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Are You Stressed Out?

How to avoid letting stress take control of your life — and cause trouble for your health.

Feeling stressed out? You're not alone. Statistics Canada says that over 1 in 4 Canadian workers report being highly stressed in their daily lives.

To most of us, stress is an emotional reaction to an isolated situation such as an overbooked schedule or a looming deadline. But stress can also be all-consuming, especially when it relates to a tragedy that awakens our most deep-rooted fears of vulnerability and loss of control.

Stress occurs when the body is continually in a state of "red alert." When you're late for a dentist appointment or your toddler is toying with a shelf of glass figurines, your body starts to pump adrenaline in preparation for either a confrontation or a quick escape — the "fight or flight" mechanism.

When you walk away without expending that extra energy, your body has to cope with what amounts to a physical false alarm. If this happens daily, your heart, internal organs and immune system will eventually register the strain, heightening your vulnerability to everything from the common cold to heart attacks.

What's considered stressful is completely personal. Short bursts of adrenaline are common during a tennis match, a surprise party or a sample sale of a hot designer. And events that your best friend might consider stressful (like giving a toast or bidding on an item at an auction) might be exciting and enjoyable to you. An individual's stressors are as unique as her fingerprints. A high-energy person might consider taking a nap in a hammock to be intolerably stressful because she craves activity.

To define your own stress limits, think about whether you’re in control. If you feel like life is controlling you rather than the other way around, or nothing you do at work or home is ever enough, you’re stressed.

Here are eight ideas for keeping stress at bay:

  1. Accept that you can't do it all and delegate tasks to others.
     
  2. Don't try to multitask. Do one thing at a time.
     
  3. Create a routine and set aside a couple of hours one evening a week for must-do chores.
     
  4. Tune out and schedule one TV- and phone-free night each week.
     
  5. Plan ahead. Figure out your weekly menus and shop in advance for groceries.
     
  6. Keep a to-do list and look at what has to be done that day and whether anything can be postponed.
     
  7. Stop worrying about other people's expectations.
     
  8. Let it out — talk about what's stressing you with your friends and family.