Author: Jan Sky
Neuro-psychotherapist, Resilience Coach,
What is Stress?
Stress is pressure and pressure itself is not bad. In fact, many thrive on it. It is when those pressures exceed a person’s ability to cope that problems start. Therefore we can address stress by either reducing pressures or by increasing our coping resources.
What causes Stress?
Some people find an overload of work or chores to do; others an overwhelm at home and sometimes it’s a combination. There are of course other issues both external and internal to you that can impact upon your physical and psychological well-being; some current day and some from your past or even contemplating future events.
Intuitively we all feel that we know what stress is, as it is something we have experienced. A definition of stress should be easy; however there is much research and controversy around stress. So the most commonly accepted definition of stress I could find is:
Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed their personal and social resources.
In humans, as in other animals, when you experience a shock or perceive a treat you quickly release hormones that help you survive – commonly known as flight /fight/freeze response. These hormones help us to run faster and fight harder, or simply become frozen in the moment. They increase heart rate and blood pressure, delivering more oxygen and blood sugar to power important muscles. They increase sweating in an effort to cool these muscles, and help them stay efficient. They divert blood away from the skin to the core of your bodies, reducing blood loss if you are damaged. As well as this, these hormones focus our attention on the threat, to the exclusion of everything else. All of this significantly improves our ability to survive life-threatening events.
Life threatening events are not the only ones to trigger this reaction. We experience it almost any time we come across something unexpected or something that frustrates your goals. When the threat is small, your response is small and you often do not notice it among the many other distractions of a stressful situation.
When the threat is significant, this mobilisation of the body for survival also has negative consequences. In this state you are excitable, anxious, jumpy and irritable. This actually reduces your ability to work effectively with other people. With trembling and a pounding heart, you can find it difficult to execute precise, controlled skills. The intensity of your focus on survival interferes with your ability to make fine judgments by drawing information from many sources. You find yourself more accident-prone and less able to make good decisions. There are very few situations in modern life where this response is useful. Most situations benefit from a calm, rational, controlled and socially sensitive approach.
By keeping this flight/fight/freeze response under control you are effective in your daily routines. However in the long term should the situation persist, you need to be aware of the impact upon your own well-being, avoiding problems of poor health and burnout.
What causes Stress?
There is not one specific external condition that causes stress as the stress reaction is based on your interpretation of a stressful condition. There is not a specific cause of stress – only a person’s reaction to a condition, situation or an event.
How you react to a stressful situation is based on your individual appraisal and interpretation; although some situations are considerably more stressful than others. We cannot avoid stress and things such as moving house, receiving an unwanted medical diagnosis, having surgery, moving job/school, exams, weddings, divorce, and so on, will certainly impact upon you.
Stress is the driving force that keeps you on your toes and ensures that you push to be the best you can be. However that is only valid up to a certain point. If you have too much stress and endless wear and tear, it can drive you into physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.
Having too little stress can also be a problem. If you are not exposed to the driving forces that push you and you are not stretched or committed, you can become bored, sluggish and lethargic. Therefore it is imperative to strike a balance between not enough stress and too much stress.
What happens to your bodies …
|When we get stressed – flight/fight/freeze||When we relax|
|Heart rate increases||Heart rate decreases|
|Mouth dries up||Salivation returns to normal|
|Forehead tenses, jaw and teeth clench||Facial muscles relax|
|Breathing becomes shallow and fast||Breathing deepens and slows|
|Anger and hostility||Restful and calm feelings|
|Increased white blood cells||Production of white blood cells inhibited|
|Blood sugar increases||Blood sugar reduces|
|Blood pressure increases||Blood pressure reduces|
|Perspiration increases||Sweat glands close|
|Stomach butterflies/digestive system suspended||Stomach calms /digestion returns to normal|
|Bladder relaxes||Bladder contracts|
If you stay in a stressed state for a prolonged period it will lead to exhaustion and then ultimately to depression. Stress and anxiety both require energy. Once the energy is used up, the person is de-pressed with no energy left to feed the unresolved anxieties. Another way of looking at it is the person de-pressed themselves to escape dealing with reality.
Are you stuck in your story?
Do you consider yourself ‘stuck in the story’? In other words, are you constantly talking about or making reference to your story, your treatments, your issues? Allow me to remind you that while you remain in your story it’s impossible to see a bigger picture. Decide today to take a helicopter view of what’s going on for you and see the possibilities.
Be aware of some traditional causes of stress:
- Unreasonable demands
- Feeling out of control of your destiny
- Feeling underappreciated
- Uncertainty about marriage, life, job security
- Difficulty with communication
- Difficulty with resolving problems
10 Step Guide to Coping with Stress
- Avoid nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and refined sugar products
- Work off stress with physical activity
- Relax with a stress reduction technique every day
- Download a mindfulness app (eg Smiling Mind or Headspace)
- Get enough sleep
- If you’re ill – rest
- Agree with somebody, once in awhile
- Learn to accept what you cannot change
- Listen to your body and do what it tells you
- Learn how to say ‘no’
- Manage your time effectively
- Remember, stress isn’t the problem, it’s your reaction to the situation, event.
Author contact details:
Neuro-psychotherapist, Resilience Coach
M: 0409 869 664