Manage Stress – Before Stress Manages You

Stress in modern society seems unavoidable. Stress can also be very subjective. Most people associate stress with negative events, such as injury, illness, death of a loved one, or some traumatic event. However, stress can also result from positive experiences. These positive experiences might include becoming captain of a sports team, receiving a promotion at work, or moving into a new home.

Behavioral experts say that “winning the power ball” can produce the same, or similar, symptoms as those experienced by someone who’s suffering from a panic attack. And so, while stress can be a powerful motivator, if it’s not managed well, stress can become detrimental to physical and emotional health.

It’s also very important to not underestimate the impact of change in our lives. Whether it’s small change or large change, the result is often stressful and individuals need to develop effective coping skills to deal with and adjust to the change.

Stress Usually Comes From Three Areas

Most of the time, stress is the result of common day-to-day problems. How you react to stress is critical to becoming a good “manager” of your stress. Stress usually comes from three areas: our environment, our body, and our thought processes. Our environment contains such stressors as noise, crowding, time demands from our relationships at home and work, pollution, and threats to our safety and well-being.

Changes in our body can trigger a stress response. These changes include the physiological changes that occur in growing into adolescence, menopausal changes in women, aging, accidents and serious illnesses, lack of exercise poor nutrition and chronic lack of sleep.

Our thought process can also be a source of considerable stress. Experts estimate that people can think up to 200 words per minute. Our brain interprets the “self talk” about changes in our environment and determines whether or not to push the “panic button.” How you interpret, perceive or label events going on in your environment or your own “self talk” will determine whether not these perceptions will either relax you or serve as a source of stress. Many people do not take the time to evaluate their “self talk” or their perceptions from the outside world. Instead, they vest themselves heavily into unmediated, panic-inducing perceptions, thus escalating their personal level of stress.

The Inherent Risks of Chronic, or Ongoing, Stress

Chronic exposure to stress risks developing an ongoing, unchecked fight or flight response. Once the stress response is triggered, the body starts to react. Stress triggers physiological responses, including increased and/or accelerated perspiration, heart rate, blood volume, and blood pressure. To get ready for muscle activity that aids in the fight or flight response, a person’s hands and feet become cold as the blood flows to the stomach. Breathing increases, pupils in the eye dilate to sharpen vision, and a person’s hearing becomes more acute. Also, the adrenal glands start to secrete adrenaline, epinephrine, norepinephrine to aid in the fight or flight response. This physiological activity makes the body feel strong and responsive.

When the brain decides a situation is no longer dangerous or threatening, and that the body is no longer in need of accelerated physical activity or hyper-alertness, the same mechanism that turned on the stress can now turn it off, and the hormones and chemicals that put the body in the state of arousal become quickly metabolized.

However, when an individual submits too often to stressful circumstances and gets too used to sustained and/or high stress-levels, their body can stay in a constant state of tension and excitement. Ongoing, unmanaged stress keeps the body in a constant state of “alert” and gradually wears down the immune system and places the person in danger of contracting stress-related illnesses.

Symptoms of stress related illness include chronic low energy and fatigue, frequent headaches and stomach aches, frequent illness or illnesses that won’t go away, skin rashes, difficulty sleeping, irritability, inability to enjoy recreational activities, excessive guilt or hopelessness, inability to make decisions, and isolation or lack of interest in people.

Getting Help

What can be done to lower our stress? The first thing that must be done is to do an honest appraisal of the stress we routinely experience and how we typically respond to stressors. Some people find they benefit by going to a qualified mental health professional for assistance in completing an objective appraisal of their stress.

Reading about and becoming more knowledgeable about stress can also help, since stress is not something that people tend to take seriously enough in our society. People complain about stress, but to a large degree we have become complacent about the amount of duress we live under and ignore the serious symptoms of stress.

Individuals often attempt to self-medicate their symptoms of stress through alcohol, drugs or just keeping busy, only to find that their symptoms persist, increase, and eventually cause the person to break down physically and end up in a doctor’s office. Other people get caught up in escaping via video and TV or computers, yet the problems that were causing their stress continue on, un-addressed and un-managed.

What Can We Do To Manage Stress?

Here are some things that you can do to start lowering and managing your stress:

  • Start a daily checklist of things to accomplish to help free you from floating anxiety. By writing down tasks, you get them out of your head (thus interrupting any negative self-talk), can more clearly and objectively see what your real responsibilities are and can then take appropriate action. It also helps to prioritize these tasks in order of importance, ranking them on a scale of 1 to 10. When you reach the end of the day, you can visually see the important tasks that you have accomplished, which will help unwind both your body and mind.
  • Develop a sense of humor. Laughter will balance and offset negative changes in the body chemistry brought on by stress. Laughter can also put stressful events in their proper perspective.
  • Give and accept compliments. Let a family member, friend, or co-worker know when they have done a good job. Words of praise and encouragement help us and those around us to feel good about the work we do and who we are as individuals. Oftentimes, when people do not receive positive strokes or recognition, they provoke situations to instead get negative strokes to satisfy the basic need for stimulation and recognition. Positive statements of acknowledgement for our special contributions and efforts are one of the most powerful ways to shape and even change behavior.
  • Avoid over-commitment. Write down everything that you do in a given day and week. Look at everything you have on your plate. Do these activities represent what you really want for yourself, or are they the result of trying to please others or look important? Ask yourself honestly “Am I getting out of life what I really want?” People who have balance in their life have time to give to others and to themselves. Do you feel “guilty” when you say no? Remember, if you don’t take control of your life, someone else will.
  • Learn to identify situations that are beyond your control. Do not spend excessive amounts of time and energy worrying about those things you have no control over. Accept situations for what they are and then direct your attention to something else over which you do have control. Realistically evaluate your need to control others or to take responsibility for life situations that you have no control over.