We generally think about stress in the negative. We talk about how much stress we’re under, a stressful situation, a stressful job or relationship, or how stress contributes to cardiovascular disease and so forth, and generally speaking, we aren’t too far off. Many years ago the so-called “father of stress” Hans Selye first identified emotional stress as a factor in the progression of cardiovascular (and other) diseases, when before that time stress was primarily viewed as a mechanical phenomenon used to calculate when structures such as bridges might fail. He showed that are physiological effects of sustained emotional trauma that eventually lead to the breakdown of tissues and failure of entire systems such as heart attack or stroke. Later, the social scientists Holmes and Rahe showed that stress need not be a single event, but could be cumulative, and that a series of apparently disconnected events ranging from traffic tickets to arguments between spouses up to major events like the death of a spouse or even loss of a job, when taken together, could be just as damaging as a single major event.


So yes, stress can be harmful. But the other side of the coin is that without stress, growth cannot happen. The stress of pushing ourselves during weight-bearing exercise is what builds muscle. The stress of pushing to achieve a goal is what allows us to go beyond our current limits to reach that goal. Without stress, nothing of value is achieved. It’s not that stress itself that is bad; it’s that stress gets out of control and seems to unrelenting.


But there’s an even more important component that is frequently overlooked, and that is how we respond to stress. There are strategies that allow us to deal with stress in a more positive fashion, so that we don’t dwell on it. For example, exercise has been well documented to reduce the effects of stress. Something as simple as going for a walk of a bicycle ride. Or even taking a break from whatever you’re doing that may be contributing to stress, closing your eyes for a few minutes and practice some deep breathing can help.  Exercise doesn’t have to be long or arduous; even a relatively short break can make a difference. Regular exercise is of course the best; if you can develop the habit of daily exercise for 20 or 30 minutes, that’s extremely beneficial. If it’s been a while since you exercised you might want to start slowly and build up over time but something is infinitely better than doing nothing!


A good diet goes a long way to offset the negative affects of stress as well. Highly refined foods and high fat foods should be avoided as much as possible in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid sweetened beverages (even artificially sweetened drinks) in favor of water.


Also remember that stress depletes your body of certain nutrients. B vitamins are sometimes knowns as “stress” vitamins because they are required in higher concentrations during stressful situations. Magnesium is required for nearly 400 different energy-producing enzymes in the body, and so forth. If your diet is deficient in any of these, a vitamin or mineral supplement may be important to replenish them during stressful periods.

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