Stress has become one of those words that people use to indicate feeling overwhelmed, busy and over-worked. Feeling stressed is not fun and most of us feel rushed and stressed on a daily basis. We multitask both at work and at home and tend to spend little time to take care of ourselves and our needs. Stress is normal and everyone experiences it differently. There is such a thing as good stress or eustress, which represents the type of drive that is energizing and motivates us to complete a task. It is important to have eustress in our lives, because it helps us feel challenged and incentivized to test our limits, expand our knowledge and master skills. However, when stress accumulates and becomes too much to bear, our capacity to cope is taxed, tension builds and we feel overwhelmed and helpless. People respond differently to stress, depending on their coping skills. When people’s coping skills are not enough to provide relief, they make poor decisions which adds more stress and a vicious cycle begins.
If you find yourself experiencing/doing any of the following, your coping skills can be improved:
- Inability to meet work or school deadlines
- Feelings of pressure and anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping
- Over-eating/ not having healthy eating habits
- Increase in smoking, alcohol/drug use
- Increases in illnesses, like colds and flu, which signal a weak immune system
What is stress?
Stress is not an event or situation, but rather stress is our body’s natural reaction to external events (called stressors) that we subjectively find stressful.
Generally we find events stressful if we view them as threatening to our goals and values AND if we view them as uncontrollable. Combined, this creates the experience of being overwhelmed. It is common to feel a push and pull in different directions, and to experience emotions like frustration, anxiety, and anger.
When we find an event to be stressful, our body reacts in a fight or flight response – our heart rate raises, our blood pressure increases, and all systems operate on overdrive. This physical stress response is a natural one that is present in all animals. Picture a gazelle seeing a Lion stalking it. The stress response is what allows the gazelle to quickly react and flee for its life.
For the gazelle, the stress response is temporary. It reacts to the event and either escapes with it’s life, or it doesn’t…. However, humans have brains that allow for higher order functions, such as imagination and memory. This is what allows us to do great things like write books and create new inventions, and this is also what brings about psychological stress. Thinking about events in the past, or worrying about the future stresses us out. We can experience the same physical stress response as a gazelle just by THINKING about an upcoming event that is not happening at the moment. Mind blown, right?
Can you imagine trying to explain your stresses to a gazelle? I can’t imagine they would understand why an upcoming meeting or getting stuck in traffic makes you react the same way that being chased by a Lion does!
Even though we often experience stress that is triggered by our imaginations, the impact it has on our lives is very real. Psychological stress is often persistent, which results in our bodies being in ‘stress mode’ for an extended period of time. This form of chronic stress is incredibly harmful to our physical health. Chronic stress can lead to an increased risk of hypertension, heart attack or stroke, digestive problems, and autoimmune disease. Not to mention, the more stress you experience, the less you feel like you. Ongoing stress increases your risk of developing depression, negatively impacts your sexual functioning, and can create significant strain on relationships.