The normal state of the human mind and body is that of total health and relaxation. This is not the abnormal state. It is healthy. People in their normal state are not constantly operating under tension and anxiety.

Chronic (ongoing) stress, which is caused by worry, negative thoughts, and negative emotions, can result in ulcers, arthritis, cancer, and many other diseases that are often otherwise avoidable. It literally causes the body to deteriorate. Disease is a result of stress, not its cause. Stress is self-created and self-perpetuated.

The bad news is that eighty-two million people in the United States suffer from acute tension and anxiety. They have taken the first major step toward ill health through the misuse of their minds and emotions.

But the good news is that stress can be corralled and controlled.

A hundred years ago people began to believe that medical science was the answer to the quality of life. Develop a list of medicines and cures, and everyone will be living a life of push-button health.

This did not happen. As the level of medical technology increased, so did the level of stress, and as those levels increased, new stress-related diseases appeared as fast as new medicines eliminated the old diseases. Even as the medicines got better, diseases caused by stress, tension, and modern living grew only worse.

Stress, a mental and physical condition about which little is positive, productive, or desirable, creeps into life uninvited and unwanted and often remains unnoticed for a time.

Those who would disagree are probably confusing stress with stressors. Stressors are outside, or external, factors of our environment that potentially cause stress. Stress results from how we interpret those stressors.

Eminent psychologist Kenneth L. Lichstein, Ph.D., put it bluntly. “Don’t blame stress on your environment,” he warned. “Stress is not something external but a product of the mind.” Abraham Lincoln, noted for his uncanny ability to say much in a few words, simply stated, “A man is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be.”

(Yes, there is also positive stress. For example, when an athlete’s muscles tense while playing tennis or other sports, the temporary tension is positive and automatically under control. This, however, is different from the type of stress we are discussing here—the type we must learn to control.)

Once we know how to deal with stressors—and make the firm choice to deal with them thusly—we can actually turn them into positive factors.

Symptoms typical of stress include:

• Apprehension
• Distress
• Strain
• Tension
• Frustration
• Worry

You can add to this list anger, jealousy, hurt, and a dozen other negative emotions.How many of them have you experienced in the past week? Not one of these mental and physical experiences would you consciously choose if you knew you had a choice. You do have the choice of how often and to what extent you experience these symptoms of stress, but it is safe bet that no one has shown you why or how.

Stress is created by the body's natural defense system, which is attempting to protect itself from what it perceives as possible destruction. Stress and its related symptoms are created when your mind begins to run wild with negative thoughts and potentially negative outcomes. Most stress is perception-related and has little to do with any real life-threatening dangers from your environment, yet your body reacts as though your very life were at risk.

That reaction began with your ancestors, and most of us have not gotten over it yet. It is called the "flight-or-fight" response. All humans are born with this instinctive reaction, and we are not alone. Animals also have a preprogrammed flight-or-fight response and, in general, will either flee or attack in a threatening situation.

Acceptable human behavior, however, does not allow such simple choices. The purpose of this reaction is survival, and it is supposed to be triggered only in the face of imminent real danger. Obviously, this is a condition that occurs rarely for most of us during our lifetimes. Worry, fear, anxiety, tension, depression, and the other symptoms of stress are all affected by the way you use your mind and body. Clearly, they are major obstacles to your personal effectiveness, and they are conditions you want to eliminate.

Changing these reactions and your level of stress, in other words, requires changing the way you use your mind and body. Handled correctly, its symptoms will disappear in direct correlation to the number and frequency of positive changes you make in your life.

Some say they work better under pressure. Pressure is often caused, for instance, by concern about not completing a project on time, which triggers the flight-or-fight response and provides extra energy to put the system into high gear. People who can successfully handle such circumstances have a positive outlook toward their outcomes. One Robert Seashore once said, "Successful people are not people without problems; they are people who have simply learned how to solve their problems."

But if you anticipate a negative outcome, your self-inflicted pressure produces stress. A positive outlook, then, becomes a form of self-motivation, one of the keys to long-term achievement.Think of your physical system as a great potential store house of energy, like a huge battery storing electricity. Stress is negative energy that, if not properly controlled, can destroy the entire system.

"It is the series of shocks or a long-continued single emotional strain like worry or apprehension that finally breaks us," said Drs. Edward Strecker and Kenneth Appel in their book Discovering Ourselves. "Such tiring and destructive emotional stress may be due to a prolonged struggle with difficulties and problems which we are not meeting in a straightforward manner."

Did you get those last few words, the part about dealing with difficulties in a straightfoward manner?

The magic word is choice. It opens the doors to emotional balance and reduced stress. This will give you, in turn, increased energy and clarity of thought, adding to your ability to operate effectively. Eliminate negative thoughts from your life.

Do not make value judgments before you know the facts. Do not hang your emotions on the outcome of any event. Dictate the outcome in circumstances that you can control, and don’t worry about that which you cannot control. And, as the well known little prayer goes, develop the wisdom to know the difference.

Plan your life, control your time, master your emotions, and you will constantly be in the state of achievement. Start becoming all that you can be.

NOTE: I have heard in various forms the question, "How can I achieve success?" I still remember the inscription on one of the graduation cards I received after earning my Master's, which put it succinctly: "Success is doing more than you need to do before you’re asked, doing it not because you have to . . . but because you want to."

Author's Bio: 

Lora Morrow is a neuropsychological counselor and President and Director of Positive Personal Modification Institute. Visit her website on Conquering Stress Today at .