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We will experience stress every day. That is normal and natural. For example:
You’ve been asked to work overtime – again. The bus was late, you arrive home to kids fighting and an irritated spouse, the kitchen is a mess and you just want to throw up your hands and scream.
That is a pretty normal reaction to a string of events that were frustrating and exasperating. Who wouldn’t want to throw up their hands and scream?
However, when we remain in that agitated state, the original stress is compounded. We need our jobs, we want to have good times with our families, and we know we can adapt, but how do we keep the accumulation of expectations and demands from overwhelming us?
Stress is good when we use it to adapt to life in positive ways. Think about all the times when you were doing something you enjoyed, working on projects you loved, and developing plans for the future. Your stress response allowed you to stay focused, determine what needed to be done and follow through. While involved, you completely lost track of time. You could work long hours without seemingly getting tired.
When we understand that stress is a necessary part of life, both to keep us safe and to accomplish things, we can direct our attention to how we make it worse or even unnecessary.
What makes the difference? And how can we meet the demands of our life without stress escalating out of control?
Our Response to Danger
A major part of our overall stress system is alerting us of danger. When our brain receives information that we might be in danger of some kind, our Fight/Flight response is immediately activated. It is an old survival system that prepares us within seconds to either fight or flee or remain frozen in place in preparation to meet that threat. Without that quick response and interpretative system, we would not survive.
It is estimated that around 33 different hormones are released into the body. Every organ is affected in some way: heart, circulatory system, adrenal glands, stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, brain, lungs, etc. Blood is shunted away from our extremities. Digestion is put on hold. Glucose is dumped into the blood to provide energy. Sweating helps remove excess toxins.
When the danger is past, the body returns to a restful state; our heartbeat returns to normal, our blood pressure lowers, and our digestive system continues its interrupted work.
It’s a great system. The mind interprets data, the body prepares us to act on that data, and after we have acted, the body returns to a restful state again.
When that threat isn’t a physical threat but a threat to our self-worth, integrity and esteem, the same response is also activated. Our body prepares as if it was in physical danger.
The problem with these kinds of threats is that we continue to remain in a heightened state of alert in anticipation that something terrible might happen. It becomes harder and harder to relax, there are fewer times for our bodies to return to a restorative state, and we soon become dis-stressed and exhausted.
The Distress We Create
The additional stress we create that goes beyond prevention and caution, and usually occurs through worry, anxiety, fear, or long-standing anger and resentment. When feeling stressed, we automatically assume it is the result of time pressure, overwork, and family conflicts.
While all of these generate stress, it is the additional layer of stress that we add by our thoughts and beliefs that we want to avoid. It’s not that our F/F system is constantly activated, but when that system cannot return to a normal resting stage until we let go and allow ourselves to relax.
Let’s look at the example given at the beginning of this article. It is a day of ongoing and escalating frustration and irritation. There will be many stressful times that we cannot alter. But again, we were made to adapt.
What we do have control over is how we choose to respond overall to these situations. Stress levels will continue to increase if we remain angry and resentful over long periods of time. Anger can soon become a preferred response to everything. When that happens, we have drastically increased our stress load.
To reduce any stress, physical, psychological or emotional, we need to find those ways to return our bodies to a restful state.
- How could you modify or reduce any of the feelings and responses to the above situation?
- What might you have done that would have reduced or replaced that increasing anger?
Sometimes we don’t want to let go of our anger and resentment because we don’t want to allow people to get away with putting us in difficult situations.
What we don’t realize is that by hanging onto that resentment, we are now hurting ourselves. Hanging onto and nursing that anger doesn’t change a thing except to make us more miserable.
What Stresses You Out?
What stressful situations are you dealing with? What is your ongoing response to them? Look at the list below and consider whether any of them create stress in your life:
- Environment: traffic, long commutes, noisy neighbors, etc.
- Social: interpersonal relationships, obligations, family expectations, etc.
- Physiological: poor diets, overweight, poor self-regulation, unpredictable routines, little time management, unhealthy lifestyle.
- Psychological: thought patterns, devaluing our worth, low self-esteem, constant biased comparisons, negative thinking, etc.
Now in the column below, write down how they may be affecting you and how you can offset the initial source of stress.
- Environment –
- Social –
- Physiological –
- Psychological –
There are many things we cannot change. But we can change our long-term responses that can lower the stress we are experiencing.
Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?
My Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:
- Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
- Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
- Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety
The book bundle includes:
- audio recording of each chapter’
- companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
- Four bonus guides
Click here for details and to order