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Try these guidelines to help manage stress

According to Prevention.com, stress and stress-related illnesses probably will be among the top public health problems of the 21st Century. Eighty percent of diseases have a stress-related component in them. Nusingworld.org points out that nurses could end up filling up the hospital beds we manage.

The negative effects of stress are numerous and far-reaching. Stress can cause fatigue, inattention and behavioral changes. Individuals may experience feelings of helplessness, isolation, frustration and powerlessness.

They may feel unsafe or have an increased fear of violence. Increased absenteeism, tardiness and attrition may affect productivity. A stressful lifestyle may be manifested in certain psychosocial signs or symptoms. Sleeplessness, depression, weight loss or gain, shortness of breath, suspiciousness and increased degree of risk-taking may occur. Irritability and burnout can affect job performance. Furthermore, the pressures of life put us an increased risk of developing cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and major psychosocial problems such as suicide.

However, stress does have some merit in its positive effects on us. Stress ignites the “flight or fight mechanism” that sends a rush of adrenaline in our bodies. Adrenaline sends a rush of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs. Then, we can be alert and think on our toes. Mild to moderate stress is required for us to live and enjoy life. When we are afraid or feel pressured performing a dangerous or important task, our reflexes are active.

We have a tendency to respect those tasks that are critical; and with stress, we can focus and think clearly. For instance, a person who is afraid of public speaking may have sweaty hands and heart palpitations. Those palpations occur to send oxygen to the brain so that he or she can think and be a powerful speaker. The sweaty hands and body cool the skin to help us to be comfortable.

So, what can we do to manage the negative effects of stress in our lives? We can make prudent changes in our lifestyles. We should get enough sleep, exercise regularly (such as walking), eat a balanced diet, avoid smoking and recreational drugs, change our perspectives accordingly, and be aware of those activities that are stressful and our response to them.

A strong support system is important to manage stress. Finding humor can help to release the endorphins that are our natural pain and stress fighters. Make time for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. Those with many social, civic, work and family responsibilities should organize and manage their time so that they are not overwhelmed.

Develop new friendships. Don’t hesitate to get help for skills that are stressful to perform. Herbal therapy with lavender or sage have shown to be effective. Relaxation techniques, such as music, deep-breathing, relaxation tapes or books and meditation can relieve stress. Above all, our spirituality and relationship with a higher power can put us at ease. We can trust God and find peace in prayer.

Perhaps you will be able to manage the stress in your life by following these practical guidelines. Do you think you can do it?

(References: http://carenurse.com/; http://www.nurseweek.com/news/features/01-01/care.asp; http://www.nursingworld.org/tan/julaug99/stress.htm; http://www.prevention.com; www.medicinenet.com:

Sarah M. Ware, PhD, RN, CNE, is a retired nurse educator and a Natchez resident.