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Are Daily Hassles Making You Sick?

When you think of big stress, you probably think of major life-disrupting events: a job loss, a gravely ill parent or friend, a case of identity theft, a significant financial loss. But sometimes, big stressors can come in little packages: the juice glass that broke at breakfast, the weeds gathering in the front flowerbed, the phone call you need to make to your mother.

Sure, little day-to-day hassles such as these are not monumental and probably don't feel extremely stressful. Individually, they certainly don't weigh heavily in the grand scheme of overall emotional well-being.

But could those little daily stresses hamper your health or even make you vulnerable to serious illness and disease? Research says maybe so.

An Ugly Cycle

Recent studies suggest that, taken together, minor hassles and annoyances from everyday life may be the biggest stressor of all.

These mini stressors mount as they become part of a daily routine, and because days tend to mirror days, whatever little hassle tugged at you one day is likely to repeat on another day. Eventually, all those overdue phone calls and all those annoying little accidents and all those unfinished household tasks can add up to major, chronic stress.

Are minor stresses getting the best of you? Take this quick quiz for a better idea.

Daily Life Equilibrium Calculator

As you reflect on a typical day, look over the following list, print it out, and then rate on a scale of 0 to 3 how much aggravation or satisfaction the below items contributed to your stress level. Keep in mind that some items may be sources of both aggravation and satisfaction. You must write down an answer for each item on both the "aggravation" and "satisfaction" sides.

0 = None or not applicable
1 = A little bit
2 = Quite a bit
3 = A great deal

Aggravation Please assess: Satisfaction
People in Your Life
  Children  
  Spouse  
  Relatives  
  Friends  
  Coworkers  
  Pets  
Your Work
  Job security  
  Workload  
  Available time off  
  Benefits offered  
Your Environment
  Current events  
  Economy  
  Weather  
  Community or neighborhood issues  
Your Daily Schedule
  Time with family or friends  
  Time alone  
  Housework, yard work  
  Commute time (errands, appointments, work)  
  Cooking, eating  
  Entertainment and recreation  
  Personal organization  
Your Finances
  Bills, financial obligations, medical costs  
  Savings, investments, emergency funds, retirement plan  
Your Personal Health
  Physical appearance  
  Physical and mental abilities  
  Drinking or smoking  
  Sex and intimacy  
  Exercise  
  Nutrition  
Aggravation
score =
Add up the total of each column. Satisfaction
score =
 
Your Daily Life Equilibrium Score =
(Subtract your Aggravation score from your Satisfaction score.)

What Your Results May Mean

 

If your score is less than or equal to -25
Considering only the items on this list, your responses indicate that your daily life is fairly stressful and includes quite a few situations that trouble you or cause you aggravation. Because daily patterns tend to repeat over time, this could mean the negative aspects of your daily life contribute to an unhealthy level of stress. Learning to effectively minimize stressful responses and feelings and increase the amount of satisfaction you get from day-to-day activities and responsibilities could benefit you, especially if you exhibit any physical or emotional symptoms of stress.

If your score is between -24 and +24
Considering only the items on this list, your responses indicate you have probably struck a good balance between daily activities that give you satisfaction and daily activities that cause you aggravation. A routine that provides more aggravation than pleasure could place your health at risk, so read on to find out how to help maintain the healthy balance you have struck and perhaps even push the balance further in your favor by counteracting the damaging effects of stress.

If your score is equal to or greater than +25
Considering only the items on this list, your responses indicate that your day-to-day activities probably bring you quite a bit more satisfaction than they do aggravation. Because daily patterns tend to repeat over time, having the positive aspects of daily life outweigh everyday concerns is a good sign for long-term physical and emotional well-being. Read on to find out how maintaining this level of satisfaction with your life and consistently managing stressors will help counteract the damaging effects of stress.

Remember, however, that this test is not meant to replace a clinical assessment but rather to help you assess your feelings about some of the events, people, and places that make up your day. Also, other items not included in this list could negatively or positively influence your daily stress levels. Only a doctor or mental health professional can make an accurate assessment of how stress may affect your physical and emotional well-being.

Watch for These Signs of Potential Chronic Stress

  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Anxiety, worry, guilt
  • Irritability, anger, frustration
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Disorganization, confusion, distraction
  • Headaches; muscle, neck, back tension or pain
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Heartburn, stomach problems, nausea
  • Weight gain, loss
  • Skin problems
  • Loss of libido

Daily Hassles and Your Health

Unfortunately, it's very easy to let the little aggravations and pleasures of the day get out of balance. When these minor aggravations take the lead, your body eventually may experience the same damaging physical effects that major chronic stressors can cause.

Stress activates the nervous system, stimulating the secretion of certain hormones and increasing blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, metabolism, and blood flow to the muscles. Much of the time, this process is helpful. The boost in activity helps the body meet greater demands during crises -- for example, to run from a direct threat or to think and act quickly and efficiently when tackling a demanding task.

But all of this extra physiological activity may take a toll. Normally, the body can recover when the stressful situation subsides. But when the stress response is turned on too often, or for too long without time to recover, the body pays a price.

Depending on the amount of stress, this price could be high. Several studies have indicated a link between elevated stress levels and deficiencies in immune system function. In fact, long-term, unrelieved stress may depress immune system function so much that the body becomes more vulnerable to colds, flu, and other infections. Research has also linked excessive stress to chronic illnesses and diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

Manage Your Stress

Now that you've identified some of your possible day-to-day stressors, it's time to build some strategies for maintaining your equilibrium and protecting your body from stress.

You probably already know regular exercise is one of the best stress-busting tools around. Research shows that exercise routines with Eastern influences are particularly helpful, such as those that incorporate yoga, chi-gong (qiqong), and tai chi.

Researchers have also found that meditation, if practiced regularly, not only can lead to a healthier perspective on daily circumstances but also may help lower blood pressure. It has even been linked to a longer lifespan. Meditation works by inducing a tranquil state of calm through mental focus and breathing techniques.

Similar to meditation, autogenics training and progressive muscle relaxation induce calm by focusing attention and increasing body awareness. Autogenics training accomplishes this through visual imagery, such as concentrating on a peaceful place, and through awareness of body sensations, such as focusing on the weight or temperature of the limbs or on calm, natural breathing.

Progressive muscle relaxation involves slowly and systematically tensing and releasing various muscle groups, focusing on the feelings and sensations that accompany tension and relaxation. With practice, you can achieve deep relaxation quickly, even in stressful situations.

It's Yours for Life

Everyone should have at least one surefire stress-reduction strategy, so find one that works for you, and practice it regularly. Most techniques can be learned through coaching, lessons, or individual practice. Several clinics and hospitals around the country offer healthcare programs that teach relaxation techniques. Once you pick a method and master it, you'll be able to rely on it for the rest of your life to help balance out occasional hassle-heavy days.

Try These 6 Simple Tension-Relievers

  • Consume less alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine.
  • Practice deeply inhaling and slowly exhaling.
  • Set aside 15 minutes for active relaxation such as autogenics training, meditation, or brisk walking.
  • Keep in touch with supportive family members and friends.
  • Take short breaks frequently.
  • Visualize relaxing scenes.

Remember, if self-help methods aren't bringing you balance, consult your healthcare provider. He or she may suggest a more structured psychological treatment approach, such as cognitive therapy, to help you restructure negative thought processes, improve your emotional well-being, and protect your health.

Keep in mind that stress is not always the cause of health problems. If you have a specific medical or psychological disorder or concern, see a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.

July, 2009