Coping with Stress
Stress is an inherent part of daily living. It has been a part of human life since man walked on earth. During prehistoric times, normally stressful days entailed securing food, maintaining family needs, and avoiding dangerous outcomes with dinosaurs. In many ways, we operate in a similar capacity with the challenge of modern day life. The need to keep current with e-mail messages and faster-paced computers, complete To Do lists, and do "more" with "less" renders a sense of being always on the go. In essence, the primitive need to always be on guard and ready to perform has not changed much over the years.
The good news is that there are two (2) forms of stress. Distress, the more familiar, is the chronic feeling of being overwhelmed, oppressed, and behind in your tasks. It is the pervasive sense of being taxed by life with little opening for relief. Eustress is the alternate form of stress that is actually beneficial. Eustress allows us to engage with the challenges in life that are meaningful and offset boredom. It can entail utilizing that adrenalin surge to lend the necessary energy for maximum productivity. Have you ever been "charged" as you prepared a long term paper a day in advance of the due date? If you enjoy waiting to the last minute to prepare projects and find that they have a higher quality, the sensation you experience may be ‘eustress’. Keep in mind that perception is the key to determining which category a situation falls under. What is perceived as negatively stressful for one person may be perceived as positively stressful for another. The rest of this article will focus on coping with the adverse impact of stress.
Why Do We Feel Stressed?
We feel stressed when demands on our system are not met with equally effective coping strategies. We may have excellent coping skills for several areas and limited resources in a few. It is important to determine which areas are more challenging to make appropriate accommodations.
Essentially, we ‘stress out’ for three (3) reasons:
- Change in life has an unsettling effect.
- We are feeling challenged or threatened by anoutside force.
- We experience a loss of personal control.
When experiencing any of these factors, a person can either resist it, avoid it, or adapt to it. Examine your pattern in the past when dealing with stressful situations. Are you pleased with your current coping strategy? If not, read on to learn of alternative methods to effectively handling your stress!
How Do You Know That You Are Over-Stressed?
There are several signs of stress overload. Symptoms can be divided into physical and behavioral indicators. Review the following checklist to determine if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Should you find that many of these symptoms describe your current state, you are indeed stressed!
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Inability to focus/Lack of concentration
- Sexual problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Sweating palms/Shaking hands
- Heart problems (tachycardia, palpitations)
- Disruptive eating patterns (over eat or under eat)
- Harsh treatment of others
- Increased smoking or alcohol consumption
- Compulsive shopping
- Difficulty in communication
Ways to Respond to Stressful Conditions
Most people don’t usually plan how to respond to stress. They tend to react without thinking. What is your usual practice? . . . avoiding the situation, taking emotions out on others, withdrawing, or confronting the situation head on. Largely, it may depend on the situation and potential consequences as to how you respond. It may be easier to confront a friend about his or her irritating tendency to borrow your clothes and leaving you nothing to wear when you really need it than confronting your mother about re-organizing your bedroom. Both may be stressful to you (e.g., lack of control over your belongings). However, the "power" structure is a little different. To determine your best strategy for a given situation incorporate the following outline in your decision process – assess what is important, determine what areas render you vulnerable to stress, and be clear about your expectations.
- Assess Your Priorities – By knowing what is of primary and secondary importance, you can order your activities and expectations in light of your energy on a given day. A structure to follow makes it easier to engage in daily tasks. The stress of trying to remember what you should be doing is eliminated.
- Stress Vulnerability – If you know that presentations make you nervous or know that negotiating a car deal petrifies you, do not wait until it happens to incorporate your ‘skills’. Practice is essential. By envisioning the stressful condition and acting out your reaction to anticipated stressors, you can become better prepared for the actual event.
- Expectations - Align your expectations of yourself in a given situation with a reality-based view. If you did not study adequately for an exam, rarely attended class, and infrequently turned in homework assignments, it may not be realistic to expect a top grade on the test. Expecting too much of yourself or others can be disappointing if those expectations are not realized. Maintain a realistic perspective to offset misunderstandings. A key problem in this area is perfectionism. Stress is highly anticipated if you feel a need to produce ‘perfectly’ on a consistent basis, try to be someone your are not, or become inflexible with your priorities.
- Incorporate Healthy Practices Into Your Daily Schedule – By incorporating a healthy level of exercise, appropriate eating practices, and relaxation techniques (e.g., yoga, meditation, or free breathing), you lower your risk for becoming over stressed. These techniques can lower blood pressure, strengthen muscles, and reduce tension.
In addition to these areas of stress prevention, consider adopting a "recharge regime" (renourishes your emotional battery), accepting change as a part of life, developing a support system, and believing in yourself (you are your best advocate!).