What is stress?
Did you know that stress is not always a bad thing? Just like your nerve endings tell you to jerk your hand out of a hot fire, stress can tell you it is time to make a move. If you had little bitty stress ears listening to your body during a stress moment what you might hear is, “NOW, Buddy, we gotta move!”
So what you have is this stress-response-thing going which is your body’s way of protecting you. And the good part is when it is functioning properly it helps you stay alert, lets you remain vigorous and allows you to clearly focus.
Just like this
You’re driving down the street. Your light is green. Just before you enter the intersection in your peripheral vision you see a large vehicle on the cross street – running the red light – at a high rate of speed. STRESS!
Stress alerts you to slam the brake vigorously.
It is stress that can help you achieve goals, rise to a challenge or simply keep you on your toes.
Preparing for a final, giving a speech, launching into an important presentation at work and a myriad of other low level stress situations help you reach goals, move up the corporate ladder, influence your audience and so on.
You get the idea. Stress isn’t always a bad thing.
Stress is one way you are alerted to danger (either real or imagined.) Your body’s defenses jump into high gear rapidly — it is a process known as “the fight or flight” reaction. Some people call this the stress response.
Whether it is your fingertips jumping away from the fire or your foot jumping decisively to the brake pedal your body is responding by alerting the nervous system and specific hormones.
What is going on here?
Adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream which causes a number of things to happen. You can identify them.
- Your heart rate speeds up.
- You have a heightened breathing rate.
- Your blood pressure changes.
- And your metabolism is altered.
- You begin to sweat.
Your muscles are put on alert through the increased flow of blood to the large muscle groups. Your body works to improve your vision by causing your pupils to dilate. Even your liver gets into the action as it releases some of your stored glucose increasing your energy. In a flash your body has made all these physical changes with the specific purpose of preparing you to react quickly – like, right NOW!
Then there is this
Of course, there are times when stress isn’t related to things that are in the moment or are over with quickly. Persistent or continuing stressful events or situations can produce a lasting, low-level stress that works to deplete your body’s resources.
Stress may be caused by:
- The death of a loved one
- Poor health or an injury
- An increase in responsibility
- Unresolved arguments
- Being the victim of a crime
- New baby
- Financial difficulties
- Boring or mundane work
- Ill treatment at work
- Job loss
- Feeling lonely
- Job or school change
- Being bullied
What happens when stress is left unmanaged
Long term stress is damaging. Damaging to your health, in all areas. Your mental, physical and spiritual health are all susceptible to derailment when riding on the stress train. Unchecked stress can affect you in more ways than your health. Your mood, your productivity, your relationships and your over all quality of life are in danger when stress gets on board.
Your nervous system hears those little warning bells brought on by continued pressure and you tend to remain slightly activated. Your body just keeps on dumping in those extra stress hormones. You know, the hormones which are good in some cases and not so good when delivered in a leaky stream day after day. Your body’s reserves are wasted leaving you depleted and overwhelmed. Even your body’s immune system becomes depleted.
Some of the signals you can “hear” when you are leaving stress unmanaged are:
- Problems sleeping
- Feeling pressured
- Always being hurried
- Feeling hassled
- Panic attacks
- Stiff neck
- Tight shoulders
- Back pain
When the signals become louder you may find yourself experiencing:
- Chest pain
- Stomach problems
- Allergic reactions
- Excessive anger
Yes, stress affects your physical life as well as your thoughts and emotions. You can find yourself:
- Unable to deal with even small problems
- Feeling continual frustration
- Dealing with feeling constantly tired
- Less able to focus
- Always worrying
- Feeling jumpy
- Being concerned that you are missing out
- Thinking that something bad is about to happen
The problem is
And, here is one of the biggest problems concerning long term stress – it can creep up on you. It turns out you actually become used to the feelings and conditions associated with your stress. You may begin to feel that it is normal and not realize how much you are being affected. And, of course, different people react different ways to their stress.
Psychologist Connie Lillas uses an analogy based on being behind the steering wheel of an auto to explain the three most common ways people react to stress
The response forms she notes are:
- Foot on the gas — where the response to stress is generally filled with anger and agitation and one feels overly heated, emotional and unable to sit still.
- Foot on the brake — where the response to stress is generally withdrawn and one shows very little emotions or energy to go about dealing with the stress inducing situation.
- Foot on both — where the response is both tense and frozen at the same time and one freezes under the pressure. While one looks numb and calm on the surface, there is extreme agitation underneath.
How to fix it
Identify the source.
Easier said than done, right?
You are correct. It isn’t always easy to identify where your stress is coming from. And, you may not, at first glance, realize you are the culprit causing some of your own stress. You sometimes create your own stress-inducing thoughts and feelings, followed by your very own stress filled behaviors.
Sometimes there are people or situations in your life which cause you excessive amounts of stress. You need to understand who or what they are and learn ways to deal with them.
Some things not to do are
- Become angry or lash out at others
- Over sleep
- Drink or eat to excess
- Become over busy
- Zone out with TV or other distractions
- Use drugs
A few things you can do to relieve stress are
- Take a deep breath (better yet – several deep breaths)
- Listen to music
- Talk to someone you trust
- Laugh (watching a funny movie will help)
- Walk (or just stand up and move)
- Light a candle (a nice scent is always comforting)
- Take a time out
- Practice relaxing
- Find a place to be alone
- Avoid certain people or situations
- Confront when necessary
- Say “no”
- Do something you enjoy
- Practice forgiveness
- Say “no”
- Read a good book
- Watch a funny movie
- Pet your pet
Your temperament and each situation will help you determine which to use. For instance, you may need to be with people in order to feel less stressed, or you may prefer to be quietly alone.
Getting down to brass tacks
Here is where you get to work. Using your journal, begin to write.
- Identify the sources of your stress.
- Predict times, people and situations which will cause stress.
- Accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining your stress.
- Every time you identify stress use your journal to keep track of what is happening.
- Look for patterns, sequences and frameworks.
- Note how you feel emotionally as well as physically.
- Describe your reactions to the stress producers.
- Tell how you make yourself feel better in each situation.
- Determine if your techniques are helpful or hurtful.
- Note productive ways you plan to deal with stress.
Photo Credit: Samantha Marx in Creative Commons