What is Stress?

  • The opposite of relaxation.
  • Includes both positive & negative aspects of life
  • Derived from external forces that create extreme emotional response.
  • Stress is created by our reactions to situations, rather than the events themselves.
  • Distress is a negative stress caused by either processive stressors or systemic stressors.
    • Processive stressors elicit a “fight or flight” reaction where the pituitary gland releases adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn signals the adrenal glands to release the “stress hormones” adrenaline & cortisol.
    • Systemic stressors are automatic physiological responses to stress which may include dizziness, release of acid that creates stomach upset.
  • Levels of stress are categorized as acute, episodic acute, and chronic.
    • Acute stress is the temporary type of stress that is most manageable.  We react to a moment of distress or joy then return to a state of equilibrium.
    • Episodic acute stress occurs when challenges continue on a consistent basis. Examples may include an illness, a divorce, & loss of employment within a short time span.
    • Symptoms like recurring headaches, indigestion, fatigue, and insomnia are vivid warning signs of episodic acute stress. If we do not cope with our feelings & reactions toward a situation, we can end up with chronic stress.
    • Chronic stress literally wears us out until our bodies & minds react with serious long-term physical and/or mental disorders. Chronic stress occurs when situations seem impossible, when there seems to be no escape & we give up trying to overcome adversity.
    • Once stress becomes chronic, long ignored symptoms become habits that begin deteriorating our health & lives.
  • Stress that continues without relief can lead to distress. Distress can disturb the body’s internal balance & lead to physical symptoms. Emotional problems, including depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety & worry can also result from distress. Stress can also bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. Stress is linked to six of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver& suicide.
  • Stress also becomes harmful when people engage in compulsive use of substances or behaviors in search of temporary relief. Substances & compulsive behaviors tend to keep the body in a stressed state & exacerbate the problem, trapping the distressed person in a vicious circle.

Family Component of Stress

  • More children who live in a stressful home environment are at greater risk to become stressed by life’s challenges.
  • The events that we find stressful & our ability to manage the stress caused by those events may be partly genetic, governed by the genes that control our endorphin levels.

Symptoms of stress

  • Chronic stress can wear down the body’s natural defenses, leading to a variety of physical, emotional & behavioral reactions to situations including:
  • Indigestion, constipation, diarrhea  or acid reflux
  • Chest pain/Racing or pounding heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increase in or loss of appetite
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Dizziness or a general feeling of “being out of it”
  • General aches & pains, especially back & neck
  • Grinding teeth, clenched jaw
  • Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders
  • Fatigue, insomnia, exhaustion
  • Trembling & shaking
  • Sexual difficulties & dysfunction
  • Irritability, impatience, forgetfulness
  • Tight, dry throat
  • Stomach cramping or bloating
  • Increased perspiration, often causing cold, sweaty hands
  • Skin problems such as hives
  • Signs of stress can be also caused by physical illness or mental disorders.
  • Recurring headaches, indigestion, fatigue & insomnia are warning signs of episodic acute stress.
  • Chronic stress may evoke grinding teeth, tremors, confusion, forgetfulness, over-eating & alcoholism.

Tips on How to Manage Stress

  • Keep a positive attitude.   Optimism enables you to cope better with stressful situations & reduce the effects of stress on your body.
  • Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
  • Change your emotional response by developing positive strategies for dealing with stress. Remember that stress is a reaction to an event not the event itself & you can control your response.
  • Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive. Walk away from people or situations that are causing you stress.
  • Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Learn to manage your time more effectively. Keep a healthy work-life balance.  Make time for hobbies & interests.
  • Set limits & say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
  • Get enough rest & sleep. Your body needs time to recover from stressful events.
  • Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or food to reduce stress. Reduce caffeine intake.
  • Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you love.  Sharing your challenges can give you perspective & help you feel cared for.
  • Putting life’s ups & downs into proper perspective is the key to coping with stress & minimizing the effects that it has on our health & our lives.
  • Deep breathing can be an immediate stress reducer. Breathe in while expanding your lungs, chest & diaphragm. Put your hand on your abdomen just below the navel, inhale slowly through your nose & watch your hand move out as your belly expands Breathe in to the count of 4 and hold it for 2 counts. Then exhale to the count of f4. Take 2 – 4 deep breathes several times a day as needed to relax.
  • Visualize Calm: Close your eyes, take three long, slow breaths & spend a few seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow, kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details of sights, sounds, smells & how relaxed your body & mind feel.
  • Stretch! Do self-myofascial release with a foam roller or other device.
  • Take short, brisk walk breaks throughout your day, preferably outside.
  • Squeeze a lemon, tennis ball or “rubber stress ball” to relieve stress.
  • Progressive relaxation is especially beneficial when stress interferes with your ability to sleep. Start at your toes & imagine them relaxing. Next, move to your feet, ankles, calf muscles, knees, thighs & buttocks, torso, shoulders, down your arms, hands & fingers, then back up toward your neck & head.
  • Dance or join a group fitness class. Activity & music are both great stress reducers.
  •  Give yourself a self-massage by simply rubbing the palm of one hand, making circular motions with the thumb of the other or use a massage gadget.
  • Try a natural herbal or homeopathic remedy such as Nerve Tonic from Hyland or Sedalia from Boiron.
  • Smile! Smiling can help us feel relaxed & happy. It also transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system, a key emotional center in the brain, helping us to feel calmer.
  • Give it a number. On a scale of 1 to 10, (1 being the equivalent of a minor hassle & 10 being a true catastrophe) assign a number to the stressor. Most problems rate somewhere in the 2 to 5 range & help you realize that it’s not worth your worry & anxiety.
  • Stop gritting your teeth! Try this tip from Dr. Cooper: Place your index fingertips on your jaw joints, just in front of your ears; clench your teeth & inhale deeply. Hold the breath for a moment& as you exhale say, “Ah-h-h-h,” then unclench your teeth. Repeat.
  • Create an affirmation — a short, clear, positive statement that focuses on your coping abilities & silences any self-critical voices or views. Under times of distress, repeat your affirmation times. Examples may include, I feel calm. I can handle this. This too shall pass. Thank you God for your peace.”
  •  Take Action. You are NOT a victim. Feeling like a victim only increases feelings of stress & helplessness. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Focus on being proactive & ask yourself what you can do to move forward from a temporary situation that is stressing you.
  • Write it down.  Divide a piece of paper into two parts. On the left side, list the stressors you may be able to change & on the right, list the ones you can’t. Take action on the things you can change & release the things over which you have no control. Learn the Serenity Prayer.
  • Count to 10 before you say or do something you’ll regret. Step away from the stressor, calm yourself, take a few deep breaths, stretch, or recite an affirmation.
  • Enjoy aromatherapy. Oils of anise, basil, bay, chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, rose & thyme are all soothing scents to help you relax.
  • Warm Up! Rub your hands together vigorously until they feel warm. Then cup them over your closed eyes for 5 seconds while you breathe deeply. The warmth & darkness are comforting.
  • Try self-acupressure. While sitting & breathing deeply, apply firm, steady pressure on each point for 2 to 3 minutes, to the following 3 points:
    • The area located between the eyebrows, in the indentation where the bridge of the nose meets the forehead.
    • The back of the neck slightly below the base of the skull, about half an inch to the left or right of the spine.
    • Midway between the base of the neck and the outside of the shoulder blade, half an inch below the top of each shoulder
  • Schedule time. Some stressors demand immediate attention, like smoke alarms or police car sirens. But many low-grade stressors can be dealt with at a later time. Set aside time to deal with them when you can focus without overwhelm.
  • Shake it off!  Stand or sit, then stretch your arms out from your sides & shake your hands vigorously for about 10 seconds while deep breathing.
  • Eat a small carbohydrate-rich snack to stimulate serotonin release. Try a handful of pretzels, crackers or granola.
  • Take a whole-food based food supplement to nourish your body & brain. Avoid stress formulas that offer high doses of B vitamins, but not a complete profile of vital nutrients & phytochemicals.
  • Indulge in horizontal aerobics~ i.e. SEX! (if you are married, of course!). Sex increases levels of endorphins, your mood-boosting brain chemicals & is one of the best methods to relax your entire body. So make a date with your mate!
  • Identify your stress signals, then decide to release them by verbally saying, “I am beginning to feel stressed & now I am letting it go!” Accompany this with a postural statement like taking a deep breath & releasing it while shaking out your arms.
  • Enjoy a nature break. Gaze out your window & daydream for a moment or take a brisk walk outside. Garden or take a barefoot walk on grass (when there is some).
  • Sip a cup of decaf herbal tea. Steep some chamomile, catnip, passionflower, skullcap or kava kava tea for 5-10 minutes to get full benefit, and enjoy.
  • Take a hot bath with Epson Salts or natural aromatherapy to soothe away stress & achy muscles. Don’t have time for a bath? Close your eyes while washing your face, neck, hands & arms with hot water. Imagine that you are taking a relaxing hot bath.
  • Listen to classical music.
  • Snuggle your pet or borrow a friend’s to pet. Petting an animal for just a couple of minutes helps relieve stress & may help lower blood pressure.
  • Pray & meditate.  Prayer is typically talking to God. Meditating is being still & listening to Him, or it may be focusing on a simple word or positive phrase.
  •  Make plans to do something fun or relaxing (concert, massage, vacation).
  • Sit up straight to promote circulation, increases blood oxygen levels & lessen muscle tension.