We all have a certain amount of stress in our life.
Some stress is bad and wrecks havoc on our minds and bodies. What stresses out one person may not bother another. Weird how even stress is affected by our personal preferences.
But did you know that some stress can also be good?
There are two main types of stress. I’d like to take a few moments today to discuss the biggest differences between the two. And to explain that managing our reaction to stress can really help reign it in. Did you know you can actually train yourself to deal with stress better so that over time, things that once freaked you out are suddenly casual inconveniences? You can build up a resilience bank.
So What is Stress?
Your brain is wired to protect you, physically and emotionally. It’s always on the hunt for anything that might be perceived as dangerous or harmful. When it finds something, it sends the body and nervous system a message.
The body then floods with hormones. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most common. They help focus the body and mind for a reaction and increase our strength for a short time. The body remains amped up until the situation is deemed “safe”.
Two hundred plus years ago this kind of response was necessary for the survival of our family tree. People spent a good amount of time hunting for their food and spent many hours a day performing hard, physical labor.
Today, the majority of our threats are emotional. Deadlines, finances, marriage, parenting, work. And even though our stress is different the human body is still wired to dump that fight or flight cocktail. A consistent drip of cortisol from stress will show up in your midsection resulting in the “spare tire” that no one wants.
Two Main Types of Stress.
Acute Stress is your body’s immediate response to perceived danger. This reaction is usually immediate and intense. You hear stories of tunnel vision or people who couldn’t remember what was going on around them while in a life-threatening situation. Think of things like an earthquake, volcano, car crash, fire, flood, or other traumatic experience.
Another acute stress can be less threatening but equally as intense. Think parachuting, bungee jumping, extreme sports, job interviews, first dates, wedding day, or labor and delivery.
In mild doses, this kind of stress can be beneficial. It can motivate, inspire, and energize you to get moving and accomplish goals.
Chronic Stress and its Problems
This longer-lasting stress is the kind we’d really like to eliminate from our lives for the most part. Your body reverts to what the human body has done for thousands of years but our new lives aren’t meant to handle that amount of hormones rushing through our bodies on a regular basis. The results are just bad.
Chronic stress almost always leads to health problems, which cause even more stress. It’s a vicious cycle. Just look at this short list of health concerns caused by chronic stress. This barely skims the surface.
Like I said, this is a pretty short list but I’m guessing you get the main idea here. Chronic stress sucks!
Let’s not forget that these symptoms above don’t just affect us, but have an effect on all of those in our lives as well.
Now let’s clear something up right away here. There is no perfect way to react to stress. We are all different. Some people are laid back, others overreact at the slightest hiccup of stress. But most of us do fall in the in-between area.
Your personal experience and your environment are both going to be factored in here. No matter who you are or where you come from, you can learn to be more resilient to stress. Click To Tweet
A Chemical Lie.
First off let’s address something that is total nonsense. I cannot count the number of people who have told me that they need a smoke or a drink to “take the edge off”. These actions actually have the exact opposite effect on the mind and body.
The ease of anxiety that one feels after smoking or having a drink is simply the addiction getting its fix. Your body will continually recreate that same stressful urge until you feed it again. Once a person is addicted to either, it will chemically create a stimulus for you to feed it more. Ever heard of a nicotine fit? The constant need of having another smoke or another drink is the chemical addiction demanding (creating more anxiety) for another fix. So if you fit into this category remember you aren’t calming yourself, only an addiction and most addictions should not be fed, they should be conquered.
A Quick Side Note about Anti-Depressants.
If you are anything like me, you don’t like to take pills. Especially not ones that change the chemicals in my body. There are certainly individual cases where these might be necessary but I always encourage people to look for natural ways of reducing stress or depression first. (*I am not saying this to downplay major mental illness and there will always be exceptions that need medical attention. This article is for chronic stress, not severe depression or mental illness.)
The human body is an amazing vessel that has powerful capabilities of healing all on its own. Sometimes we stand in our own way. Sometimes we damage it to the point of needing help.
The thing that I do not like about anti-depressants is that they essentially numb a person to accepting a new level of norm. They do not address the behavioral activation needed to actually repair the reaction to stress or depression. They alter chemicals in the body and thus your body no longer sees the need to produce certain chemicals on its own, therefore it doesn’t. It creates a cycle of dependency on the synthetic chemicals from the pills being ingested.
This may mean you may not be able to stop taking anti-depressants without a drastic change in your mood, depression levels, and other such side effects. Speaking of side effects, all anti-depressants come with a laundry list of physical and emotional nuisances all their own. Some of which are life-threatening. Never take another person’s anti-depressants and always consult with a physician about what’s best for your health.
The good news is that the amazing machine we call the human body can usually do this without synthetic help.
What can you do to improve your resilience? Resilience is the ability to cope, adapt, and deal with stress in a manner likely to reduce the amount of tension it causes in your life. Click To TweetThis includes shortening the length of time needed to work your way through a stressful event or emotions.
The following ideas have been tested, tried, and approved by stress researchers. That said, remember we are all different and what works for one person may not work for another. If an idea works for you, add it to your go-to methods. If not, move on and try another. Soon you’ll have a gym bag full of kick-booty tools that help you conquer life’s tougher days.
I’d like to take a moment to dive a little deeper into a few of these go to methods.
Managing Your Reaction To Stress
Meditation is about connecting with the present moment. This keeps you from ruminating in the past or worrying about the future. Even if you can only manage it for a few minutes a day, do. Studies show those who meditate or spend just ten minutes a day in prayer have significantly lower blood pressure than those who don’t.
Exercise. Do I really need to say anything? While it may hurt a little in the beginning if you aren’t used to it, exercise hurts in a good way. The chemical cocktail dumped by exercise combats the bad stuff that goes on in your body. Exercise is the most natural stimulant the body knows and it works effectively well if you just do it.
(Un-Social Media) When used for its intended purpose these platforms are fine. But far too many spend way too much time on them and begin comparing themselves to others. To boot, they avoid real social interaction while tethered down to their computer or staring at their phone. Don’t avoid real meaningful connection.
Take a new class. Dance class, painting, exercise, yoga, guitar, who cares. People who get out and expose themselves to new experiences and people are generally happier and healthier people. Again it has to do with making social connections and not isolating one’s self from a community and new experiences.
Letting Go of Obligations That Don’t Align. If you are being pulled in a dozen directions and you are doing many of them out of obligation and not joy, you aren’t living true to yourself. No one, I repeat, no one benefits from you being taken advantage of. If you are currently doing something & wish you were free to be doing something else, the time to cut ties is NOW. Click To Tweet
If your stress is acute, go get a massage or play a round of golf. Attend a live music event or go dancing. Do something that is a short, healthy escape. Drinking, gambling, and over-shopping are not ideal. You can read more about that here. These are unhealthy forms of escapism.
If your stress is chronic please give some of the above methods a try. I have found that more than a few of them work for me depending on the stress trigger. If you are honest in your attempts and aren’t having any luck after six months or so, it’s probably time to seek counseling to help identify the underlying issue and discuss possible solutions.
Managing how you react to stress will determine how long the stress will last and how difficult it may be in your life. Positivity is a choice that we have to fight for when things are negative 🙂
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