Stress : 1) a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.; 2) something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety; 3) physical force or pressure (as defined by Merriam-Webster.com)
“Stress” is a word and concept so ubiquitous in our western society that it is difficult not to encounter its specter everywhere you turn. You will hear “stress” referenced by all ages (I recently heard a 4 year old exclaim “Mom, leave me alone…you’re stressing me out!”), by professionals and amateurs, high and low performers – as an actual thing, a marketing tool, or the reason someone adopted any myriad lifestyle change.
“Stress” appears to be everywhere, in control of, and laying waste to everyone! But it doesn’t have to be that way – you do not need to live your life at the whim of this thing we call “stress”!
Here’s my main focus of this entry – you can control “stress”, and all the symptoms we lump into the category of “stress”, because STRESS IS NOT REAL!
Modern day “stress”, the psychological process of feeling overwhelmed or pushed beyond our ability to cope, is a carry-over from the “fight or flight” hard wired system. This system has been our best defense over eons when faced with threat – turning a corner and running into a lion for instance – it allowed our forebears to stay alive by dumping large amounts of chemicals into our system for the boost we would need in strength, speed, or focus to survive.
Though “stress” is not an actual thing – you cannot show me “stress” or point out a “ stress” – the symptoms of a lifestyle filled with “mental tension” and “strong feelings of worry or anxiety” are definitely real and negatively impacting life.
Did you know:
- Researchers tracked women for nearly 40 years and found that those who experienced a greater number of stressors (work problems, divorce, family illness) in middle age were more likely to develop dementia later in life.
- Experiencing chronic stress triggers the production of inflammatory compounds and damages areas of the brain linked to memory.
- Symptoms of chronic stress can vary fromanxiety,depression, social isolation,headache, abdominal pain or lack of sleep, to back pain and difficulty concentrating.
- Other symptoms include:hypertension, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, panic attacks (or a panic disorder) and cardiovascular diseases.
- The statistics show 24% of adults now categorize their stress levels as severe – and over half report moderate to high (5 or more on a scale of 10).
- Family practitioners report that 66% of all doctor visits are for stress related symptoms such as headache, neck pain, irritable bowel syndrome, loss of libido, fatigue, sleeplessness, and even infertility.Stress is more regularly being recognized as a direct precursor to serious medical consequences such as heart disease and certain cancers.
- People suffering from chronic stress may have difficulty attaining calm without the use of prescriptive medications, distractions (such as shopping and eating) or addictions.
That’s all bad stuff, right? Of course it is… but because you live a high performing life does not mean you are sentenced to developing those symptoms, or any symptoms other than resiliency, strength, and mental toughness due to this thing called “stress”!
“Stress” is simply the catch all term we use to describe the manner in which we approach the adversity we each experience every day. And without “stress” we cannot grow beyond who we are right now!
Who determines the working definition of “adversity” in your life?
Not your friends, parents, family, co-workers, board, doctor, priest, therapist, television commercials, etc. You and I determine not only the level of disruption this adversity will have on our life, but the manner in which we engage that adversity plays a large part in how that adversity will be resolved.
The impact life events or experiences have on you is up to you!
You have the power to use “stressful” experiences or events to improve your life – leverage that power and take full ownership of your life by using some of the tools below:
- Breathe! When you are experiencing “stress” fill your lungs with 5 deep breaths through your nose, exhaling in a controlled manner through your mouth. Breathing in this manner short circuits the physiologic process that fuels the experience of “stress” and brings your automatic flight or fight response back into your conscious control.
- Move through the challenge! When thinking about that event, relationship, experience, task that is creating a stress response answer this question – “What is it you most don’t want to do, but know you should?”…and go do that exact thing! So much of our stress response is associated with those challenging parts of life we would rather avoid…creating increased tension = stress. Move through the challenge – doing so always makes you stronger.
- Embrace discomfort and pain as tools of transformation! For our brains to create new neural connections upon which new behaviors might be built we need to reach…really stretch ourselves to the point of discomfort and/or pain. Accept that discomfort and/or pain as the process of transformation, knowing you will be “better” on the other side. Embrace, move through, and emerge stronger and with a higher stress response level.
- Get outside your own experience! So often our brains become a closed loop circuit with thoughts just bouncing around inside our heads with no reality check coming from outside of ourselves. Find a trusted individual (a coach, therapist, religious figure often work from a more advantageous perspective than those close to you) you can share those aspects generating a stress response. Then steel yourself and work with them on developing a strategy to identify, engage, and transform those aspects from sources of weakness to strength.
“Stress” is not the external boogeyman we are led to believe! “Stress” is a chosen (and often habitualized) set of responses to life – responses to life we choose!
It’s up to you – follow the sheep and helplessly live a life full of “stress” and the health limiting symptoms listed above, or follow your own “stress resistant” course and identify, engage, and emerge from life adversity with a more higher functioning, higher performing you.
Do your people need some help dealing with stress? Help is here!
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