Stress: What is it?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind or demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if their stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength. This class will discuss different causes of stress, how stress affects you, the difference between ‘good’ or ‘positive’ stress and ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ stress, and some common facts about how stress affects people today.
What causes stress?
Many different things can cause stress, from physical (such as fear of something dangerous) to emotional (such as worry over your family or job.) Identifying what may be causing you stress is often the first step in learning how to better deal with your stress. Some of the most common sources of stress are:
Survival stress: You may have heard the phrase “fight or flight” before. This is a common response to danger in all people and animals. When you are afraid that someone or something may physically hurt you, your body naturally responds with a burst of energy so that you will be better able to survive the dangerous situation (fight) or escape it all together (flight). This is survival stress.
Internal stress: Have you ever caught yourself worrying about things you can do nothing about or worrying for no reason at all? This is internal stress and it is one of the most important kinds of stress to understand and manage. Internal stress is when people make themselves stressed. This often happens when we worry about things we can’t control or put ourselves in situations we know will cause us stress. Some people become addicted to the kind of hurried, tense lifestyle that results from being under stress. They even look for stressful situations and feel stress about things that aren’t stressful.
Environmental stress: This is a response to things around you that cause stress, such as noise, crowding, and pressure from work or family. Identifying these environmental stresses and learning to avoid them or deal with them will help lower your stress level.
Fatigue and overwork: This kind of stress builds up over a long time and can take a hard toll on your body. It can be caused by working too much or too hard at your job(s), school, or home. It can also be caused by not knowing how to manage your time well or how to take time out for rest and relaxation. This can be one of the hardest kinds of stress to avoid because many people feel this is out of their control. Later in this course we will show you that you DO have options and offer some useful tips for dealing with fatigue.
How does stress affect you?
Stress can affect both your body and your mind. People under large amounts of stress can become tired, sick, and unable to concentrate or think clearly. Sometimes, they even suffer mental breakdowns.
Good stress versus bad stress
Soif stress can be so bad for you, how can there be “good” or “positive” stress?
If you are suffering from extreme stress or long-term stress, your body will eventually wear itself down. But sometimes, small amounts of stress can actually be good.
Understanding your stress level is important. If nothing in your life causes you any stress or excitement, you may become bored or may not be living up to your potential. If everything in your life, or large portions of your life, cause you stress, you may experience health or mental problems that will make your behaviour worse.
Recognising when you are stressed and managing your stress can greatly improve your life. Some short-term stress – for example what you feel before an important job presentation, test, interview, or sporting event – may give you the extra energy you need to perform at your best. But long-term stress – for example constant worry over your job, school, or family – may actually drain your energy and your ability to perform well.
· Difficulty concentrating
· Difficulty in making decisions
· Mental disorganization
· Preoccupation with the future (“what if…”)
· Repetitive thoughts
· Fear of failure
|· Tight muscles
· Cold or sweaty hands
· Back of neck tension
· Tense shoulders
· Sleep disturbance
· Stomach distress
· More colds and infections
· Rapid breathing
· Pounding heart
· Dry mouth
· Sore or tired eyes
· Heart or chest pain
· Oily skin; acne
· Butterflies in stomach
· Other speaking difficulties
· Acting impulsively
· Nervous laughter
· “Snapping” at others
· Teeth grinding
· Jaw clenching
· Increased smoking
· Alcohol or drug use
· Being prone to more accidents
· Increased appetite
· Decreased appetite
· Frequent urination
Stress is one of the most frequent reasons people go to the GP or for therapy. Be it stress due to work, a relationship, family, finances, or anything in between, my clients’ main objective is to get rid of it.
Ask people who are dealing with stress a very basic question: How have you historically released stress in your life? Their reactions range as widely as the issues themselves, so I share with them this example:
Picture in your head, a bottle of soda. Now imagine it is full and it doesn´t have a lid. What would happen to that bottle full of liquid with gas if you start shaking it? Most people will say it explodes, and spills all over the place. Exactly! It will explode, and leak out of that bottle uncontrollably. That is exactly what happens with ourselves if we don’t know how to release stress: it gets out in ways we didn´t ask or wish for.
So, in order to avoid the explosion and spill, we would ideally have to pour out some of the liquid to make room for the bottle to breath. This way, if it is shaken again, it won´t spill; it may rise up the bottle but won’t spill out of it, and eventually it settles back down. We need to do the same with ourselves: we have to find healthier ways of releasing the pressure, so that our stress doesn’t explode in ways we don’t want it to (like anxiety, or even feeling physically sick).
If you are dealing with stress, remember these five things:
- First of all, BREATHE
- You must find a way to take some time out and breathe. So many people hold their breath when stressed. Then get some water, have a mini break or if possible, go for a walk, even if its around the block. Just having a small break can help the feeling of overwhelm and reduce stress.
- Then play some relaxing music. There are lots of relaxing music videos on YouTube now so you have plenty to choose from.
- Write a list of what is stressing you and place it somewhere for when you are less stressed and more relaxed, even after a good night’s sleep if possible.
- Find someone to talk to, a friend, a family member or a service that might be available to the employees where you work. You don’t have to know why you are stressed but sometimes having a space to let out your worries can be a good first step.
- Find a way to let it out. Decide what works for you. It can be a physical activity, or something more spiritual, artistic or social. It doesn´t matter what it is, as long as it works for you and helps you find the temporary peace of mind and calmness that you are looking for: an outlet.
- Incorporate it in to your life and be consistent. If you found it, don´t think that doing it two or three times and then stopping would suffice. You need to incorporate it to your routine. Try to do it at least one or two times per week. Consistency is key to success.
- Be present. If your mind wanders when you’re doing your stress release activity, it may not have the same effect. Try to be aware and mindful of what you are doing and what you are doing it for; you´ll be amazed how different the results are when your mind is fully, 100% there.
- Find joy. Try finding something that gives you joy. An activity that, before doing it, while doing it, and after having done it, gives you pleasure. A lot of us think that we don´t deserve pleasurable experiences until we are done with our obligations. In my professional experience, that is counterproductive. Pleasure is an essential component of human life. So, if you don´t have such a thing, find it! Find something that makes your soul happy and stick to it!
- Be gentle and loving with yourself. You are going to make and incorporate some changes in your life, so better to be gentle with yourself. Changes aren´t always easy. There will be times when life will interfere with your plans. Don´t be hard on yourself with that. Try changing that part as well by being more loving… it takes the same amount of energy as being hard on yourself!