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How to immunize yourself from contagious stress

| Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Stress has been identified as one of the major scourges of our modern age. Seventy-eight percent of American adults say their stress levels increased or stayed the same over the past five years, according to a 2013 American Psychological Association report. An,d more than 30 percent say stress has had a significant impact on their physical and mental health. Consequences of chronic, untreated stress range from decreased immune-system function to insomnia to increased risk of heart disease.

To get to the bottom of why we're all so stressed out, some researchers have focused on how anxiety can be as contagious as any airborne pathogen. Researchers also liken it to secondhand smoke as they consider how regular exposure to challenging people hurts us physically and emotionally.

Consider how someone else's negativity can put you on edge. There's the co-worker who constantly complains. The friend who calls to vent about her marriage. The sighing, toe-tapping, visibly impatient customer in line with you at the grocery store.

We can't entirely eliminate secondhand stress, but we can become more discerning about how much we allow certain people and situations into our lives. Mindful meditation, prayer and positive self-talk can reduce some of the “drama” that surrounds you and can lessen the chance of becoming a “stress carrier” yourself. Other tips:

• Stay healthy through exercise, good nutrition and sleep; resist overeating or abusing alcohol and other substances.

• If you're worried about anything, keep the lines of communication open with people you trust; don't isolate yourself.

• While you shouldn't over-share with your kids, don't shield them from the fact you're going through difficult times.

• Focus on situations you can change with other people; reduce or end your involvement in situations you can't.

• Be helpful to others.

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