VALDOSTA — Everyone hopes for a happy New Year, but with stress plaguing the lives of so many Americans, it’s hard for the joy to last far beyond that first day.

Soon after the holiday is over, the same things people needed a break from in the first place will find them once again in the new year, rehashing the old year’s frustrations.

In the early 1980s, stress began to gain national recognition as possibly being American’s No. 1 health problem. Since then, several surveys and studies have gone on to define stress and its overall effect on day to day life.

Hans Selye, named the father of stress research, defined stress as the non-specific response of the body to any demands placed on it. Such a definition makes stress seem just as natural to human beings as breathing.

Several physicians and health care providers believe stress is a natural response. Patient Care Coordinator of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at South Georgia Medical Center and RN Judy Ellis said, “Stress can’t be avoided, it is very much a part of life. It’s what gets us up in the morning to face another day. The key is to learn to anticipate it and not let it take you by surprise.”

Several different stressors affect daily life and are most often identified as work responsibilities, parental duties, or requirements at school. A person experiencing stress typically undergoes the “fight or flight” response, and pulse and heart beat quicken, pupils dilate, perspiration increases and the immune system shuts down. If this response continues over a prolonged period of time, the result can become detrimental.

Yumeka Brezial-Mincey, 32, a mother of two toddlers, said family responsibilities combined with the demands of her job sometimes cause her to experience stress in her life.

“I know that I’m stressed because I experience physical symptoms. I get headaches, I become fatigued, and my stomach gets irritated. That’s when I take some me time,” she said.

Ellis agrees that stress can result in physical symptoms and illnesses in some sufferers, including chronic fatigue, colds and allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and sexual dysfunction. Stress is even known to cause more severe health issues including cardiac problems, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Regis Hair Salon’s Master Cosmetologist Belinda Krause said that she has seen the effects of stress in several of her clients.

“I have seen the results of stress first hand in some of my clients, mainly the women. For some, hair breaks or comes out in the handfuls. For others that experience sudden impacts like a death in the family, I have seen it turn from very dark to stark white overnight,” she said.

As many adults try to address stress in their lives, their means of suppression often does more harm than good.

Director of out patient services for the Green Leaf Center Patty White-Cosey said, “We find that people engage in drinking and recreational drug use, and some use prescription medicines not prescribed to them, all creating a more serious problem.”

White-Cosey also said that people who are stressed at work often take on irregular sleeping habits in an effort to try and catch up from a stressful 60-hour work week.

Selye believed that although a person cannot control the demands faced daily, one can learn to control his or her response to those demands. “The first step to learning how to control your response to stressors is to identify what emotions caused you to stress. Think of something that made you feel angry, frustrated, annoyed, afraid, etc.,” Ellis said.

Because human emotions actually initiate stress, no one is immune.

Maya Hamilton, 12, said, “I get stressed at school because I have to pass my classes. At home, my two younger sisters stress me out all the time, and I usually just go to my room, close my door and listen to music. Music helps me deal with stress.”

Several means of relaxation can be used to alleviate stress and several health officials suggest deep breathing, humor, meditation and yoga, as well as physical activity.

“Exercise has so many benefits and it can really help a person who is stressed. It produces endorphins in the body giving people a euphoric feeling. It helps to decrease blood pressure, and exercise can help you to just forget about yourself,” said YMCA fitness instructor April King. She suggest any cardiovascular exercise as means to stress alleviation.

Others have found their own means to reducing stress in their lives. James Hall, 59, is a grandfather of four and said, “For the most part, I try to leave stress from work at work, but when I can’t, I’ve found that fishing is the best relief for me.”

Paul Graham, 33, suggest spiritual means as a stress reducer. “I don’t think you really notice till you’re already in it, but when I find myself there, I use prayer and my family to get out of it. Church is my essential stress reliever.”

White-Cosey encourages people to set limits and boundaries to the time that they give to others and always maintain personal time for themselves. Although she encourages relaxation, she also suggest that removing procrastination from one’s life is key to alleviating stress.

For information on reducing stress or for a free and confidential stress assessment by a licensed professional, call 671-6700.

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