Coping with Stress
What is stress?
Stress is our body’s reaction to a stressor. A stressor is anything that knocks us out of balance. People need balance, or homeostasis, in order to feel and function well. We feel stress when our body is attempting to get us back into balance. Getting married, having a baby, graduating, changing jobs, taking an exam, losing a loved one, getting sick, all cause stress. The endocrinologist, Hans Selye, discovered that the body has similar responses (the stress response) to a broad array of stressors. If there are too many stressors for too long, they can make us sick. I believe that stress is the common cold of mental health problems. Unlike the common cold, however, stress is treatable.
How do I know if I am experiencing stress overload?
You are experiencing stress overload when you carry around feelings of stress that you are unable to resolve. Resolved stress brings a sense of peace, hopefulness, and increased energy. You aced the exam, got the job, or made-up with your spouse and all is well, or at least a lot better. Unresolved stress leaves us feeling depleted, overwhelmed, and exhausted. When you have stress overload, you carry around tension, worry or irritation, which readily escalates into anxiety, anger, or frustration. You may have trouble sleeping at night or relaxing on days off. You rarely feel truly rested, energetic, and at peace.
How can I reduce stress, or cope with stress better?
There are two ways to handle stress. You can either reduce the number and intensity of stressors or improve your ability to cope with stress. To reduce stressors, make a list of the things you are doing that are stressful and eliminate or delegate anything that isn’t necessary one by one until you start feeling better. Can’t do this? You tried this and it didn’t help? Reducing stressors is often, but not always, possible. For example, young children may be a stressor, but you aren’t going to eliminate them (although you may arrange for a night out). It is important, therefore, to learn ways of coping with stress. I believe in transforming our stress response. This involves changing habitual stress responses into stress management responses. I find biofeedback, mindfulness, and breathwork to be effective ways of transforming stress. You can learn more about stress by reading:
2004 Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Henry Holt and Company, New York
2005 Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., Transforming Stress, New Harbinger Publications