STRESS & STRESS MANAGEMENT
What is Stress?
As far back as 1983 Time magazine’s cover story referred to stress as, “The Epidemic of The Eighties,” describing it as a major health problem. Since then researchers have measured levels of stress in many different groups, and studied the effect of stress on health, concluding that a significant percentage of visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related issues.
Stress is a normal physiological response to threatening events. When danger is sensed-whether real or imagined -the fight or flight or freeze response is activated-which is a normal, protective stress response. For our ancestors this was primarily a reaction to physical threat and danger, but these days the major source of our stress is psychological. It is important to realize that the brain does not distinguish between psychological and physical dangers however, and activates the same response whether we are stuck in a traffic jam, or worrying about paying the mortgage, that it would if we were in a life or death situation of real danger.
When the stressors of your everyday life are always present, leaving you constantly feeling stressed, tense, nervous or on edge, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. The less control you have over potentially stress-inducing events and the more uncertainty they create, the more likely you are to feel stressed. Even the typical day-to-day demands of living can contribute to your body's stress response. So, the physiological reaction designed to be a response to a real emergency, becomes a day-to-day habitual occurrence, and your body does not have a chance to rebalance itself. The effects can be harmful, contributing to a long list of ailments.
Effects of Stress on Health
While mild stress can be helpful in motivating and energizing you, continuing exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can suppress the immune system which compromises your ability to fight disease, making you more susceptible to a multitude of diseases. Prolonged stress disrupts nearly every system in your body putting you at increased risk of numerous health problems including:
High blood pressure
Back pain and tension headaches
Rate your Stress Level
In 1967 Drs. Holmes and Rahe developed a do-it-yourself stress test called the "Social Readjustment Rating Scale." It gained a lot of attention because it undermined the fact that even positive events in one’s life, such as getting married, going to college or getting a job promotion are stressful, not only the negative events! To find your stress level, circle every experience that you have had in the last 12 months and total the points.
|Death of spouse
|Death of a close family member
|Major injury or illness
|Fired from work
|Birth of a baby/adoption
|Major change in financial status
|Death of close friend
|Foreclosure on mortgage or loan
|Child leaving home
|Outstanding personal achievement
|Beginning or ending school
|Trouble with boss
|Change in residence
|Taking out a mortgage or loan
SCORING - Under 150 - Low Stress; - 150–299 - Medium Stress; - Over 300 - Significant Stress
You can find full scoring results at: http://www.cop.ufl.edu/safezone/doty/dotyhome/wellness/HolRah.htm
Responses to Stress
No two people respond to stress in the same way-what is stressful for you may be an exciting challenge for someone else. You may enjoy public speaking-others may be terrified. We tend to develop typical patterns of stress response.
How do you respond to Stress?
It is important to recognize your own responses to stress. What are your coping strategies?
- Do you tense up? Neck and shoulder muscle tension or clenched jaws or fists are often early warning signs of stress. Stress may cause an upset stomach, shortness of breath, back pain, headaches and other physical symptoms as well.
- Do you reach for something to eat? Stress and overeating are often closely related. Stress may trigger you to eat even when you are not hungry or to lose track of your meal and exercise plans.
- Do you get impatient? Perhaps you find yourself pacing the floor or twitching nervously. You might have trouble concentrating or falling asleep at night. All of these are signs of stress.
- Do you get angry? Stress leaves many people with a short fuse. When you're under pressure, you may find yourself arguing with co-workers, friends or loved ones — sometimes with little provocation or about things that have nothing to do with what's actually triggering your stress.
- Are you reduced to tears? Stress may trigger crying spells or other emotional releases.
- Do you give up? Sometimes stress may be too much to take. You might deny the issue, avoid the problem, call in sick or simply give up.
- Do you let negative thoughts take over? When you are under stress, perhaps you automatically expect the worst or magnify the negative aspects of a situation.
Stress symptoms may be affecting your health, even though you might not realize it. You may think illness is to blame for that nagging headache, your frequent forgetfulness or your decreased productivity at work. But sometimes stress is to blame. Indeed, stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. When you recognize common stress symptoms, you can take steps to manage them.
Of course, other potentially serious health problems also can cause some of these symptoms. If you are not sure if stress is the cause or if you have taken steps to control your stress but symptoms continue, see your doctor. Also, if you have chest pain, especially during physical activity or accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea or pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, get emergency help immediately. These signs and symptoms may indicate a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.
Effects of Stress ...
...On your body
...On your thoughts and feelings
...On your behavior
- Back pain
- Chest pain
- Heart disease
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Decreased immunity
- Stomach upset
- Sleep problems
- Feeling insecure
- Lack of focus
- Angry outbursts
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Increased smoking
- Social withdrawal
- Crying spells
- Relationship conflicts
What is your Stress Level?
Take a 2-minute Stress Assessment Test from the Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-assessment/SR00029
- LOW Stress is associated with a healthier life, less fatigue and more peace of mind, but watch for any signs and symptoms of increasing stress, including headache, indigestion, mood swings or increased anger.
- MODERATE Over time, even moderate levels of stress can have serious health consequences. Therefore, it is important to address stress now.
- HIGH LEVEL of stress puts you at increased risk of serious health consequences, including obesity, heart disease and depression. Take steps to lower your level now. Stress is what you experience when the level of your stressors exceeds your ability to cope.
Caution - if you have difficulty distinguishing stress symptoms from other health issues -
Please consult your health care provider.
How Stress Affects Relationships
When you are under stress, it is extremely difficult to create and maintain healthy fulfilling relationships. Your capacity for thinking clearly, communicating well, or listening attentively is likely to be seriously impaired. Unhappy relationships characterized by blaming, anger, hostility, distrust, impulsivity and unhealthy emotional boundaries may well result. Whole families may be affected adversely. Individual and/or couples therapy, with attention to reducing stress for both partners and increasing communication and empathy skills, may be beneficial.
Unhealthy Ways of Handling Stress
- Using alcohol or drugs excessively
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Taking out stress on others-angry or violent behavior
- Eating too much or too little
Healthy Ways of Handling Stress
1. Adopt a Healthier Lifestyle
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress.
- Eat a healthy diet. Be mindful of what you eat, well-nourished bodies are better able to cope with stress.
- Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary "highs" caffeine and sugar provide often end with a crash in mood and energy.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary.
- Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep invigorates your mind, as well as your body.
2. Develop a Healthy Emotional Life
- Avoid - unnecessary stress. Whenever possible learn to say no and make decisions to simplify your life avoiding sources of stress. e.g. leaving for work 15 minutes earlier to avoid traffic.
- Alter - what you can. This may involve learning better communications skills and being willing to compromise.
- Adapt - see if there are changes you can make in your attitude and behavior that help you adapt to stressful situations.
- Accept - try to accept what you cannot change
Resilience - People with good emotional health have an ability to bounce back from stress and adversity. This ability is called resilience. They remain focused, flexible, and positive in bad times as well as good. There are many steps you can take to build your resilience and your overall emotional health.
Mindfulness Approach to Managing Stress
The mindfulness way of managing stress develops skills for responding to stress in a more constructive and harmonious way that helps bring balance and ease back into your life. It is an evidence-based approach that promotes patterns of behavior and attitudes that support your long-term health and well-being.
Stress Reaction and Stress Response
The mindfulness approach to managing stress focuses on the important difference between a stress reaction and a stress response. This crucial difference was described by Jon Kabat-Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living-Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. This book, which outlines the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, has been extremely helpful in helping thousands of people live more stress-free, healthy and fulfilling lives.
Stress reactions are the habitual patterns of responding to stress often in unhealthy and damaging ways -as outlined in the section on stress above. These often have a serious effect on our overall health and well-being. They are usually unconscious habits that we have learned from our past experiences, culture and family patterns of dealing with stress. Resilient people who have learned to cope well with their stress, riding out the ups and downs of life have usually developed habits of effective self-care; knowing when to take a break and speaking to themselves in a positive and encouraging manner. Unfortunately, it is far more common that our attempts to deal with stress lead to unskillful behaviors and lifestyles than give us some sense of a temporary feeling of relief but in the long run end up increasing our stress.
What are Unhealthy Stress Reactions?
Stress Reactions are often self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse, smoking, overeating and dependence on caffeine and a workaholic way of life that bring short-term distraction and relief. They are strategies that are reflected in our society’s dependence on drugs legal and illegal. Tranquillizers are the most widely prescribed medications in the US; given to “take the edge off things” so we can regulate anxiety and manage life better. Unhappiness and depression are often self-medicated with alcohol and other forms of drug addiction, and overindulgence in unhealthy food is often used as the means of numbing out troubling feelings. The habits of overworking, overeating, hyperactivity, and substance dependency are so common in our culture that they are almost considered “normal.” That is until the system breaks down, our health suffers and it is time to reconsider the way we approach stress.
There is a healthy and effective alternative to the stress reaction-that is the stress response. The difference between the two being that the stress reaction is automatic and unconscious; whereas the stress response is a process of bringing awareness to what is happening in the moment, in our bodies, minds and emotions. The key factor is AWARENESS, and the mindfulness approach is one of training ourselves to become more aware of our experience in each moment.
Perhaps this does not sound like a dramatic difference but as soon as you bring awareness to what is going on in a stressful situation, you have a range of options available to you that can change the situation and its outcome dramatically. Instead of the habitual, default pattern of reacting to stress; you learn to respond mindfully, so transforming your old habits of stress reaction.
What is a Mindful Response to Stress?
A mindful response to stress involves acknowledging emotions as they are arising, and allowing yourself to feel your feelings rather than suppressing them. It involves recognizing when you are feeling angry, afraid or threatened and paying attention to the tension and sensations in your body. Learning to be conscious in the present moment to whatever is happening-pleasant or unpleasant- allows you to recognize and name what is actually happening, as it happens, in the moment.
How to Respond Mindfully
When you are able to notice the arising of feelings, sensations, and thoughts, as they are occurring-in the moment-you have a choice. You can choose not to go down the familiar path of mindless automatic reaction, which always “pushes your buttons,” but to stay in mindful real-time awareness of what is happening in this moment. This breaks the power of old established, habitual reactive patterns and helps you to forge new pathways of more skilful ways of responding. It is a gradual process than builds momentum every time you can interrupt an automatic way of reacting in flight-fight or freeze mode, and bring present awareness to the moment.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course is a wonderful way to learn more effective ways of managing stress.
Seattle Mindfulness Center 6306 Phinney Ave N Seattle, WA 98103
firstname.lastname@example.org (206) 973-7371