Is it me, or does it seem like EVERYONE is stressed?
I used to think I handled stress well. That was before Larry died, before my whole world got turned upside down and left me feeling as though my WHOLE life was one big stressor.
For the longest time it felt as though I was the only one stressed. I kept telling myself as I healed my levels of stress would decrease. Ha! Little did I know how stressful raising teenagers and being a sole proprietor could be.
Then I heard from friends and family members who shared their life challenges and the stress they live with daily.
Unfortunately, adults are not the only ones living with higher levels of stress. Even our children are experiencing more stress at a younger age.
Stress can come in many forms: physical (injury), chemical (toxins), mental (worry), emotional (grief), nutritional (poor diet), traumatic (surgery) and psycho-spiritual (financial instability). With all the various forms of stress in the world there really is no escaping it.
How can one eliminate stress?
Stress is subjective. One teen may come home crying that school is sooo stressful, while another teen will boast about loving school. We all have individual triggers of stress and different levels of tolerance of stress. What this means is that basically, there is no one size fits all remedy when it comes to coping with stress.
Realistically, we can’t eliminate stress, especially when stress is related to circumstances beyond our control.
Does that mean we should throw our hands up and pray for the best? Absolutely not! There are many coping mechanisms out there to help live with stress. So instead of asking how to avoid ALL stressful situations, the real questions are: what is stress and what does it do to the body? When is it good? When is it bad? And, what can we do to manage (i.e. live with) stress?
So what is stress?
Stress is the body’s natural defense mechanism against a threat, either real or perceived.
A real threat may arise when you’re crossing the street and notice a car is speeding toward you. An appropriate response would be to run for your life to avoid getting hit. You may notice your heart beating faster and you experience shortness of breath until you get to safety. After a short while your body will return to the state it was in before the car came speeding at you.
This is also known as the “flight or fight” response. According to Walter Cannon, a physiologist, neurologist and Harvard researcher, when there is threat, either perceived or real, the body will involuntarily prepare itself to flee (that is, to remove itself from conflict) or fight (protect itself or those around it). Cannon himself coined the term “flight or fight” after much research in the early 1900’s.
Now let’s discuss a threat that’s perceived. You may be working for a company that’s experiencing financial difficulties and continually lays off employees. You go to work each day in fear of being told that you, too, will be laid off. Your body experiences the same symptoms mentioned above; increased heart rate, shortness of breath and atypical sweating.
The difference between this perceived threat and the real threat is that under a perceived threat the body doesn’t always return to the state it was before the threat arose. Hence you start to live in a state of chronic stress.
This is exactly what I faced when Larry was first diagnosed with his illness and it continued way past his death.
So what does happen to your body when it’s under stress?
When stress occurs the brain and pituitary gland respond by releasing adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone stimulates the adrenals to increase production of the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. The main adrenal hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine, are the main stimuli to the stress response. This is what happens to the body when these hormones are released:
- Heart rate increases
- Blood pressure increases
- Body temperature may become irregular
- Certain blood vessels constrict to increase blood flow to muscles and brain (ever heard of superhuman strength during a time of crisis?)
- Blood flow to the digestive tract decreases (are you constipated or having difficulty losing weight?)
- Adrenaline raises blood sugar and stimulates the liver to produce and release more glucose into the blood. This is very important for everyone to understand but especially for those diagnosed with diabetes.
As I mentioned above, living with chronic stress does not allow the body to return to its normal homeostasis state (the state you were in before you lived with chronic stress).
Does all that information make you feel more stressed? Yikes!
But remember there is good stress and bad stress. What’s the difference?
I see this information as a good stressor. Knowledge is power and the more you understand internal and external factors that affect your level of stress the better you’ll get at taking time to actively manage stress in your daily life.
On the flip side, chronic stress is certainly not good for your body. Living in a chronic state of stress lowered my immune system, left me susceptible to many illnesses: valley fever, sinusitis, shingles, to name a few.
So, what can you do to manage stress?
Psychologist Richard Lazarus believes it’s not stress that’s the problem, but your ability to handle stress that determines what it will do to your body. Here are some of the many stress management techniques you can put into practice:
- Exercise: start slowly if you’re beginning a new routine and be careful not to physically tax your body. Walking is an excellent way to get back into exercising.
- Eat a nutrient rich diet
- Go to counseling
- Reach out to friends and family for support
- Try your hand at journaling
- Incorporate meditation and/or prayer into your day
- Take a bath with Epsom salt
- Try homeopathic remedies
- Follow a routine
- Remember: be gentle on yourself and the time you need to heal!
Some of these I have covered previously, others I will be covering more in future blog posts.
Try and try again…
I mentioned above that there is no one size fits all remedy when it comes to coping with stress. The only advice I can give is to try one, a few, or all the coping techniques mentioned above. No matter what, please keep trying and know…
Most importantly, you are NOT alone!
I still have stress in my life. Honestly, I don’t think I will ever not have stress in my life. But I am committed to practicing various stress reducing techniques daily. Some days I must incorporate quite a few stress reducing techniques! That’s ok, I’m grateful for the ability to recognize when my stress levels are increasing and I’m grateful I have the tools to help me cope.
I pray you’ll find a way to incorporate stress reducing techniques into your life.