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By Betty Ann Rudolph, L.C.S.W.
Beacon Behavioral Services

In the midst of these troubled times, we wanted to take a moment to talk to you about stress. We are all familiar with the word "stress". Often, we associate stress with imagined upcoming changes. We worry and brood about how our world is changing, about how war and terrorism will impact our lives, about whether strange illnesses will overcome us and those we love. We worry about things large and small. Your body too experiences stress in response to anything that threatens to or actually causes a change in your life.

What Causes Stress? Quite simply put, both good and bad changes in your daily routine cause stress. Looked at another way, causes of stress can be classified in two general groups: external and internal. External stressors can include relatives getting sick or dying, jobs being lost, or people criticizing you or becoming angry. However, most of the stress that we have is self-generated by our thoughts, perceptions and internal reactions to the external stresses we experience. Some examples of stress inducers are:

• Death of a loved one
• Divorce, marriage, or reconciliation
• Menopause, puberty, pregnancy or PMS
• Legal problems
• Serious personal injury
• Work problems
• Promotions, role changes at work, or retirement
• Changes in social activities
• Changes in health
• Sleep difficulties
• Financial problems
• Outstanding achievements
• Arguments with friends or loved ones
• Chronic physical problems
• Changes in living conditions or moving
• Difficulties with intimacy

How Can You Relieve Stress? Since our response to external stress is under our control we actually have a measure of choice in coping with stress that at first might not always be apparent when outside forces act on us. Here are a few stress reduction strategies.

Exercise: Regular exercise can help drain excess energy that builds up from stress.
Practice Relaxation/Meditation: We can learn to decrease our physical response to stress.
Sleep: Try to develop healthy and regular sleep patterns.
Decrease Caffeine: Caffeine can actually be a stimulant which can generate a stressful physical reaction.
Balance Work and Leisure Activities: Make sure you get enough time to take care of yourself. Your leisure time is for you to refuel your emotional reserves.
Set Realistic Expectations: Give yourself permission to have reasonable expectations of yourself and others. Don’t set yourself up for disappointments.
Examine Your Belief Systems: Understand that your beliefs are not "truths" but your personal opinions and lessons you have been taught. Make sure your beliefs are indeed rationale and appropriate.

Stress is often thought of in a negative light. However, taking control of our responses can help us channel the stress productively as we strive to stay active and alert, prepared to face the challenges, obstacles, and changes ahead.