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9. If Your Stress Is Chronic, Identify the Cause

Chronic stress is considerably different from acute stress, although its long-term effects are much the same. For example, someone living in poverty for years and years is under chronic stress. So is someone with a chronic illness such as arthritis or migraine headaches or other conditions that result in constant pain. Living in a dysfunctional family or having low self-esteem can also be a cause. Some people’s chronic stress is obvious. They live in horrible conditions or have to endure terrible abuse. They live in a war-torn country or suffer discrimination. Other chronic stress is less obvious. The person who despises her job and feels she can never accomplish her dreams is under chronic stress. So is the person who feels trapped in a bad relationship. Sometimes, chronic stress is the result of acute or episodic stress. An acute illness can evolve into chronic pain. An abused child can grow up to suffer self-loathing or low self-esteem.

10. Another Way to Categorize Stress

Some schools of thought hold that there are four main types of stress:

• Eustress is a type of short-term stress that gives you momentary strength.

• It occurs at times of increased physical activity, enthusiasm, and creativity.

• For example, an athlete experiences eustress before a competition.

• Distress is a negative stress brought about by constant changes to a routine. It creates feelings of discomfort and unfamiliarity. There are two types of distress: acute (brief and intense) and chronic (prolonged but not necessarily less intense).

• Hyperstress occurs when a person goes over the line of what he or she can handle. This type of stress results from being overworked or overwhelmed.

• Hypostress is the opposite of hyperstress; it occurs when a person is feeling stagnant or bored. People who experience hypostress are often restless and longing for inspiration.

11. Talk to Your Doctor

Stress is a simple concept, but all the details surrounding stress can get confusing. There are many things you can do on your own to sort out your stress situation. You can read books about stress, do web research on the topic, and you can also talk to family, friends, and coworkers about their stress experiences. Those are all good options, but you may come to a point where you really need or desire a more personal, professional opinion. In that case, talk to your doctor. Before you do, though, take the time to write down some of your thoughts about what might be causing you stress in your life. Bring those thoughts and any questions you have to your appointment, and don’t leave until you get all your questions answered.

12. Take Steps to Get Enough Sleep

Depending on what type of stress you’re dealing with, you may be losing sleep as a result. But sleep is extremely important to your overall health. Making sure you get enough sleep may require a two-pronged approach:

1. Make the time for sleep.

2. Treat the sleep disorder.

However, if you do not have a sleep disorder but need to make time for sleep, or if you have plenty of time to sleep but have a sleep disorder, you obviously require only a single approach. In any case, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, you are increasing your stress, compromising your health, and probably operating well below your potential.

13. Make a Commitment to Yourself

Figure out why you aren’t getting enough sleep, then commit to changing your routine. How could you rearrange your schedule to get some things done earlier, allowing for an earlier bedtime? Could you rearrange your schedule to allow a later wake-up time? If you are staying up late to watch TV or surf the Internet, try skipping the media blitz for a few nights to see how the extra sleep changes your mood and energy level.

14. Give Yourself a Bedtime

Create a bedtime ritual for yourself. Parents are often advised to give their sleep-resistant children a routine, but the technique works for grownups, too. Your routine should include a series of steps that are conducive to relaxation— for example, a bath or shower, then perhaps a few minutes of deep breathing or other relaxation technique; a cup of herbal tea; or a good book instead of the television or computer. Try not to get into the habit of falling asleep in front of the TV. Once in the habit, falling asleep without the TV will probably take longer, and you may not sleep as well. Then, it’s lights out.

15. Don’t Stress When You Can’t Fall Asleep

Don’t get all stressed out about not being able to get to sleep. An occasional night of too-few ZZZs won’t hurt you as long as you usually get enough sleep. Rather than lying in the dark, tossing and turning in frustration, turn on the light and find something to read. Get comfortable. Sip some warm milk or chamomile tea. Meditate. Breathe. Even if you don’t get to sleep, at least you’ll get to relax. And you’ll probably feel drowsy soon.

16. Get Help for Insomnia

If you are having trouble sleeping, try these suggestions:

• Don’t drink or eat anything containing caffeine after lunch.

• Eat a healthy, light, low-fat, low-carbohydrate dinner. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of refined grains, and low-fat protein like fish, chicken, beans, and tofu will help your body to be in a calmer, more • • balanced state come bedtime. Avoid high-fat, overly processed foods in the evening.

• Eat a light dinner. Late, large dinners are upsetting to your digestive system. For a peaceful night’s sleep, make dinner your lightest meal.

• Don’t drink alcohol in the evening. While many people have a drink thinking it will help them get to sleep, alcohol actually disrupts sleep patterns, making your sleep less restful. Alcohol may also increase snoring and sleep apnea.

• Get enough exercise during the day. A well-exercised body will fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and sleep more productively.

If you are still having problems sleeping, talk to your doctor about it. Studies show that two-thirds of Americans have never been asked by their doctors how well they sleep, but 80 percent have never brought up the subject with their doctors, either. Tell your doctor you are concerned about your sleep problems. He or she may have a simple solution.

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