Stress and You
The most commonly accepted definition of stress (mainly attributed to Richard S. Lazarus) is that “stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”
People feel little stress when they have the time, experience and resources to manage a situation.
They feel great stress when they think they can’t handle the demands put upon them. Stress is therefore generally a negative experience (although it may be a result of a positive event). And it is not an inevitable consequence of an event: It depends on people’s perceptions of a situation and their real ability to cope with it. Stress is a reaction, or a response that occurs naturally in our brain to a real or perceived threat to our body. The stress response happens without thought, because the stress response is part of the autonomic nervous system. That is the part of the brain that functions – without thought – to keep us a live.
The “Fight or Flight” Response to Stress
It is important to have a basic understanding of how the stress response works.
For each of us, our stress response is the “fight or flight” response. This is an automatic alert system that is part of our brain and its main function is to help us survive.
The stress response is a response to a stressor.
The stress response is the body’s way of adapting to something that has happened…a way to adapt to life’s stressors.
The stress response being triggered is a very normal part of life. There is good stress that helps you be more alert and prepared, and also physical stress and mental stress.
Stress becomes negative when the body continually responds to stressors without much of a break, or a chance to rest. That is when normal stress becomes chronic stress.
Stress And Your Thoughts
What many don’t realize is that it is their thoughts of uncertainty, or what they are thinking/worrying about is the main cause of their stress. More than anything, that is what keeps triggering the stress response.
It is our thoughts of fear and worry that are causing the majority of chronic stress.
What do you think about most of the time? What are your thoughts of uncertainty?
- Will I find good daycare?
- Will I be able to find a job?
- Will I have enough money to pay my bills?
- Will I be able to pay the rent, take care of my family?
- Will I ever feel like my old self again?
- Can I balance my career with parenthood?
- Is my relationship going to last?
- Am I a good mother?
How utterly pervasive these fears, or thoughts of uncertainty are in our lives. I have always believed that everyone does the best they can do given the information and skills, and tools they have to work with. Managing the main cause of stress is no different.
Chronic phsysiologic stress manifests in three main ways; physically, emotionally and cognitively.
Signs that you might not be handling your stress as effectively as you could:
- over- or under-eating
- increased irritability
- stomach problems
- tense muscles, tight jaw, sore neck/back
- racing thoughts
- trouble falling asleep
- trouble concentrating
- feelings of overwhelm
- Chronic headaches
(These symptoms may also be signs of depression. Please talk with a counselor for further clarification if you feel that your situation is beyond stress-induced.)
Can stress result from positive events?
Absolutely! Even positive and planned changes cause physiological stress. Moving, marriage, graduation, a new job, pregnancy, a new baby, adoption, all are cause for rejoicing and celebrating, but can certainly cause us to feel overwhelmed and inadequate. However, the harmful biochemical and long-term effects of stress have rarely been observed in positive situations.
What to do if stress is having a negative effect on you?
There are many ways to approach stress management, but they generally fall under three categories.
1. Do nothing and hope it gets better.
2. Reduce/change the stressors (situational factors) that are in your control,
3. Change the way you think about the stressors that aren’t changeable, thus changing your response to the stressors that aren’t changing. You can learn how to become more aware of your thoughts. You can learn some simple strategies to implement when you start to feel symptoms of stress overload physically and emotionally.
And, you can learn how to manage your stress while in the midst of your demanding lives!
You can manage stress without having to:
- Wait until you are done with work
- Wait until you get to the gym
- Wait until you can go to yoga
- Wait until you see your therapist
- Wait until you can soak in a hot tub
- Wait until you have time to read a book
- Wait until you have a babysitter
Life coaching and counseling are pathways towards initiating change in your thoughts and thus your life! Call today for a free consultation with Rachel regarding your stress levels, or sign up for “Seven Days towards Serenity”, and receive seven daily email tips to reduce the negative impact of stress on your wellness and balance!
Or for practical stress management tips, see my blog