The top 10 causes of stress are: death, divorce, finances, job, health, personal relationships, a chronically ill child, pregnancy, and danger. We can all agree these are valid and clear reasons for stress. However, these large and often catastrophic events do not occur every day. It is the smaller, chronic issues that continue to pressure us and invade our thoughts that cause our mounting stress, and contribute to our overall sense of unease.

When one thinks of stress, you can draw from above such things as finances and personal relationships. Other issues one can relate to stress also involve not having enough time, an unhealthy lifestyle, taking on too much, conflicts at work or at home, inability to accept things as they are, and the failure to take time out to relax.

Some of the physical signs of stress include:
* Tenseness
* Panic attacks
* Tiredness
* Stiff neck
* Shoulder and back ache
* Lack of/or increased appetite
* Lightheadedness
* Rapid breathing
* Palpitations
* High blood pressure
* Tingling in the arms and legs
* Insomnia
* Indigestion/upset stomach
* Sweating/sweaty palms
* Muscle tension
* Headaches
* Susceptibility to infection
* Rashes
* Dizziness

Some of the emotional signs of stress are:
* Anxiety
* Despair
* Depression
* Frustration
* Irritability
* Moodiness
* Anger
* Crying
* Withdrawal
* Loss of interest
* Rapid mood swings
* Loss of a sense of humor

And, some of the mental health issues assigned to stress can be:
* Impaired perception
* Reduced concentration
* Poor judgment
* Indecisiveness
* Reduced creativity
* Inaccuracy
* Reduced motivation

So, what can we do about stress if we are experiencing its effects? Well, there are several things. First, slow down. Then, talk about it. Find an honest, open friend who is someone you can talk to. Be honest with them about what is going on in your life. Be willing to ask for their help and advice, and then be willing to follow through. If you don’t feel like you have someone you can honestly talk to in your life, get a good counselor and work with them to come up with reasonable solutions that you are willing to work on.

On your own, take stock of things. Identify your stressor. Take a look at the impact it is having on your life. Is your stressor impacting you physically, emotionally, socially, or is it negatively influencing your mental health? Regardless of which area of your life it is impacting, you need to step back and make a plan. If you are experiencing insomnia or anxiety, visit your doctor and begin developing a nighttime ritual to relax, such as taking a bath, listening to soothing music, or reading before bedtime. If you’re eating habits have changed, begin following a healthy diet that you document to make sure you are following. Begin taking a walk on a daily basis to feel like you are contributing to your health, and it will also assist with lowering your stress. Anger and frustration are often a result of feeling like things are out of your control. Identify what you can do something about and what you need to let go of. We cannot control everything. Remember, traffic doesn’t care!!! Take charge of what you can by methodically addressing the problem. Letting go requires admitting you are not all powerful, and there are facts of life that will happen regardless of what you do or do not do. Reaching the stage where your perceptions and concentration are being altered by your stress means you are probably in crisis, and it is most likely time to reach out to a counselor. Remember to check with your employer to find out if you have access to an Employee Assistance Program. Through your EAP you may be able to access counseling at no fee for a limited period of time. Also, your insurance may have behavioral health services that offer coverage for counseling. If you don’t want to utilize either, most counselors will work with you on a reasonable fee schedule for counseling.

Leslie Styles, Ed.S., L.P.C.