A certain amount of stress is a normal reaction to what life throws at us, but sometimes, stress can become an ongoing problem that interferes with life and seems to take over.

Have you experienced any of these symptoms?:

• increased breathing rate
• sweating
• irritability
• headaches
• tense muscles
• digestive upset
• trouble thinking clearly

Stress affects all areas of life including work, relationships, and health. Chronic stress suppresses the immune system, and contributes to such things as high blood pressure, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, skin conditions, migraines, and asthma.

So what can we DO about stress? First of all, I think it's a good idea to assess where your stress levels are at.

How stressed are you?

1 = I don't feel stressed at all
2 = Occasional ups and downs
3 = I am prone to feeling a bit stressed
4 = Stress is definitely an issue for me
5 = Major stress, it is having a big impact on my life

If you are a 3, 4, or 5, read through these top ten ways to manage stress:

1. Time management: Block out one hour at a time for one area of your life or work, and focus intently on that area until the hour is up. For example, spend one hour attending to emails and don't do anything else during this time. When spending time with family, make yourself unavailable to work distractions. If you try and do everything at once, you will have more stress.

2. Sleep: The forgotten third of our lives, sleep is extremely important to our wellbeing. Most people need about eight hours a night. If you have children affecting your sleep, talk to a professional about how you may be able to better manage your child's sleep habits, and rest whenever you can during the day.

If your partner snores, have them checked out by a doctor – snoring can often be treated.

If you have nothing but yourself stopping you from getting a good night's sleep, decide what time you need to wake in the morning and count back eight and a half hours – that is the time you need to be in bed.

If you suffer insomnia, try chamomile tea, dim the lights before bed, and don't watch television or use the computer at night. If that fails, seek some professional help.

3. Time out: It can be hard to make our wellbeing a priority, but it is very important. Even a simple 10 minute break to go and sit outside in nature can help. You must schedule time for yourself each day, otherwise it is easy to get caught up in other things.

4. Diet and nutrition: What we eat affects our stress levels, because various nutrients in food are involved in the production of hormones and chemicals that help us cope with stress. Stress also uses up more nutrients, and if we have a deficiency, it can throw our whole body chemistry and hormones out of balance.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, low GI carbohydrates, fish three times a week, nuts, seeds, and reduce processed foods. Drink at least 6 glasses of water a day, and invest in a good quality multivitamin.

5. Exercise: Exercise is a great way to release stress, boost mood, and improve health. Go for regular walks, lift weights, do yoga, tai chi, or dancing.

6. Natural treatments: If you feel that stress is overwhelming you, there are many natural treatments that are effective, from nutrient supplements, to herbal medicines that can reduce overactivity in the nervous system. Always get professional advice about using supplements or herbs.

7. Lifestyle: Do you smoke or have a lot of caffeine or alcohol? These things affect your nervous system and can affect your stress levels. Alcohol reduces your feeling of stress, but is only temporary and is unhealthy to rely on it for stress relief. Do you need to work on your attitude? Are you getting enough social interaction? These are also important to consider.

8. Relaxation: Try using a CD to guide you through the relaxation process. Even just a 5 minute break here and there to close your eyes and focus on your breathing can help.

9. Stress-relieving therapies: Massage and acupuncture can help with stress. Other therapies include reflexology, reiki, and aromatherapy. And don't forget the power of laughter, why not hire out a funny movie this weekend?

10. Counselling: If circumstances in your life are becoming too hard to cope with, you may benefit from talking about these issues with a a trained professional. If you are unsatisfied and stressed about your current lifestyle, why not consider a life coach who will help you take action to make your life better.

Author's Bio: 

Julie Merrick is a Naturopath and Author who runs a health clinic and educates the public about natural health. She is the author of the most comprehensive and practical ebook on stress management 'STOP STRESS! and get your life back', and is offering a free chapter from this book at: http://www.intrahealthclinic.com/body-bookshop.html