Stress……..What Stress?

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When my husband tells me I’m stressed that is my typical response.  I don’t think I’m atypical from the general society, either. I suspect that most people aren’t even aware of the amount of stress that they experience in their lives.  How much stress are you currently feeling as you read this blog? How do you define stress? According to dictionary.com the given definition of stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. I can just hear some of you sighing (or perhaps that’s my response) about this definition. I will concede that there are good stressors and bad stressors. I will also freely admit that some of us are programmed to respond to stressors more effectively than others.  Along that same lines, I suspect some of us are programmed to deny our stress more than others. In order to understand stress, I believe that we need to first understand how it impacts our physical body. In doing a quick google search about this topic sites such as WebMd and Mayo Health popped up. The consensus was that your physical healthy is substantially impacted by stress. Typical indicators typically include: decrease in overall energy, headaches, stomach issues, aches and pains, chest discomfort, increase heart rate, sleep difficulties (too much or too little), decrease in your immune system, clenched jaws, increase in blood pressure, and grinding teeth.

The concern with using physical symptoms as a barometer of your stress is that many people interpret each of those issues differently. Even in my most relaxed and joyous moments, my heart rate is vastly different than my husbands. Does that mean that I’m more stressed? Not necessarily, I suspect there are a lot of factors that go into making that determination.

I’m sure most people are aware of the stress-cortisol relationship. In case you are unaware I will briefly describe it. When your brain/body perceive you are under stress, your brain releases cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone and it’s responsible for depleting your short term memory as well as increasing belly fat.

There’s tons of research out there about how stress impacts your physical body, however there’s a significant lack of knowledge about how stress impacts your emotional self.  In my clinical practice here are my observations for how stress impacts your emotional health: your response is gauged as out of proportion by those closest to you, you feel frustrated or irritated more often than in the past, you don’t feel “caught up” in life, you begin to struggle to remember the last time you really enjoyed things, you don’t have consistent amounts of “fun” in your life, you seem quicker to anger or agitate than in the past, those people who are closest to you report walking on egg shells.

Let’s just be blunt for a moment, I’m fairly convinced that every human being a live has experienced a significant amount of stress in their lives at one time or another. For some this stress is ongoing, which creates a whole other host of issues. It’s essential that you begin to conceptualize that stress is not a negative event. It’s simply a response to a stimuli. As such, it’s best if we can identify positive coping skills for stress. Here are what I encourage my clients to do to decrease their stress:

  1. Gratitude Journals. I encourage using the format of:  I am grateful for___________ because______________.
  2. Positive visualization: It can be of you having successfully accomplished whatever is stressing you, or it can just be of you having fun.
  3. Self- hypnosis/meditation: Because at a core level your subconscious mind holds on to stress and is programmed as a result of it.
  4. Healthy and rejuvenating sleep: Incorporate healthy sleep habits into your life.
  5. Talking to a positive supportive person: Identify and increase communication with people who are going to help you to process your stress instead of correcting your perception.
  6. Do something physical: Working out, cleaning, take the pets for a walk, wash the car. Change the channel of your internal focus.
  7. Drink water: a well hydrated body works much more efficiently than a body which is struggling with dehydration.
  8. Affirmations:  Create a list of affirmations.  I have notes of affirmations everywhere in my existence. My mirror at home, my steering wheel, my desk, my wallet. I am a firm believer that the more I think a thought and reinforce it the more power I give it.

Jenn Bovee, LCSW is a Clinical Social Worker in Central Illinois. To learn more about her please check out her website at www.InspiringEnterprisesllc.com