The good stress vs. the bad

Scientists say there may be an evolutionary basis for stress. When Homo sapiens first appeared, they enjoyed a tropical climate and ample food. But they made little progress.

After a thousand years of ice, flood, famine, and drought, who survived? Those who were worried and planned for what could happen next.

Stress is what goads us to change our lives and our work. It fuels planning and searching for alternate ways. Anxiety prevents disasters by making you aware of their possibility. (When your car's oil light flashes, you buy oil to avoid engine burnout.)

But anxiety can become a habit. Stress that's out of hand shouldn't be tolerated. Some indications are:

Irrationality: Is what you're anxious about out of proportion to the actual danger? Think about it.

Paralysis: If anxiety gets you to plan, it's good. If it keeps you from moving forward, it's unacceptable.

Intensity: If you feel that your life is dominated by anxiety, that is also unacceptable and unnecessary.

The American Psychological Association says there are no set rules for drawing a line between healthy anxiety and that which has run amok. Often you can listen to the messages and change your external life rather than your emotional life.

If you are continually anxious about getting your job done, for example, try getting to the office an hour early. If you are worried about home problems, discuss them with your mate, or create your own plan.

Taking action is the best way to deal with emotional triggers.

Drugs your doctor may prescribe can help with extreme anxiety, but remember, these are only a stopgap. Anxiety is a message that you need to solve some basic problems.

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