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Stress 101 / David McMillian, LPC, LMFT

Stress 101 / David McMillian, LPC, LMFT

Posted by: admin - October 08, 2009

                                                          Monday January 18, 2010 Column


Dear David,

I think I have a problem with stress.  I’ve recently been to my doctor for a checkup and was told that I have some “borderline” physical problems that the doctor believes are stress related.  To tell you the truth, I’ve never really thought much about stress, so I wondered if you could please spend some time devoted to what it is and how to manage it.  You would think that now that I’ve reached middle age, I’d have a better handle on it, but I obviously don’t.  Thanks for your help.

Stressing On Stress


Dear SOS,

You’re certainly not alone.  Stress is one of the most serious problems facing our society today, and certainly none of us are immune from it, so let’s do a “stress 101’ to help remind us all of the benefits of consciously managing stress in our lives.

 Of course, stress is part of life, but we have to be aware of it and willing to manage it in our lives, or we will quickly find that it’s managing us.   Preventing and managing stress can help lower your risk of serious health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression. You can prevent or lessen stress by planning ahead and by preparing for stressful events when you can.  Of course, some stress is hard to avoid, but you can find ways to manage stress by noticing when you feel stressed, taking time to relax, getting active, eating healthy, and by talking to friends, family, or other people who support you in life. 

According to the National Health Information Center in Washington, D.C., when people are under stress, they may feel worried, irritable, depressed, or unable to focus. Stress also affects the body, and the physical signs of stress can include:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Tense muscles
  • Frequent or more serious colds

Stress is often caused by some type of change. Even positive changes, like marriage or a job promotion, can be stressful. Stress can be short-term or long-term. The common causes of short-term stress include too much to do and not much time, dealing with lots of little problems in the same day, getting or feeling lost or having an argument. Longer term stress can be caused by things like divorce or problems in a marriage, the death of a loved one, illness, caring for someone who is sick, problems at work, or money problems.

Managing stress can help you sleep better,  control your weight, get sick less often and heal faster, lessen neck and back pain, be in a better mood, or get along better with family and friends. Being prepared and in control of your situation will help you feel less stress. Here are some tips for preventing and managing stress:

1. Plan your time.
Think ahead about how you are going to use your time. Write a to–do list and decide which tasks are the most important. Be realistic about how long each thing will take.

2. Prepare yourself.
Prepare ahead of time for stressful events like a job interview or a hard conversation with a loved one.

  • Picture the event in your mind.
  • Stay positive.
  • Imagine what the room will look like and what you will say.
  • Have a back–up plan.

3. Relax with deep breathing.
Learn how easy it is to relax naturally by simply using your breath. There are entire books available on how to, or you can simply Google “deep breathing exercises.”

4. Relax your muscles.
Stress causes tension in your muscles, so try stretching or taking a hot shower to help you relax.

5. Get Active.
Physical activity can help prevent and manage stress. It can also help relax your muscles and improve your mood. Try a new activity like yoga or gardening.  Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, like walking fast or biking. Be sure to exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time. Do strengthening activities (like sit–ups or lifting weights) at least 2 days a week.

6. Talk with your Doctor and/or seek Counseling

Your family physician can be a great source of help and a first line of defense to help you manage stress in your life.  Talk therapy can also be an extremely valuable tool in helping you cope with stress in life.  I hope this little primer is helpful. 



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