Stress Managment Basics, by Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Everyone experiences stress at some point in life. Hans Selye, a scientist who popularized the concept of stress, said,“Stress as a scientific concept suffers the misfortune of being too widely known and too poorly understood.”

Despite the fact that stress is one of the most common human experiences, it is surprisingly difficult to define.

Scientists say that stress is a force or event that impairs normal stability, balance or functioning. The following example may make stress easier to understand. The stress of a strong wind might alter the balance of a suspension bridge so that the bridge swings from side to side. Usually people do not even notice the gentle swaying as they drive across the bridge. When the wind increases, the swaying of the bridge becomes obvious to everyone. Although this swaying might make someone uncomfortable or anxious, it is actually the way that the bridge copes with stress. If the bridge did not sway at all, it would be brittle and more likely to be damaged by the stress of the wind. If the strength of the wind increased dramatically, so that the limits of the bridge were exceeded, the bridge could actually collapse. 

Stress in our lives is like that wind. Although stress is often present, it usually goes unnoticed. Sometimes the stress that people experience makes them feel shaky or frightened, as if they, like that bridge, were at risk of collapse. Usually this fear is unrealistic, and people’s foundations are much sturdier than they think.

Occasionally, one truly is at risk of collapse; it is critically important to recognize this risk. Most often, however, the real risk that comes from stress is that, over many years, it will damage people’s health and detract from their quality of life.

Understanding Your Body

Medical research can explain the dramatic effects that stress has on one’s body and health.Stress is really one of the ways that the body protects itself. When danger threatens, the body produces chemical substances called “hormones” that prepare people for action. These hormones, such as adrenaline, are released into the bloodstream and pumped throughout the entire body. They increase the tone in the muscles, preparing a person to jump into motion. They raise the heart rate, so that blood flows more rapidly throughout the tissues.They signal respiration to become more rapid, so that an ample amount of oxygen is available to supply the entire body in a crisis.They even increase the speed of thoughts, helping individuals to plan and think their way out of trouble.

These physical and psychological changes are helpful when people are actually threatened by danger.They are not so helpful if people experience them all day, every day. It is difficult for the body to remain in a state of “red alert” all of the time. If this occurs, people become tired, anxious or depressed.

Source :  Bressert, s. Ph.D. (2016). Stress Management Basics. [Article] Retrieved 12.10.16 from:  http://psychcentral.com/lib/stress-management-basics/ Psych Central

The Impact of Stress, by Steve Bressert, Ph.D. 

Stress often is accompanied by an array of physical reactions. These symptoms can be characteristic of other physical or mental disorders.

A health care professional can rule out other causes after you have undergone a physical examination.

Signs of stress can include the following:

Sleep disturbance (insomnia, sleeping fitfully)

Clenched jaw

Grinding teeth

Digestive upsets

Lump in your throat

Difficulty swallowing

Agitated behavior, like twiddling your finger 

Playing with your hair

Increased heart rate

General restlessness

Sense of muscle tension in your body, or Actual muscle twitching

Noncardiac chest pains

Dizziness, lightheartedness

Hyperventilating

Sweaty palms

Nervousness

Stumbling over words

High blood pressure

Lack of energy

Fatigue

Cognitive signs of stress include:

Mental slowness

Confusion

General negative attitudes or thoughts

Constant worry

Your mind races at times

Difficulty concentrating

Forgetfulness

Difficulty thinking in a logical sequence

The sense that life is overwhelming; you Can’t problem-solve

Emotional signs of stress include:

Irritation

No sense of humor

Frustration

Jumpiness, overexcitability

Feeling overworked

Feeling overwhelmed

Sense of helplessness

Apathy

Behavioral signs of stress include:

Decreased contact with family and friends.

Poor work relations

Sense of loneliness

Decreased sex drive

Avoiding others and others avoid you Because you’re cranky

Failing to set aside times for relaxation through activities such as hobbies, music, art or reading

 

Recently, much has been reported about stress and its relationship to other health problems, such as heart disease, blood pressure and depression. While research has not confirmed that having a hostile or aggressive personality (so-called “Type A”) directly causes cardiovascular disease, it may place you at greater risk, especially if your heart rate or blood pressure rise dramatically in response to everyday stress.

Stress also has been linked to suppression of the immune system, increasing your chances of becoming ill or altering the course of an illness if you already have one. In particular, it has been implicated as playing a role in cancer and gastrointestinal, skin, neurologic and emotional disorders, and even the common cold.  Some studies have shown that relaxing while listening to soothing music can improve immune system functioning and, we can assume, help with our long-term health. Elevated blood pressure is another response to stress. Too much stress with little or no coping skills keeps the body “revved up. ”

Learning to relax can help lower your blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure always should be discussed with your family physician,  who can help you sort out whether your elevated blood pressure is due to a medical or genetic condition or a reaction to uncontrolled stressors. If you do not end up identifying a method to handle your stress then it eventually can lead to a heightened sense of dysfunction.  This may result in increased anxiety or a sense of depression because you’re not mastering your world. Feeling depressed  (for example, sad, pessimistic, hopeless or helpless) is a common reaction to stress.

When these symptoms are temporary,  they may simply be a reflection of life’s normal ups and downs. But if they persist for long periods of time, especially  after the stressful situation has passed, you may have a problem that could benefit from professional help. When stress and anxiety escalate without a means to cope with the stress, they often are linked to many troublesome psychological and physiological conditions.

Oftentimes, psychological distress accompanies and/or produces these conditions, which include:

Amnesia

Sleepwalking

Multiple personality

Obsessive-compulsive disorders

phobias

Generalized anxiety disorder

Hypochondriasis (fear and excessive complaints of bodily disease)

High blood pressure

Since prolonged stress can impact your health,  It’s important to develop positive coping Mechanisms to manage the stress in your life.

Source: Bressert, S. Ph.D. (2016).: The Impact of Stress. [Article] Retrieved 12.12.16 from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-impact-of-stress/

Tips for Better Managing Your Stress, by Steve Bressert, Ph.D. 

Completely banishing stress from your life may never be an attainable goal. Nor, some would argue, should it be. If you consistently try your hardest and seek new endeavors, you will naturally feel challenged and sometimes even stressed. This is all part of personal growth.

But sometimes stress threatens to overwhelm you. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize its negative toll, and to prevent it from getting a grip on you in the first place. These strategies provide you with a sense of control over your life and/or the situation. They also boost your mood and your confidence in handling a stressful situation. Usually there is no one right or wrong way to cope with a stressful situation. The idea is to have as much information—as many “tools in your toolbox”—as possible. For stressors that are uncontrollable, the key is to adapt your response to the needs of the situation and/or manage your cognitive or emotional responses in order to minimize stress.

For example:

Remind yourself that you successfully have handled similar situations in the past.

 

Reassure yourself that you will be fine regardless of what happens.

 

Find some humor in the situation.

 

Reward yourself afterward with something enjoyable.

 

Find a trusted friend to talk with about the experience.

 

Use relaxation exercises to control your physical response to the situation.

 

Make a list of similar situations and how you successfully managed them in the past.

 

Ask others what they have done in similar situations to prepare yourself.

 

Expect surprises in your life and in these situations, and don’t let being stressed add to your stress.

 

For stressors you have some control over, you can do things to actively respond to the situation. For example:

 

Make a list of stressors, so that you can prioritize them and tackle them one at a time, in order to minimize feelings of being overwhelmed

 

Change aspects of a stressful situation that give you problems

 

Rearrange your schedule

Have a problem-solving discussion with the bothersome person.

 

Organize your workspace, schedule some time for a break, take a brief walk or ask someone for help.

 

Develop systematic problem-solving skills:

Identify the stressful situation.

 

Define it as an objective, solvable problem.

 

Brainstorm solutions—don’t evaluate them yet!

 

Anticipate the possible outcomes of each solution.

 

Choose a solution and act on it.

 

Evaluate the results, and start over if necessary.

 

Don’t expect to be perfect.

 

Give it your best shot and learn from the experiences.

 

Improve your coping skills.

 

Practice assertive communication and problem-solving.

 

Find someone who successfully handles stress and imitate him.

 

Surround yourself with confident and competent people.

 

Take care of yourself physically; learn yoga, relaxation exercises and deep muscle relaxation skills.

 

Plan and prepare in advance for problematic situations. For example, anticipate problems and develop a game plan for how to respond, including reminding yourself that the situation has occurred before and that you have survived it before.

 

Make lifestyle changes that are conducive to healthy and less stressful living.

 

Exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, maintain a well-balanced diet and eat regular meals, try to balance work and personal life, schedule time for personal recreation, stay involved with family and friends, and limit social contact with people who are chronically negative. 

 

There also are some medications that can calm the physiological response to stressful events. They do not teach you new coping skills to help you get through them. In the long term, learning relaxation skills, coping strategies and how to think through problems, are what will help you with the next unexpected situation.

If you find yourself unable to function at the level you used to or at the level you wish to, stress may be interfering with your life. If you find yourself worrying, feeling physical (muscle) tension, have rapid heart rate or do a lot of “what-if-ing” or postponing work because you feel overwhelmed, talk to your family doctor or see a psychologist or psychiatrist to discuss your stress level and coping skills.

Source: Bressert, S Ph.D. (2016). Tips for Better Managing Your Stress. [Article] Retrieved 12.12.16 from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/tips-for-better-managing-your-stress/

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