Stress is a response of the body to a variety of internal and external stimuli. External triggers may include a job change, marriage or relationship change, death of a loved one, or an illness in your family or otherwise. Stress lives at both ends of the spectrum- happy as well as sad. Internal stimuli may include physical or mental discomfort. Personality traits, such as a need to strive for perfection or to please others, may also cause stress.
Stress can cause both positive and negative physical symptoms. A perfectionist striving for perfection may always feel inadequate, and the constant pressure put on oneself may ultimately be negative. On the other hand, if one who is highly motivated through positive pressure may become more productive and achieve more when under pressure.
Why is stress harmful?
Be it positive or negative, stress does produce some physical reactions. The body releases hormones and chemicals that accelerate the function of the heart, lungs, muscles and other organs. This response may be protective, enabling you to escape from a threat very quickly. When you feel safe again, these bodily reactions usually disappear. However, if you are stressed for a long period of time these hormones will continue to be released and to stimulate your body, and eventually encroach on your mind. This mind body communication is what produces wear and tear.
How does the body tell you if you are over stressed?
When your body is overstimulated for an extended period of time, it will warn you with the following signals:
- Racing Heart
- Neck or low back pain
- Stomach upset
- Appetite increase/decrease
- Increased substance use (alcohol, caffeine, drugs etc.)
These signs indicate that you need to examine your lifestyle and pressing concerns. Prolonged stress may interfere with your enjoyment of life and lead to physical or emotional illness. Illnesses related to (but not necessarily caused by) stress include ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and low back or neck pain.
The Emotional Symptoms of Stress
Many people are not aware that subtle emotional changes are occurring as a result of stress. The following self-quiz may alert you to some of the signs of stress in your own life.
- Do you find it hard to relax and have fun?
- Are you easily irritated?
- Do you find it hard to sleep at night?
- Do you feel overburdened by responsibility?
- Do you experience physical signs of stress (shaking, chest pains or a nervous stomach)?
- Have you lost interest in relationships or sex?
- Are you unable to concentrate in school or perform your job adequately?
- Have you noticed an increase in your desire to drink or smoke?
If you answered yes to four out of the eight questions, you may want to use some of the following strategies to help you deal with excess stress.
Common Ways to De-Stress
- Active Physical Exercise – Regular exercise can help reduce muscle tension and promote a sense of wellbeing. The physical tension built up by worrying may also be relieved. ( Osteopathic Cranio Sacral Work also produces this effect).
- Limit sitting at work and on extracurricular activities. – Saying “no” to excessive demands by your employer and or your free time can minimize stress.
- Family, friends, social groups – “Loving support systems” also help when dealing with stressful events.
- Vacations – “Playtime” to allow your body to rest during peak stress periods. It is important to plan “mini-breaks”.
- Hobbies – It is important to find interest in things that focus your attention and energy on things that you enjoy to help you manage and down regulate your stress.
- Religion – This is unique to you. Meditation or prayer may have a relaxing effect on your body.
- Counseling – Talking with a counselor can be helpful in identifying problems that trigger stress, and breaking patterns of negative stimulation that produce stress.
- Relaxation Techniques – Attend workshops in stress management and tension.
20 Proven Stress Reducers
- Get up 15 minutes early in the morning. The inevitable morning mishaps will be less stressful.
- Prepare for the morning the evening before. Set the breakfast table, make lunches, put out the clothes you plan to wear the next day (pack your gym bag)
- Don’t rely on your memory. Write down appointment items, when to pick up the laundry, when library books are due etc.
- Do nothing which after being done, leads you to tell a lie.
- Make duplicates of all keys. Bury a house key in a secret spot in the garden and carry a duplicate car key in your wallet, apart from you key ring
- Practice preventative maintenance. Your car, appliances, home, and relationships will be less likely to break down/fall apart “at the worst possible moment”.
- Be prepared to wait. A paperback book can make a wait in a post office line almost pleasant. So can practicing your balance by trying to stand on one foot.
- Procrastination is stressful. Whatever you want to do tomorrow, do today: whatever you want to do today, do it now.
- Plan ahead. Don’t let the gas tank get below one quarter full. Keep a well-stocked emergency shelf of home staples, don’t wait until your down to your last bus token or postage stamp to buy more.
- If something does not work right, change it. If your alarm clock , wallet, shoe laces, windshield wipers or whatever are a constant aggravation, get them fixed or get new ones
- Allow 15 minutes of extra time to get to appointments. Plan to arrive at an airport one hour before domestic departures.
- Eliminate (or restrict) the amount of caffeine in your diet.
- Always set up contingency plans.
- Relax your standards. Still be honest and uphold your integrity but don’t kill yourself to get the grass mowed.
- For every one thing that goes wrong, there are probably 10 or 50 or 100 blessings.
- Ask questions. Take a few moments to repeat back directions, what someone expects from you etc. Can save you hours.
- Say No to extra projects.
- Unplug your phone. Take a soak in the tub without interruption. Drum up the courage to temporarily disconnect.
- Turn needs into preferences. Our basic physical needs translate to food, water and keeping warm. Everything else is a preference. Don’t get attached to preferences.
- SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY