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You’re Stressing Me Out

Filed Under: Sexual Health at 2:26 pm | By: Susan Coyle, Senior Editor
StressStress is a fact of life. Undoubtedly, it is one that you try to avoid. If congestion on the turnpike constantly makes you late for work, you alter your route or leave earlier. If your decreasing bank account gives you ulcers, you start budgeting and stop unnecessary buying. When stress pops up, you take steps to make it disappear, but more often than not it sneaks back in. That new route is suddenly rent with construction, making you even later. A week after you start saving, your car dies and you’re slapped with a thousand-dollar bill. You simply can’t escape, so you develop coping strategies. You find ways to make yourself feel better. But what you don’t realize is that how you cope with stress may affect your health.

A recent study found that men who handled stress well had healthier levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) also known as “good” cholesterol. Those who handled it poorly were often the more hostile individuals with worse levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides. The amount of stress each man faced played little part in their cholesterol levels; it was all about how they dealt with it not how often.  So, what are examples of bad coping mechanisms? In general, anything that centers on self-blame, social isolation and negative behavior isn’t a good idea. Specifically, habits like reaching for a bag of chips, drinking, zoning out in front of the TV or keeping everything buried until you explode are going to do more harm than help. You’ll end up overeating, mentally exhausted and still stressed, with new problems, like high blood pressure and a suppressed immune system, on top of the old ones.  What, then, are your other options?

Some researchers suggest . . . more stress. However when they recommend this, they differentiate between good stress and bad stress. Bad stress is what’s causing the problems. It’s the kind of stress making you tear your hair out on a regular basis. Good stress is the kind making you giddy right before you rappel down a rock wall. It’s adrenaline. Studies have found that with the rush of adrenaline comes a release of dopamine and endorphins, making you feel really, really good. The more often you experience this, the more likely your body is to react to any stressful situation with the same release. You’ll attack problems with a positive rather than negative force. So, all you have to do is whip out that rock-climbing gear and find a mountain . . . not exactly. You don’t need to become an extreme sportsman to reap the benefits of adrenaline. Any activity that starts with “Oh my God” and ends with “Woohoo!!” will work.  But if you’re not willing to even try that, there are other choices. Try taking a walk or a warm, soothing bubble bath. Meditate. Read a book; talk to a friend. Just don’t keep it bottled up inside and don’t rely on habits that are only going to add to your problems. Stress can’t be helped; how you deal with it can.

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