Fine line between positive, negative stress: Best to learn about stress management

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Stress, that all too familiar word, may be defined as your body and mind's response to a demand.

Although it has taken on a negative spin, stress may actually be positive. It can motivate us and give us the energy to accomplish tasks. However, there is a fine line between positive stresses that drive us and negative stress that can make us miserable and ill.

There are a number of symptoms of stress that affect our bodies, minds, feelings, and behaviours. These symptoms may include appetite changes, aches and pains, anxiety, irritability, depression, forgetfulness, poor concentration and feelings of loneliness.

Everyone's stress symptoms are different, and it is important to recognize your own stress signs so that you can know when some stress management is in order.

Note that we are discussing stress management not stress elimination. Getting rid of stress completely is not always possible, but there are several strategies for dealing with challenging situations that can reduce their negative impact on us.

Following are some suggestions that you may find helpful:

- maintain good physical health. Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep may reduce the physical symptoms of stress;

- practice assertiveness and effective communication without feeling guilty. Often, politely refusing an unmanageable request can stop excessive stress before it starts;

- reassess your expectations for yourself and others. Looking for perfection all the time is a sure formula for stress;

- cut down on worrying. Much of what we worry about does not end up happening and is not controllable anyway. Will there be a typhoon on your wedding day? Maybe, but probably not. Can you control a typhoon? No, so why be stressed about it?;

- prioritize. Having big jobs or many small jobs can be overwhelming. Break them down into smaller, itemized lists in order of priority and check off each item as you accomplish it. It makes tasks much more manageable;

- look for help. Avoid the "Superperson Syndrome" of feeling you must take on everything yourself. Delegate tasks, seek other people's input, arrange for a housecleaning service, hire someone else to paint your house;

- change what is not working. Pass on relationships that frustrate you and activities that offer you more dread than enjoyment;

- learn to relax. Find something that unwinds both your body and mind, such as a warm bath, calming music, mediation, visualizing yourself in peaceful surroundings or writing in a journal.

The Canadian Mental Health Association is offering a Learning To Relax group this fall. The group offers information and practical strategies for managing stress and achieving a sense of peace. A variety of relaxation technique such as massage, tai chi, and music therapy will be presented by experienced guest speakers and a wide range of straightforward strategies for coping with stress will be discussed.