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Stress, a natural physical and emotional response to events or
thoughts that might effect our well-being, has been
consistently linked to illness and exacerbation of illness in
One such study was reported last month in the CDC
HIV/STD/TB Prevention News. Researchers at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that HIV-positive men in
stressful situations with little social support were two to
three times more likely than individuals with lower stress and
more support to develop full-blown AIDS.
Other studies have also suggested that stress can
accelerate the progression of the early stages of HIV disease.
Positive results of stress
On the positive side, stress increases
our ability to respond to life challenges and improve our
Prolonged and excessive stress depresses our immune,
digestive, circulatory and respiratory systems, and can become
the underlying cause of a multitude of physical and emotional
Some stress will always be a part of your life, but you can
learn to manage it better, become more productive and enjoy
the challenges life throws your way. Fortunately, most stress
can be alleviated simply by understanding its source and
developing a plan of action.
Start by identifying the particular stressors in your life.
Why does your social, family or work situation make you feel
anxious, angry, frustrated, burned out, depressed or moody?
After you come up with a list of answers, begin to address
them. Look at each answer one at a time. Managing stress is a
slow and ever-changing process.
Signs of stress
Stress is most commonly manifested in
sleep disorders and lack of ability to concentrate, muscle
tension, headaches, migraines, ulcers, short temper, job
dissatisfaction, low morale, and sexual dysfunction, among
many other symptoms (See "What are your warning
signs?" on Page 9). Job-related stress often stems from
deadline pressures and conflicts with colleagues. For these
dilemmas, time management and effective communication skills
might work to your advantage.
No matter what causes your tension, aerobic exercise, yoga
and meditation help protect against the ill effects of stress
for Reducing Stress"). Social support is another way
to work out stress-induced emotions, instead of holding them
inside where they put wear and tear on your organs and immune
system. Changing your own outlook and actions, rather than
trying to change others whom we may deem the causes of our
stress, is almost always beneficial.
Keeping a journal, engaging in regular exercise and
practicing assertive communication are three potential
strategies to reduce stress in your life. Some stress-reducing
techniques may work better than others. Find ones that work
Benefits of keeping a journal
A journal is a tool to help you see what
causes your stress and how it affects you. Keeping a journal
allows you to explore pros and cons of possible choices and
provides insight and an outlet for emotions.
Each day this week, write about something that made you
feel stressed, or something that made you feel good. Consider
purchasing or making a diary or notebook to record your
thoughts and feelings over a longer period of time. Writing
freely for several minutes a day can help you feel refreshed
and ready to tackle new challenges.
If you need help getting started, try answering some of
How did you respond to a stressful situation today?
Did you laugh today? At what?
Are you facing any big decisions? Explain them.
Are you feeling anxious or frustrated? Why?
Benefits of exercise
Exercise is a great way to relieve
stress. Research shows that regular workouts lift depression,
release stress and sharpen the mind.
There are many health-promoting and stress-reducing
benefits of aerobic activity. Most notably, aerobic exercise
strengthens two vital organs: your lungs and, especially, your
heart. These organs bear the brunt of the body's physiological
stress response. They are constantly being called upon to
"fight or flee" from job, school, family, financial,
relationship, and every other kind of stressor we confront
Exercise improves blood flow to your brain and can cause
release of chemicals called endorphins into your blood stream.
Endorphins give you a feeling of happiness and well-being.
Exercise also relieves tense muscles and helps you to sleep.
Another perk of exercise is weight loss and maintenance.
For many of us, looking good also means feeling good. Exercise
improves physical appearance, enhances self-esteem and
self-confidence, and offers other mental health benefits.
Regular exercisers report having more energy, greater ability
to concentrate, improved quality of sleep, reduced stress
reactivity (not getting as stressed out about things as you
usually do), and even slowing the aging process.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends
increased and sustained cardiovascular elevation for 15 to 30
minutes, three to four times a week. The American College of
Sports Medicine recommends 20 to 60 minutes of aerobic
exercise (same thing), three to five times a week for optimal
fitness, with two to three strength workouts per week.
Consider walking, swimming, dancing, cycling, etc. Even
activities such as raking, shoveling and housework count as
exercise. Talk to your health-care provider before starting an
Benefits of assertive communication
Research shows that psychosocial factors
can influence immune system function. Thus, how we deal with
our social surroundings can significantly impact our health.
Suppressed anger, for example, has been linked to heart
disease. Stress may be exacerbated by how we communicate with
people. One health-promoting form of communication is
When people are not assertive, their needs are not met.
Resentment can build up, creating enormous stress on the
immune system. During these times, our skills in direct,
assertive communication are most necessary.
Many of us confuse assertive behavior with demanding that
we should be given what we want immediately. Along with blame,
threats and insults, this behavior is considered aggressive.
Behaving aggressively usually results in barriers between
On the other hand, when we operate as if we are doormats,
not asking that our needs and desires be recognized (passive
communication), we rarely get what we want. Passive behavior
includes giving in, making excuses, not saying how you feel,
and being indirect.
Often, the result of being non-assertive is anger and
frustration, which creates unnecessary stress. When we are
assertive, we are being direct, respectful, honest and clear.
Rather than demand that our needs be met, we work together to
reach a compromise, thus creating a healthier surrounding.
Nancy Wongvipat, M.P.H., a health education specialist in
APLA's Education Division, can be reached by calling (323)
993-1511 or by e-mail at nwongvipat@APLA.org.
article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS
Project Los Angeles (APLA). This article was taken from
APLA's Positive Living Our Sponsors .