Stress is our body’s ability to respond to our surroundings--how we react to our family, our work, and various events in our lives.

Stress is normal. Everyone is under some kind of stress—every day. But there are two kinds of stress: the good and the bad. Good stress can be something like getting a new job or buying a first home. Bad stress can range from experiencing a difficult financial situation to having a sick family member, to missing a flight to getting a flat tire in the pouring rain.

Short-lived stress rarely affects long-term health. But stress becomes a problem when it’s chronic and difficult to identify. Stress manifests itself through feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, frustration, guilt, or excitement. Our mood starts to fluctuate. Some people drink or smoke; others opt for healthier outlets such as jogging. Some just go shopping.

Eventually, our body starts to ache here and there, first a little bit, then more and more. Those may seem like “phantom aches” at first, but as time goes by, they can become legitimate physical health threats. If left unchecked, stress can ultimately cause blood pressure oscillations and weaken the immune system, which makes us much more susceptible to illnesses that our body, under normal circumstances, would be able to fight.

People can eventually die from the effects of stress because, at the end of the day, those under stress are going to have more heart disease, more diabetes, more obesity, and more gastric problems like ulcers than people who are relatively stress-free.

One of the most severe types of stress is called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs after experiencing an extremely stressful situation or witnessing a life-threatening event, like a terrorist attack, a violent personal assault, or a natural disaster.

People suffering from PTSD have symptoms that include flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, mood changes, depression, and the inability to deal with everyday life. These are not those nutty people walking around in ripped and filthy clothes, talking to themselves and their imaginary friends. They are fully functional people, people like you and me, who may be stressed out by the daily media reminders of kidnapped children, serial killers, and sexual abuse. And oftentimes, these people don’t even know they have PTSD.

Signs of Stress

--Do you tend to race through the day, do everything yourself, and set unrealistic goals?

--Do you make a big deal of everything, blow up easily, and get angry when kept waiting?

--Do you frequently neglect your diet, exercise, and your sleep?

--Do you lack close, supportive relationships outside your family?

--Do you often fail to see the humor in situations that others find amusing?

--Do you ignore symptoms of stress and have no time for questions like this?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, chance are you are STRESSED OUT. Do something about it.

It’s important that you take stress seriously and learn how to handle it.

First, recognize the signs and acknowledge them.

Second, ask yourself: Am I leading a healthy life, exercising, not abusing drugs, including cigarettes and alcohol? If not, you have to make some lifestyle changes. The solution, many times, is right in front of you. But for the most part, if you recognize stress as something that is out there, and if you’re able to manage it adequately, it will have no dire effects on your health. It is only when you ignore it and it becomes chronic and unstoppable that you need to seek professional help.

Click here to check out Dr. Manny's book The Check List (Harper Collins, 2007), from which this article was excerpted.

Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at FOXNews.com, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.