Finding Your Personal Stress Management Plan

Stress is a normal and expected part of life; it is an inevitable experience that we will all go through yet everyday there are people feeling completely overwhelmed and consumed by the stress in their life. Understanding that stress is going to happen and how it happens are important for normalizing and managing events as they happen. We are going to look at two different kinds of stress today in a simple way to help you start developing some healthy habits around managing stress: good stress and bad stress.

We are defining stress as a physical, mental, or emotional response to a change in the environment which requires our body to react and adjust. Using this definition of stress, good stress is the type of stress that leads to feeling excited or is a response to a positive event. In a good stress situation your pulse quickens, hormones can change, but there is no threat or fear associated with it. This is the type of response that may come from a roller coaster, getting a promotion or a raise, going on a first date, getting married, moving to a new city. There can be many triggers for good stress and the feelings associated with it are healthy for us. Some researchers have identified good stress as experiences that keep us feeling alive and excited about life. Who doesn’t want that?

Then there is the bad stress-this is stress that comes from unexpected surprises or high pressure situations. The response to these situations is not happy or excited but may cause some of the same physical reactions as good stress: quickened pulse, hormones change, heart races, the difference is that there is a threat or fear associated with bad stress. Bad stress could be from a car accident, running late to work, pressure of a deadline on a project, losing a big business account, getting an unexpected diagnosis, loss of a loved one. As you see there is a varying degree of incidents that may cause acute stress. And, acute stress itself doesn’t take a heavy toll if we find ways to relax quickly, once the stress is dealt with if we can return our body to it’s pre-stress state we will remain healthy and happy.

The problem arises when good or bad stress becomes chronic and we do not have time to recover between episodes of high stress situations. Stress becomes chronic when we repeatedly face stressors that take a heavy toll and feel unmanageable. A few examples of what this may look like include: a job that produces daily stress triggers, marital problems or parenting problems that make home life feel unhappy, battling chronic disease that feels overwhelming, financial problems that make paying bills a challenge, transitions that happen frequently such as moving for a job every year/getting married, buying a house, and having a baby all within a year or two/frequent job moves. Many people describe feeling like they are just trying to keep their head above water when they are dealing with chronic stress. Our bodies are not designed to remain in a state of stress continually; so when we stay in a constant state of stress it can result in physical health problems, emotional health problems, and mental health problems.

Once you identify triggers of stress it is important to know how you respond to those triggers. Here are a few examples of different ways people respond to stress:

  • Pain. You may unconsciously clench your jaws or fists or develop muscle tension, especially in your neck and shoulders, all of which can lead to unexplained physical pain. Stress may also cause a variety of other health ailments, including upset stomach, shortness of breath, back pain, headaches and insomnia.
  • Eating Stress may trigger you to eat even when you’re not hungry, or you may skip exercise. In contrast, you may eat less, actually losing weight when under more stress.
  • Anger. Stress may leave you with a short temper. When you’re under pressure, you may find yourself arguing with co-workers, friends or loved ones — sometimes with little provocation or about things that have nothing to do with your stressful situation.
  • Crying. Stress may trigger crying jags, sometimes seemingly without warning. Little things unrelated to your stress may leave you in tears. You also may feel lonely or isolated.
  • Depression. Sometimes stress may be too much to take. You might avoid the problem, call in sick to work, feel hopeless or simply give up. Chronic stress can be a factor in the development of depression or anxiety disorders.
  • Negativity. When you don’t cope well with stress, you may automatically expect the worst or magnify the negative aspects of any undesirable situation.
  • Smoking. Even if you quit smoking long ago, a cigarette may seem like an easy way to relax when you’re under pressure. In fact, stress is a leading cause of having a smoking relapse. You may also find yourself turning to alcohol or drugs to numb the effects of stress.

What sounds most like your reaction to stress? Remember it may not be one of these exact responses but everyone has a response to stress.

Once you understand the different kinds of stress we face and identify how your body responds to stress; we can start looking at some healthy ways to manage stress. Here are a few ideas when you catch yourself in a moment of stress and need to quickly bring yourself back to a balance pre-stress state:

  • Take some deep breaths (at least 5 times of a deep inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth)
  • Step away -maybe for a walk, maybe for a personal time out from a situation or person, or for a change of scenery to pause and clear you mind
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Stretch
  • 1 minute gratitude exercise
  • Listen to some music
  • Dance

These are a few examples of strategies that have been brainstormed with clients and successfully used to work through those in the moment stress situations. Some of these may sound unconventional but when implemented these strategies have led to momentary relief from stress that helps regain focus and feel more in control of situations to get back to a balanced state quickly.

Having an outlet that you enjoy and relaxes you in your daily habits can keep you away from a chronic state of stress and be prepared to better manage stress when it appears. There are many healthy habits and hobbies that people use to stay relaxed:

  • Fishing
  • Exercising-running, walking, yoga, cycling, swimming, workout classes, basketball/tennis/golf/sports (but have to know your response to competition)
  • Meditation
  • Reading
  • Puzzles
  • Gardening
  • Drawing
  • Writing
  • Photography
  • Knitting/Crafts

It’s about finding what you enjoy and can feel relaxed and happy doing so that these outlets become a part of your normal routine. Keeping healthy outlets in your life make it harder for chronic stress to become part of your life. If there is a regular routine of relaxation and stress reducing activity you will find that your body has enough break in between the moments of stress that it can recover and be refreshed to take on new challenges as they arise. If you feel that stress has too much power in your life contact me to schedule an appointment,