Stress-fighting strategies for every stage of life

The latest findings on stress are in, and they paint a harried picture. According to the American Psychological Association's new Stress in America survey, the majority of us are moderately to seriously stressed. While we know it's unhealthy, we aren't sure how to escape.

The sources of strain change throughout life. But one thing doesn't: Its damaging effects on our health. If left unaddressed, chronic tension boosts the risk for heart disease, obesity, skin conditions, autoimmune diseases, and even suicide, among other ills. Here's a breakdown of what's bothering us or our loved ones at different life stages, and what we can do about it.

The teen years

Stressors: Adolescence is a turbulent time of changing bodies, peer pressure, and new responsibilities. In a recent survey, the stress levels of incoming college students were at an all-time high.

Solutions: Help your teens list their sources of tension. Strike out the ones they can't change, like a friend's behavior, and define ways to take charge of the others, such as cutting back on work hours. Urge teens to resist drugs and alcohol, which only add more problems.

If you're a young adult

Stressors: More than 75 percent of young adults said money and job security topped their list of worries. Workplace woes wear down those who are employed.

Solutions: Stop and take stock of where you are financially. Make a plan for solving your most pressing problems, like credit card debt. Ask for help from counseling services or financial planners.

To keep job strain from getting the best of you, develop a menu of emergency stress-busters. When you feel the pressure rising, count to 10 before you speak, take three to five deep breaths, or simply walk away.

For couples and parents

Stressors: The ongoing recession has left couples and families financially unstable. Strained relationships cause anxiety, and the challenges of balancing family and work create guilt and distress.

Solutions: Use tough times to come together. One survey found 29 percent of couples reported feeling closer during financial struggles. A tactic that helped: finding a religious home or other community.

To protect your work-life balance, set boundaries. For instance, turn off your Blackberry during and after dinner. Communicate your non-available hours clearly to coworkers.

Caregiving and older age

Stressors: Older adults are less stressed overall than younger generations. However, they're the most likely to cite health problems, either their own or a family member's, as pressure points.

Solutions: If you're caring for a sick loved one, create a support team. Make a list of who can help and how, along with contact information. Use it when you need a break.

The best caregivers also care for themselves. Schedule time to do least one thing per day that you enjoy, such as sewing or playing golf.

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