You know the feeling. Your heart rate jumps, your body tenses and your mind just spins.
Sometimes it leaves you feeling as if you're a gerbil on the wheel, endlessly running, with no idea how to get off. Just keep breathing, you tell yourself.
But the trouble is, if you experience this stress long term, it has been shown to affect your productivity, physical health and relationships. And given the nation's economy, with people facing work and money woes, now is a good time to be more aware of the stress in your life, psychologists and doctors say.
"If people experience too much stress, it becomes a distraction and overloads them and they're not able to actually function," said Dr. Nanci Klein, a Salt Lake City-based psychiatrist. "It's important for people to understand there is a strong relationship between the quality of their life and how they cope with stress."
A 2007 survey by the American Psychological Association showed one-third of Americans believe they live with extreme stress. Close to 50 percent believe their stress has increased the past few years, the survey said.
Top stressors? Work and money, along with family and health issues, according to the APA.
Leah Forster, a licensed clinical social worker at Primary Children's Medical Center, said the best advice she can give to people experiencing stress is to try and relax and deal with issues one day at a time.
"Live in the moment," she said. "Live very much in the moment."
Forster works with children with cancer and their families. She said she has watched parents, who are often more aware of the long-term effects of cancer, experience a multitude of stress-related issues, including sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, headaches and an increase in illnesses.
The people who cope the best with stress have a strong support network or can rely on a spiritual belief system, according to Forster. Other coping methods include professional counseling, exercise or meditation.
"It's OK for people to take care of themselves," Forster said.
But that's the challenge, according to Klein. People often don't realize when they're stressed and won't seek help until they are unable to function, she said.
As a professional psychologist, Klein said she is trained to ask questions and help a person examine what parts of their life they are in control of and what they need to change. It's a simple concept but can offer hope to someone feeling overwhelmed, she said.
"They haven't really thought of where they do have a choice in what they do," she said. "Beginning to explore where people are actually empowered is often an eye-opening experience for them."
The APA survey showed that consumers believe "talk therapy," or visiting with a psychiatrist, is reportedly more effective than medication. The survey also said 64 percent of Americans were taking steps to reduce stress and become empowered.
But at the same time, more than 1 million American workers take time off work each day to cope with stress, the APA reported. As result, more than $300 billion is lost because of absenteeism, reduced productivity and workers compensation benefits, according to the American Institute of Stress.
King Udall, a Salt Lake City-based family medical practitioner, said he has observed in 26 years of practice how stress can impact physical health and well-being. While he has no personal evidence to prove stress is increasing, he believes the idea isn't surprising, especially considering the nation's economy.
His advice to people is to talk about their worries, breathe, listen to soothing music, develop a new hobby or exercise. Sometimes he will recommend medication or professional counseling.
But finding an emotional-support system is key.
"It's so multifactorial that it's hard to say one thing would work," Udall said. "I would recommend they get as much support and interaction with people who are a high priority part of their lives. Work with those who are causing the stress, whether in a marriage or your boss."
Sue Crapo, a Kaysville grandmother and mother of four, said she believes stress can be tied to an increasingly busy world and the pressure to do everything. While no person is immune to stressful feelings, she believes people can still find joy.
Crapo copes with stress by running, talking with family and seeking divine guidance.
"If I really feel myself starting to get out of control if I'm feeling so overwhelmed, I try to pull myself back and take a breath and take time to do things for myself," Crapo said. "It sounds really simplistic or trite, but we really just have one shot at this life. There are so many good, wonderful things to enjoy."For more information about stress, log on to: apahelpcenter.org.
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