Can I Be Addicted to Stress? And Other Tough Questions Answered


From Health magazine

Whats the secret to bedroom body confidence? Can you get addicted to stress? You ask the questions. We called the experts. Their answers ahead.

Q: My parents are getting older, and while they dont live with me, Ive had to pick up more of their medical bills as their health declines. What can I do to lighten my financial load?

By Lynnette Khalfani-Cox

A: First, know youre not alone. A study from AgingCare found that while an estimated 34 million adults provide care for elderly family members, 63 percent of them dont have a game plan for paying their aging parents bills. Instead, most caregivers wind up dipping into their own pockets for their parents prescription drugs and nursing expenses.

One way to lessen your financial burden is by taking advantage of federal and state aid. Make sure your parents are getting all the senior citizen benefits theyre entitled to by logging on to, a service of The National Council on Aging. The site allows you to find and apply for government and private programs that help pay for expenses including health-care bills. For local resources, check with the Eldercare Locator service and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

One final note: Many employers offer dependent-care flexible spending accounts (which allows one to pay for a dependents expenses with pretax dollars), but you can only take advantage of it if your parents live with you at least half of each year that you claim them as a dependent.

Q: Every time I make a big-ticket purchase (like a flat-screen TV), the salesperson pushes an extended warranty. Is it a good idea?

A: Not usually. Retailers push these warranties because they provide profit margins of 50 percent or more, but electronics rarely break down within the time frame of such warranties—typically, two to five years from the date of purchase. Even if a machine does need repair, in many cases youll spend the same amount of money fixing it as you would have spent on the warranty. Plus, most products come with a one-year manufacturers warranty and some credit cards (usually the gold and platinum kinds) provide a one-year warranty after that has expired, so youre already well-protected.

If you still want to go for it, look at the fine print because coverage varies widely; for instance, some parts may be covered, but not others. Even on an expensive item like, say, a plasma TV, consider the warranty only if its less than 5 percent of the purchase price and offers full coverage.

Q: I admit it: Im a shopaholic. Lately I cant seem to control my impulse purchases. Help!

A: You can get a handle on your shopping binges by doing two things: Leave your credit cards at home, and use the “24-Hour Rule”—if you see something you “have to have,” wait a day before buying it. Youre less likely to spend freely when you pay with cash, and taking a 24-hour cooling off period will cut your impulse buying, too.

Another resource to tap: your family and friends. Set a budget for yourself, and take a buddy shopping with you who will get you out of the mall once youve hit your limit. If these strategies dont help and you also tend to feel depressed after you shop, talk to a licensed therapist. Compulsive shopping can actually be an addictive behavior. A therapist can help you get your impulsive buying under control.

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox is a personal-finance expert and author of Investing Success and Your First Home: The Smart Way To Get It and Keep It.

Next Page: How do I de-stress at work? [ pagebreak ]

Q: The company I work for has downsized, and now I do the work of three people. Its impossible to keep up, but Im scared to talk to my boss about it.

By M.J. Ryan

A: Before you charge into your bosss office, take a few moments to assess your workload. Women try to do everything—answer every last e-mail, attend every single meeting—to show were responsible. But often, we just end up spreading ourselves too thin. Success isnt about crossing everything off your to-do list, its about managing what really needs your attention. So look at your talk with your boss as a chance to help you prioritize.

Ask your boss which tasks you should put at the top of your list for the short- and long-term. (Remember, this is not about reducing your work—especially in this tough job market, you risk coming across as a slacker if you ask for less to do.) Each day, focus on getting the four most important tasks done. If you still feel like youre drowning, ask yourself, Do I need to learn a new skill? By figuring out ways to work efficiently, youre not only gaining work-life balance but also becoming a more essential employee.

Q: Is it normal to like feeling stressed and rushed (I do!). When is it bad for you?

A: If youre a type A person, you may prefer to have lots going on, but dont get tricked into thinking that always feeling fired up is good for you. I worry about women who tell me, “I am an adrenaline junkie,” because they perceive heightened stress as normal. Being in stress-mode impairs your judgment during everyday situations, because it narrows your perspective.

When youre under pressure, your brain recognizes the impending danger and focuses on the single most immediate solution, rather than allowing you to think broadly and creatively. If youre walking down the street and a car is heading for you, its good to have this system working, so you can block out everything and react fast. But being in a constant state of anxiety causes wear and tear on your body and could lead to heart disease, obesity, and depression.

Dont wait until you show symptoms to make a change. Schedule in regular exercise—it actually burns off the fight-or-flight hormones in your body. Then schedule in some fun every day. Experiencing positive emotions turns down the stress response and turns up the relaxation response. Youll be surprised how good the new “normal” feels.

Smart Answers for Tough Times
If a work higher-up puts you on the spot, take control of the conversation with these productive comebacks.

If she says: “I thought you wanted more responsibility.”

You say: “Im excited to take on new responsibilities. So which tasks should be at the top of mind so I can make sure were all running in the same direction?”

If she says: “Im just helping you develop your skills so you can get to the next level.”

You say: “I love that youre grooming me for a bigger role. What skill set does someone in my position need, and is there training through the company?”