Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stress Less® Worldview
The world is actually changing right before our eyes and whether we like it or not, we both benefit and suffer at the same time!
We are all witnessing the first and only "coming together" of the global economic system where we can see on a daily basis the "cause and effects" of different countries/economies (European Union) and how these changes affects on our own lives and personal finances.
The "Globalization" of technologies that connect us like satellites, cables, wireless, internet, mobile phones etc. have created an instantaneous communication that was predicted and now is real and operating. Continents, countries, unions, republics, states, cities, towns, households, families, and individuals are now able to connect, communicate, trade, educate or negotiate in an instant.
On one level it is a marvelous feat of engineering to be able to connect to anyone in the world, anytime you choose. On the other level, it begins a period of "uncharted waters" where we try to sort out how this system will really work and what are the real affects it will have on our societies and personal lives.
Stress is basically described as your competence or level of control you feel that you have on your situation. When you lose this control, you experience various  degrees of stress. As an example, you have a checking account and have enough money in the bank to feel good. However, when that money is depleted and bills are still due, for any number of reasons, you begin to feel the stress. And as the money is reduced, your stress levels go up in proportion. If you have the ability to control the situation and replenish your account, you may go back to feeling less stress. However, when you have no ability to refurbish your bank account, you begin to experience chronic stress and this starts an internal release of hormones/chemicals that will eventually destroy your body and reduce your life span, unless you learn how to manage your stress levels.
Control is everything! However, now that the day-to-day level of control is being driven by the instantaneous worldwide system we have built, we are not sure of how we can control our levels of stress. In a split second, the floor can come out from  just a tiny event. A small, apparently insignificant, place in the world could affect each of us or maybe a select few. We have no control over this and it is exacerbated by everyone having exposure to this event and their potential reactions.
So, how can we solve this dilemma? First and foremost, understand your stress level and what causes them.
 Learn  different stress management techniques you can incorporate into your daily life (breathing, meditation, visualization ,relaxation, prayer etc). Expand your worldview to incorporate our new global reality and that all people come from the same place, and most think similar thoughts and share the same emotional makeup and aspirations to succeed and be good in life.
Try to adopt a "healthy" lifestyle with a good combination of diet, exercise, sleep and relaxation.
And maybe most important, have a good basic level of "trusted and true" friends in a social network that you can talk to and socialize with. Have a "confidant" you can release your frustrations and feelings to and try to get a good "feedback" relationship where your trusted secrets are shared with each other or a group.
The world is moving fast and all we can do is just hang on and do our part to fit in without getting overwhelmed, because eventually "good will and fairness"  will overcome the "evil" in human affairs.
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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How to Become a Master of Life

Do you sometimes feel stressed and fed-up with life? Want to be happy? Joyful? Well I wonder if joy really is the state to aim for... Is it even possible?

When you think about it, intense happiness and joy are, by their nature, short lived. Note the use of the words 'by their nature.' This implies that you cannot artificially sustain joy, say by maintaining or increasing the stimulus which produced it.

You know those Amazonian insect-eating plants? Once an insect has triggered the plant to close, no amount of further stimulation will have the slightest effect for several hours. You can put that plant on a lead and take it for a walk through a swarm of flies, and its lips will remain stubbornly sealed.

Our 'joy' mechanism is similar.

Once triggered, it activates, and then a certain time period must elapse before it can be triggered again. It is has filled its purpose; I will explain what that is in a moment.

The same is true of intense happiness. We feel this fleeting, wonderfully positive response when one of our needs starts to be met.

Carefully note those last words.

I did not say 'when one of our needs is fully met.' Joy or intense happiness is our reward to ourselves for taking good care of the organism, just as pain is the opposite.

Our NeedsWe have many needs, as I am sure you know.

First in the hierarchy come our physical needs (food, water, warmth, safety, shelter, sex, touch etc...). Many of these are essential for our physical survival and so these become pressing if not met. We feel intense and desperate pain (thirst, hunger, cold) and an intense joy at the first sip of water, morsel of food or warmth of the blanket thrown around our shoulders. But this quickly wears off because that need has now been satisfied. More (or prolonged) warmth, more food or more water bring diminishing returns in happiness.

Soon we pass into boredom and indifference about those needs. We decline the third helping of swan's breast and wearily wave away the fifth overflowing goblet of mead and... isn't it getting a little warm in here? Can somebody please stop throwing peasants onto the fire...

Eventually, other needs come to the surface - the need to be cool, the need to rest and digest. Whereas before, the cold wind caused the most intense agony and you longed for a good crackling fire to warm your bottom against, now the cold breeze from the open window feels good against your face.

You feel a momentary flash of joy...

How It All BeganIn mankind's distant past, our physical needs were mostly all we took care of. Food, water, shelter, sex, warmth - that was what it was all about.

Fast forward one million years and many of us have cracked the 'physical needs' thing. Douglas Adams described the three stages of man's evolution as "How shall we eat?" "What shall we eat?" and "Where shall we do lunch?" Well, we're at the 'doing lunch' stage now, at least in the Western world. For the main part we are all more than adequately fed, watered and housed. Actually, this is a gross understatement - we luxuriate in a massive surplus of these things.

But we are far more than a collection of physical needs. We also have a whole range of intellectual and emotional needs. We also have 'spiritual' needs in the sense of wanting answers to "what's it all about?" questions and wanting to make sense of our life as a whole and attain meaning.

Let's call these our ‘higher' needs.

Higher NeedsExamples of 'higher level' needs include our need for love, meaning, contribution, efficacy, beauty, order, companionship, excitement, respect, authenticity, choice, trust, harmony -- the list is a very long one (at least two dozen needs).

Which Are More Important?The temptation here is to class these 'higher level' needs as less important than the lower level. In just one way, they are.

Non-fulfilment of lower level needs often leads to death - the actual extinction of the organism. Not filling higher level needs rarely has this effect. But there, the difference ends.

The purpose of life is not brute survival at any cost. The purpose is to survive as a man or woman, with all that this implies. To both survive and to thrive. Thriving requires that your higher level needs are also met. If they are not met, the result will be misery, defeat, low self esteem and low energy.

If too many of your needs are not met for a long period, the result will be depression in all of its guises and possibly even psychosis or suicide. Yes, lack of water will kill the organism called 'man' in a few days; but solitary confinement will kill a man (not the organism but his spirit) in a few months.

Starvation will kill a woman in two weeks; but total lack of love, warmth or affection will kill a woman (not the organism but her spirit) in a few short years.
I do not mean to imply that men and women have a different set of needs. They do not. All humans share an identical set of needs.

The Cyclical Nature of NeedsOur higher level needs are also cyclical. One example should suffice.

We have a need for companionship - we are social creatures by nature. This implies that our need for companionship is not optional. If we do not fill this need we start to feel pain. So imagine now being in solitary confinement (enforced or accidental).

After two or three days you feel discomfort. As the days of solitude accrue, you feel more intense pain - the pain of deep loneliness and the strong desire to see another human face or hear a voice.

If this continues indefinitely, the result is depression and even suicide. Can you possibly imagine that you might say: "Leave me alone! I want to be by myself! I need my space!"? No, this seems inconceivable. But let us see...

Suppose after months of confinement, you receive a visitor. What intense joy! What rapture! You cling on to the person, greedily devouring every line and wrinkle in their face; sucking up their words like a parched traveler in a desert.

Too Much of a Good Thing?Now imagine a second visitor and a third - all friends and much loved family. Such happiness! You greet them all warmly. Now a fourth and a fifth; soon fifty well-wishers and friends are crowded into your room.

Hours pass, you start to feel weary. So many people, so much talk. You start to long for some peace and quiet. But your guests have no intention of going. They stay and stay - for hours, then days. They crowd your bedroom whist you sleep, lovingly watching over you. They crowd your living room whilst you are awake, cuddling you, kissing you, touching you - saying nice things.

Gradually it becomes unbearable. You long for solitude. Your need for companionship has been sated and your need for space and quiet is now urgent. You scream out in pain: "Please! Will you all just GO AWAY! I want to be alone! I need space!"

To dark mutterings of “Well! Of all the ungrateful...” they stalk off into the night, leaving you with that which you most need at present... solitude.

And so it goes on, round and round. You could call this a 'cycle of needs.'

I like to imagine this as one of the those Hi Fi volume meters made up of moving illuminated bars (like a bar chart).

Each bar represents a need, the current level of the bar indicating the intensity of that need at any one moment. They never stand still. They dance up and down as each need is either met, or comes to the foreground demanding to be met.

The further below the mid line a bar drops, the more pain you feel. This triggers you into action to get that need met and hopefully the bar comes up to midway - the object is to keep it there.

If it goes above midway, you have overfilled that need (too much food, too much warmth, too much companionship); this also causes pain and triggers you to further action.

[Aside: Can you have too much of seemingly positive things like love or harmony? Sure you can! Imagine a cloying, overbearing lover who will not leave your side for one second and who strums lutes below your lighted window each night - or a 100% harmonious world with never an argument, never a disagreement, everything always being perfect.]

You could say that everything you do in life is a strategy for keeping those bars all in a line, in the middle. Often our strategies are misguided and even counterproductive, but still the intention is to fill a need.

No Final ResultOf course this is a dynamic thing, like juggling. It is never static.

There is never a time - not once in your entire life - where you can sit back and admire your straight line of bars, secure in the knowledge that they will remain that way for longer than a few moments.

A juggler can never relax her concentration and have the balls remain in a perfect arc above her head. And here's the really important bit: even when those bars are in a line, it does not produce joy or ecstatic happiness. These, as we have seen, are our brief reward for starting to fill an urgent, chronic need.

So what do you think is the emotion corresponding to a full set of well-filled needs?

Now we are getting closer to a sustainable and desirable state to aim for.

Everyone thinks they want to be blissfully happy, (in this particular article I am using this word in the sense of intense happiness bordering on joy.) In fact, this is unsustainable by any means - just as the fly trap cannot munch its way through an endless queue of suicidal bluebottles. It is not in the nature of the plant to do this. It is not in our nature to feel constant joy.

This is such an important point that I want you to be very clear about it. As an organism, it is not the case that our purpose is to move towards a state of permanent intense happiness (joy), any more than the juggler aims to attain a perfect frozen arc of equally-spaced balls above her head so that she might relax, arms folded.

So what is our purpose?It is to maintain a state of dynamic equilibrium - neither too hot, nor too cold; neither too tired, nor over-rested; neither starving, nor bloated.

To achieve this, evolution has provided us with two important feelings: pain and pleasure. Pain is the stick, goading us away from danger, chronic lack, or massive excess. Pleasure is the carrot, enticing us to act in a way that gets it just right - perfectly balanced. Both have the purpose of getting us to act - to do something to restore equilibrium.

Once equilibrium has been achieved, the feeling is not one of intense, prolonged happiness (that is our reward for starting to fill a much neglected need.) The result is equilibrium for the organism and we experience this as a quality of contentment.

Become a Master Juggler of LifeIf we become a master juggler of life and get the hang of keeping those tricky bars all in a row, or balls in the air, our reward is deep and lasting contentment.

Since words have many meanings, let me be a little more specific about this state. You feel that all is right with your world (which, of course, it is). You feel calm, in flow, certain, in focus, open, poised, sensitive and clear.

Other people will feel a very special quality about you and want to be close to it - they crave it too, just as every human being does. Life seems easy for you. You wonder why on earth you struggled and strained for so many years, wracked by guilt, angst, pain and unhappiness.

The reason is that you were not, at that point, a master of life.

To push the juggler analogy a teensy bit further; top jugglers like Brad Byers spend years learning exactly how to keep all of those balls or clubs flying in an arc above his head. I imagine that at times it seemed impossible; he felt like giving up. He was probably often frustrated, angry and despairing about ever being able to do such a difficult thing. But having mastered it, the process now is almost effortless for him. When juggling, he is in a 'flow' state - not struggling, sweating and striving to maintain the arc, but calm, certain, almost in a meditative state.

Happiness Is Not NaturalIs contentment the 'natural' human state?

Well, that depends on what you mean by 'natural.' Our default condition is not one of contentment.

It is entirely incorrect to say that if you do nothing, let go or drop out then you will default to a 'natural' state of contentment. The exact opposite is true, in fact.
If you seek contentment you are required to engage in a constant, relentless struggle with nature and reality (required by your essential nature, that is).

Disengaging with this struggle, as you might expect, rapidly produces discontentment closely followed by unhappiness, pain and then death. All the balls come tumbling to the ground and the audience holds it breath, wondering if this is a joke or whether they are witnessing a disaster.

Books, courses and religions which claim that man's 'natural' state is one of happiness are just plain wrong - as wrong as a book on juggling which claims that the balls 'naturally' want to be in a neat arc and that your task as a juggler is to 'get in touch' with this natural state and 'release' the balls to 'do their own thing'...

Mankind's 'natural' state is one of constant struggle to maintain equilibrium. His reward for this, if he masters it, is contentment.

Does all this talk about 'constant struggle' put you off? Perhaps you are thinking that happiness and even contentment are now well out of your reach?

Not so.

Just because you are engaged in a lifelong 'dance' with nature, does not mean that it is arduous, deeply painful and harsh - although it can be these things if you get it wrong. The truth is that it is possible to be content because our needs are not that difficult to meet, particularly these days. Not easy, but not that hard either.
The reason we feel such discontent, pain, unhappiness and angst is mainly because of false information leading to erroneous and completely incorrect strategies for filling our needs.

How to Become A Master of Life

Let's summarise the important things I have been explaining to you:

1. You have many needs, both 'lower level' (e.g. food) and 'higher level' (e.g. love).

2. Your needs are the 'voice' of the organism called a 'human being' telling you what it needs for survival as a human (not survival at any level, e.g. as a cringing, naked half-starved beast.)

3. Your needs are never filled, finally, for all time. They are cyclical. Your two dozen (or so) needs cycle round and around. At any one moment, several are urgently screaming at you, a few are muttering for attention and others are satisfied - for now.

4. When a need is not filled, you feel discomfort and then pain. This is the human organism's method of alerting the higher part of your mind (the strategy part) to come up with some plans, pronto, for filling that need.

5. If a need has been unfilled for a long time, when you attend to it you feel a burst of an emotion we call 'joy.' This is your instant reward for getting started. It is not a sustainable feeling.

6. Gradually, as you master how to juggle your needs and respond to them in a timely fashion, your reward is a feeling we call 'contentment.'

7. The trick is to become a 'master of life' - a master juggler. This is not a 'natural' state. You need to work at it and practice it. You also need an instructor. (If you have ever tried your hand at juggling, you will know it is impossible to learn, by yourself, from first principles. But if someone shows you the step-by-step method, then anyone can learn to juggle three balls in around five hours. Five balls? Come back in five years!)

In case you have not yet realised this fact, it is going to take time for you to become a ‘master of life'.

A good time to start is... now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Meditation for Students: Top 10 Ways Meditation Boosts Your Brain & Body.

As the semester draws to a close, many college students are starting to feel the pressure of completing projects, writing final papers, giving presentations, and of course, studying for finals.

Add to that holding down a job and you've got a perfect storm of stress. How to calm your mind? Meditation may be the answer.

Scientific studies are increasingly revealing some pretty amazing benefits of regular meditation practice, both for the general public and students in particular.

Meditation can help you better deal with stress and may make your life as a student healthier and happier overall, a great trade off for just a few minutes of mindful thinking a day.

Read on to learn about some of the latest and most telling studies on student meditation to learn the amazing benefits it can offer you this finals season and beyond.

1. Meditation Improves Academic Achievement

A 2009 study of 189 students in California who were performing below proficiency levels in English and math found that meditation actually helped to improve their test scores on the California Standards Tests. Students were asked to practice transcendental meditation twice a day over a three-month period. At the end of that period, 41% of students participating in the study showed improvement in both math and English scores, sometimes moving up an entire performance level, compared with just 15% who didn't participate in the program showing improvement.

2. Meditation Improves Brain Function in ADHD Students

Those who have ADHD may find meditation an effective method for improving concentration and brain function, at least according to one study published in The Journal of Psychology. A paper called "ADHD, Brain Functioning, and Transcendental Meditation Practice" appeared in the journal just last year, showcasing the results of a study that followed a group of middle school students with ADHD as they participated in a program that asked them to meditate twice a day for three months. At the end of the three-month period, students reported 50% reductions in stress, anxiety, and ADHD symptoms. Researchers also found improved brain functioning, increased brain processing, and improved language-based skills among ADHD students who practiced transcendental meditation.

3. Meditation Reduces Academic Stress

Several studies have been conducted on the effect of meditative practices on reducing academic stress, all with a similar finding: it works. In 2007 researchers at SIU in Carbondale, Ill. released a multi-year study on 64 post-baccalaureate medical students who participated in a deep breathing meditation program. Students in the study were found to have reduced perceptions of test anxiety, nervousness, self-doubt, and concentration loss. Another study of students at American University had similar results, finding that students who participated in three months of transcendental meditation practice reported lower levels of stress (as well as increased concentration, more alertness, and greater resistance to the physical effects of stress, as well as brain function changes) during finals, often the most stressful part of the academic year.

4. Meditation Improves the Integrity and Efficiency of Connections in the Brain

It should come as no surprise that meditation practice can cause physical changes in the structure of the brain; monks have been saying this for years. Yet a surprisingly small amount of meditation can have an impact, even with as little as 11 hours of meditating. A 2010 study looked at 45 University of Oregon students, having 22 of them participate in an integrative body-mind meditation training program while the control group simply completed a relaxation program. The IBMT students were found to have changes in the fibers in the brain area related to regulating emotions and behavior, changes which became clear via brain imaging equipment with just 11 hours of practice. The same changes were not seen in the control group. Researchers believe that meditation may help students to better control their actions, resolve conflict, and manage stress by actually physically changing the brain connections that regulate these functions.

5. Meditation Reduces Drug & Alcohol Abuse

It's no secret that many college students go overboard with drugs and alcohol, many binging on potentially dangerous substances multiple nights a week. Yet meditation practice may help limit the desire to engage in these activities, a study in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly reveals. Looking at both students and adults, the study found that daily transcendental meditation practice greatly reduced both substance abuse problems and antisocial behaviors. The results held true for all classes of drugs including illegal substances, alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription medications, with meditation being in many cases two or three times more effective than traditional drug prevention and education programs.

6. Meditation Reduces Behavior Incidents & Absenteeism

In 2003, researchers Vernon Barnes, Lynnette Bauza, and Frank Treiber set out to study the effects of meditation on adolescents, specifically looking at the way it could potentially reduce stress and affect school infractions. Their results were pretty striking. Forty-five high school-aged African-American students were studied, some in a control group and others practicing transcendental meditation on a daily basis for four months. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the meditation group had lower levels of absenteeism, lower levels of behavior incidents at school, and lower levels of suspension. On the flip side, these behaviors actually increased in the group that didn't meditate, suggesting that the meditation helped reduce the psychological stress, emotional instability, or hostility that was leading to negative and often self-destructive behaviors in these teens.

7. Meditation Makes Students Happier and Boosts Self-Esteem

Meditation might not just help your studies, it might also help you be happier and more satisfied as well. Researchers at the University of Michigan found 60 sixth-graders to participate in a study, asking a group of them to take part in daily practice of transcendental meditation over a four-month period. At the end of the study, researchers reported that students had undergone some positive changes in emotional development, with students getting higher scores on affectivity, self-esteem, and emotional competence than when they started the program and when compared to their peers who did not meditate.

8. Meditation Has Heart Health Benefits

Meditation is as good for your body as it is for your mind, a study at American University reports. A study published by the university in conjunction with the Maharishi University of Management found that regular transcendental meditation helps to reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and depression among college students. The study chose 298 students at random to either be part of the meditation group or a control group, with a subset of students at risk for hypertension also analyzed. After three months, students were measured on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping ability. Students who were formerly at-risk of hypertension showed a major change in blood pressure, associated with a 52% lower risk of developing hypertension in later years.

9. Meditation Reduces Depression and Anxiety

Feeling a little overwhelmed with college life? You're not alone. Studies are demonstrating that meditation may offer one solution to better coping with the stress, anxiety, and even depression that many college students experience. Research at Charles Drew University in LA and the University of Hawaii in Kohala found that adults who participated in a transcendental meditation program showed significant reductions in depressive symptoms (an average of 48% lower than the control group), even those who had indications of clinically significant depression. Similar results have been found in students, with decreases in depression and anxiety symptoms at significant levels after participating in a meditation program.

10. Meditation May Increase Intelligence

A study done by the Maharishi University of Management suggests that meditation is a great way to work out your brain and that it might even have positive effects on intelligence when practiced regularly. Looking at three different studies, the university found that high school students who participated in a transcendental meditation program had significant increases in creativity and intelligence levels, compared to those who took part in a napping or contemplative meditation program. Students in the transcendental meditation group saw increases in brain function across the board, but most dramatically in measurements of creative thinking, practical intelligence, and IQ.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Financial stress can be harmful to your health

The state of the economy has left many people and families worried about money. From paying bills to finding a job to coping with high medical costs, it can be hard to think of anything else when financial woes come your way. It's no secret that stress from finances can play a big role in changing your mental state, causing mood swings or even depression, but many may not realize what a marked effect it can also have on your physical well-being. Stress, whether from finances or other conflicts in your life, can do a number on your overall health, often in ways that you may not even realize are related to stress. If you're going through a stressful financial situation, make sure you take good care of your body, take time to relax, and get help to make sure these harmful physical effects don't take a toll on you.

Lost sleep

One of the earliest signs that stress is affecting your body is insomnia. Lack of sleep can cause some immediate effects on the body that can make getting through the day pretty hard, something no financially stressed person needs on top of everything else. While there may not be a way to get more sleep without getting rid of what's stressing you, you can set yourself up for better rest with a good bedtime routine every night.

Less money for preventative care

There is no way around it, health insurance is expensive. For those facing financial problems, it can be one of the first things cut from the budget, or may simply be lost along with exiting a job. Whatever the case may be, lack of insurance most often leads to lack of preventative care, or any care at all. Those worried about running up huge medical bills may not be as willing to head to the doctor when they see troubling signs or early indications of bigger problems. 
3 Increased levels of anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression are mental effects of stress, but they can have some physical manifestations as well. Those who are chronically stressed may begin to have panic attacks, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and increased aches and pains throughout the body. These symptoms are related both to the underlying stress and to the depression and anxiety it may cause.

A greater risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke

Stress is hard on the body, especially chronic stress, and can lead to some very serious health issues if not kept in check. Among the scariest of these is an increase in your risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Part of this may be due to those who are stressed engaging in unhealthy behaviors like drinking and smoking, but scientists think there may be a stronger correlation. Chronic stress may weaken the immune system and put undue pressure on internal organs and processes, which can lead to a variety of serious medical conditions down the road.

Increased heart rate and blood pressure

Think about something that stresses you out? Does your heart beat faster? Stress can have a big effect on your heart and larger cardiovascular system. It can make your heart rate increase, which can in turn increase your blood pressure. Prolonged stress, and raised heart rate and blood pressure, can lead to heart arrhythmias and hypertension, both very serious heart conditions that could segue into heart attack, heart disease, or stroke. If stress is raising your blood pressure, take time out to just relax, meditate, or cool down throughout the day. Your heart will thank you for it.

Greater numbers of digestive problems like ulcers, constipation, and diarrhea

When people are stressed, they rarely eat well. This can be part of what causes digestive problems, but stress itself can also take a toll and weaken the immune system, letting the digestive track become infected or inflamed. This can lead to greater instances of conditions like ulcers, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and even heartburn. Those who had these conditions before their financial stress began may see them flare up or become worse under duress. While most digestive conditions are not caused by stress, many, if not all, can be exacerbated by it.

Hair loss

When you're already stressed out, the last thing you need to worry about is the state of your follicles, but you may not be able to avoid hair loss if you're under serious, prolonged anxiety from financial matters. There are three types of hair loss that can be associated with stress: alopecia areata, when white blood cells attack and kill hair follicles; telogen effluvium, when stress pushes growing hair into a resting phase; and trichotillomania, when a stressed person pulls out his hair as a way of coping with anxiety and tension. Hair loss can also lead to lowered self esteem, self image, and overall confidence, none of which are helpful in getting back on your financial feet.

Decreased libido

When you're worried about how to pay the rent, your love life may not be your biggest concern. And it's not just due to distraction. Stress can actually cause other factors that cause a nose-dive in libido, like lack of sleep, emotional distress, and weight gain. These all combine to make it hard to want to be intimate with a partner, even if you've never had problems with interest in sex in the past. Talking through your problems, getting rest, and enjoying intimate time can all help battle the libido-killing effects of stress.

Dental issues and gum disease

Stress seems to have an effect on every part of the body, and your teeth and gums are no exception. Stress can cause many to grind their teeth or pay little attention to oral hygiene and healthy eating, which may ultimately lead to a decline in oral health. It can also cause painful canker and cold sores, most likely due to a compromised immune system. Studies have also shown that even short-term stress can lead to increased levels of dental plaque, which can increase an individual's risk of developing gingivitis. You may not be able to get rid of all the stress in your life, but you can practice good dental hygiene, which will help reduce your risk of developing any painful or problematic issues with your oral health.

Increased risk of diabetes

Stress can cause a spike in blood sugar, which can affect both those who already have diabetes and those who don't in negative ways. While development of diabetes is often also related to other health factors like obesity and genetics, stress can often be a trigger that makes underlying conditions even worse and could push your body into a dangerous place, health-wise. For women, the link between stress and diabetes is stronger, so they need to be especially careful to monitor themselves for any early signs of the condition.

Breakouts and skin problems

Just when you want and need to look your best, stress makes you look your worst. When you're stressed, your brain releases stress hormones and your immune system may be weakened, both factors that can cause your skin to go haywire. Bacteria trapped in pores, which your body can't fight off, can lead to breakouts, and your skin may become oily, flushed, dry, or inflamed in response to stress. Some people may get hives or rashes, while others may have painful, sensitive skin. Whatever the result, stress is just plain bad for your skin, and it's essential to keep it moisturized and clean and eat well when pressure's high.

Weight gain or loss

Depending on your genetic makeup and personality, stress can cause either weight loss or weight gain. Some people may experience a loss of appetite when under stress that makes them eat less and lose weight. Others may eat more to help them cope with the emotional distress caused by financial issues. Cortisol, the body's stress hormone, can often play a role in weight gain by increasing appetite and holding weight in your mid-section — a holdover from our caveman days, when stress was a response to a danger that would have left us needing to replenish energy supplies. Studies have found that weight loss occurs more often as a response to short-term stress, while prolonged stresses generally cause weight gain.

Joint pain

Joint pain is often caused by chronic inflammation, which can be worsened when the body is under stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is an inflammatory agent and can leave all parts of the body, from the internal organs to the joints, inflamed and quite painful. For those who have noticed an increase in joint and muscle pain along with an increase in stress, there are several ways to help your body feel better. It can often be helpful to avoid eating sweets and foods with a lot of carbs as these can cause additional inflammation. Instead, seek out omega-3s in your foods, which can help reduce inflammation. Exercise can also help to loosen up painful joints.

Coping with stress through unhealthy behaviors

Studies have shown that people under stress often engage in unhealthy drinking, drug use, and overeating. All of these behaviors can have serious health effects that can last well after a stressful event is over, and drinking and drug use, if done in excess, could even lead to death, paralysis, or other very serious effects. While these activities may lead to short-term reductions in stress, they offer little in long-term resolutions of stress, and can actually increase stress if they lead to a loss of a job, serious health issues, or financial problems. Those who are having difficulty coping with financial issues should seek out someone to talk to and engage in other, healthier methods of coping like exercise.

Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath generally freaks people out, and for good reason. It could be an early sign of a serious health issue. It can, however, also be a side effect of prolonged stress. Stress can lead to panic attacks, which can cause chest pressure and shortness of breath. It can also increase your risk of conditions like heart disease, which sometimes have the side effect of shortness of breath. Those who have asthma or other breathing problems may find that their condition is worsened considerably when under stress. Anytime you are experiencing shortness of breath, visit a doctor to ensure it is not a serious condition that requires immediate treatment.

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