Think about your ideal life, then break down those hopes into small specific, realistic goals that are achievable. 
  5. Build healthy habits. Our bodies need regular exercise, relaxation, good nutrition, and adequate amounts of sleep. A healthy lifestyle will produce more energy (energy needed to deal with the effects of stress). Energy increases feelings of positivity. 
    • Avoid too much sugar, salt, fat, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and “crash” or fad diets.
    • Exercise releases endorphins — the ‘happy hormones’ that relieve stress and pain, and boost pleasure.
    • Healthy habits increase your longevity.

Karen’s Fit Tip: How you interpret events, that is, how you perceive stress, is the critical component in dealing with life’s challenges.

Karen Owoc

Karen Owoc is a certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist specializing in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and lifestyle medicine. Her science-based approach to longevity, nutrition, and muscle health has made her the go-to source for health seekers and medical professionals alike. Karen's best-selling book on functional longevity, "Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100", and her transformative perspective have mended many minds, hearts, and spirits.

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