What is your reaction when you are stuck in traffic… on hold forever… thrown into another rush project that was due yesterday… or faced with irrational behavior? Just like many people, you become angry, fidget and even mutter under your breath. Some themselves into a full-blown fit of anger. More than 75% of doctor visits are related to stress.
Stress is an integral part of everyone’s life – directly or indirectly, as it affects everything we do, feel, think, and how we cope. For some, stress provides motivation for achieving goals. For others, increased continual and unmanaged stress is too much of a challenge to the extent that it puts demanding pressure that may lead to illness and the loss of coping abilities. When we lose the ability to cope with our stress it can be helpful to seek out some form of stress management. Understanding the nature of stress and learning techniques for dealing with this part of life can make the scales balance at the right level.
What is Stress?
Stress is the wear and tear of our body (physical) and our mind (mental). It is a tension that is created when a person responds to the demands and pressures of internal and external factors. Internally, stress generates self-imposed demands and obligations, as well as self-criticism. Most of us face stressors that do not require physical activity, i.e., we do not run away, fight or climb trees. The constant parade of stressors dangle in front of us constantly on a daily basis. This leaves many of us in a chronic state of stress.
Most of us think of stress as a challenge. Some of us think of it as a challenge toward a goal, to get things done, so we take on the challenge as an achievable objective. Others think of a challenge as a time-line, a pressure-cooker, and get frustrated, experience physical and emotional symptoms, and don’t know how to deal with this “stress.” For both types of people, there are two types of stress.
Harmful stress, known also as DISTRESS, is a persistent condition negatively affecting us PHYSICALLY (rapid breathing and pulse rates, high blood pressure), MENTALLY (anxiety, tension), and BEHAVIORALLY (short-tempered, irrational decision-making). Distress is characterized by heavy workloads, not being able to satisfactorally complete a job/task, perform tasks you do not like, and meet time constraints (deadlines – not enough time in a day as we feel a 36 hour day would be better). In a lot of cases, we still feel pressured even if we do accomplish all of this.
On the other hand, do you know what EUSTRESS is? It is a positive stress to which we have a better sense of control. Examples of good stress or eustress are: winning the lottery, getting married, getting a job promotion, getting anything we feel excited and very good about.
The Three Stages of Stress in a Crisis
In the alarm stage, your body recognizes the stress and prepares for either fight or flight. This is done by a release of hormones from the endocrine glands. These hormones will cause an increase in heart rate and respiration, and elevation in blood sugar level, an increase in perspiration, dilated pupils and a slowed digestion.
In the resistance stage, your body repairs any damage resulting from the stress. If, however, the stressor does not go away, the body cannot repair the damage and must remain alert.
This plunges you into the 3rd stage – exhaustion. If this state continues long enough, you may develop one of the “Diseases of Stress,” such as migraine headaches, heart irregularity, depression, and/or anxiety (panic). Continued exposure to stress during the exhaustion stage causes the body to run out of energy, and may even stop bodily functions.
Prolonged Distress Brings About Difficulty in 3 Major Areas of our Lives
Smoking, alcohol and drug use and abuse, accident proneness, poor judgment, anger/violence, irritability, agitation, decrease or increase in appetite, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worry, getting upset, decreased efficiency (productivity), and general decreased interest.
Family and relationship problems, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, depression, anxiety, psychogenic disability, burnout, inability to concentrate, feelings of insecurity, self-doubts, fears, negative self-talk, mood swings, decreased tolerance for frustration, feelings of social isolation, and nail biting.
Heart disease or stroke, backaches, stomachaches, headaches, neck aches, arthritis, ulcers, diabetes, cancers, cirrhosis of liver, lung disease, skin disease, shortness of breath, lack of energy, fatigue, exhaustion, feeling run-down physically, and decrease or increase in weight, and suppression of the immune system (some researchers believe that the common cold is stress related).
Part of the problem is that you may put all of your energies into wasting time on the small things in life. According to Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, “When you are bothered, frustrated, stressed out and annoyed, all the emotion takes a great deal of energy that could be better spent accomplishing your goals.”
Despite all that has been written about stress, it remains poorly understood. Stress itself is not necessarily harmful. Life is full of it. It is inescapable. The bottom line of what counts is how you react to stress. Poor reactions to stress can be harmful and are thought to be a factor of heart and other diseases. So, Rule Number One is: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Rule Number Two is: “It is all small stuff.” If you can’t fight and you can’t flee, flow with it.