Stress is notoriously a double-edged sword. We need a certain amount of stress to keep us on our toes, healthy and motivated.

But too much of it and we can crash into nervous breakdown; too little and we feel bored and apathetic. Stress is so much a buzz word of the 90’s that you might think we knew all about how to manage our lives to avoid its extremes. Yet on the contrary, stress thrives untrammelled in the lives of many of us, whether it is caused by pressures of work, tension in relationships, the difficulties of raising a family; all of these combined, or a range of other factors.

The consequences for our health can be overwhelming. An estimated three-quarters of all medical complaints are stress-related, which means that 75 percent f the people in physicians’ waiting rooms could benefit from some sort of advice on how to reduce stress in their lives. The effects of stress can be both obvious and subtle. Some people show up with noticeable symptoms such as rashes or headaches. Often, however, the physical effects are less evident and so more potentially dangerous in the long term; they could include high blood pressure, ulcers and stomach disorders, panic attacks or rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Stress may be at the root of a host of disorders, from migraine to strokes, from constipation, colds and eczema to impotence and insomnia. Indeed, many complementary practitioners argue that stress – by undermining our immune systems – is a factor in almost all cases of illness. Harder still to measure are the effects of stress on the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us. Stress may be at the root of phobias, compulsions, anxieties, and nervous habits which can make the simplest of our daily routines intolerable. Stress can steadily wear away at confidence – until we wake up one morning wondering what happened to the person we once were.

Stress can also lead us into unhealthy habits of smoking and/or drinking, because it seems at first that a few glasses of wine or a cigarette will calm us down and help us cope. The reality is the opposite: alcohol is a depressant, tobacco a toxin, both can be addictive – and by depleting our energies they make it harder to manage stressful situations in the long run.

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