My column two weeks ago discussed women and cardiovascular disease. I detailed how chronic stress affects our health and raises our risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. Stress is an inevitable part of life, but the way in which we choose to manage it can mean the difference in resolving the issue at hand or increasing the stress.

Stress can be good, as well as bad, for you. Stress comes from a variety of sources, ranging from a sick spouse to an angry co-worker, but the sources of stress can be grouped into four major categories:

• Customary anticipated life events — Events that represent the changes that take place throughout life: graduating from high school, marriage, the birth of a child, etc.

• Unexpected life events — Events that are tragedies and “shocks” of life: being involved in an accident, being the victim of a crime, the sudden death of a loved one, etc.

• Progressive, accumulating events — Events that represent the everyday strains of life; unresolved conflicts in close relationships, ongoing conflicts with a spouse, continuing parent-child friction, long-term care for a disabled relative, etc.

• Personal trait stress — Self-imposed stress that is caused by perfectionism, insecurity, lack of self-confidence, and feelings of jealously or inadequacy.

A single stressful event, even a really upsetting one, typically will not cause a great deal of physical or emotional damage. But, when several stressful events occur in a short period of time (called a stress pile-up), any one of a variety of unhealthful effects can be produced. So learning more about stress and developing ways to manage it are positive health investments.  

When stress occurs, it’s important to recognize it and deal with it. Here are some steps to help reduce stress:

• Turn to physical activity — Physical exercise will relieve that uptight feeling, relax you, and might turn your frowns into smiles.

• Locate the source of your stress. You need to look inside yourself, as well as outside. Remember, spending too much time analyzing your feelings might make them bigger than they really are.

• Share your concerns with others. It might help to talk to someone, a friend, family member, teacher or counselor can help you see the problem in a different light.

• Know your limits. If a problem is beyond your control and cannot be changed at the moment, do not fight the situation. Learn to accept what you cannot realistically change.

• Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat well, exercise on a regular basis and limit your intake of alcohol and other addictive drugs. 

• Make time for fun. Do something you really enjoy. You need to participate in some type of recreation that relaxes you and also brings deep enjoyment.

• Avoid self-medication. If you load up on tranquilizers in every stressful situation, you never will be able to solve your problems. Knowing how to handle tension-producing times comes only with practice. Practice comes only from dealing with the problem, not from taking a pill and ignoring it. If you find you cannot manage or reduce the stress yourself, please seek help from a qualified professional.

Rebecca McFarland is the family and consumer sciences extension agent for Frontier Extension District No. 11, which serves Franklin County. For more information or questions about food safety, call her at (785) 229-3520 or email