Let's Talk Stress (pt. 1)

Let’s Talk: Stress (part 1)

I bet you’ve heard a lot about stress right? I mean who hasn’t said, “I’m stressed out” or “This job is stressing me out.”  Funny thing is, most people have no idea what causes stress, the signs of stress or how to deal with it in a healthy way.  But you’re in luck because today (and over the next few articles) we are going to talk about all those things. And by the end, you’ll be the expert.  How about that!  So, first things first… Let’s start with a basic question: 

What is Stress? How does it effect your mind, body and relationships?     

Well, I’m glad you asked. The technical explanation is this:  
Technically speaking:  Stress is our body's way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When we feel stressed by something going on around us, our bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give us more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger.  

When working properly, the stress response helps us stay focused, energetic and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life or that of others — giving you the extra strength to lift a car off your child, or prompting you to slam the brakes to avoid an accident.  (Basically, under stress, you have the potential to become The Hulk.  Good to know because just like in the movies, The Hulk only reacts.  He doesn’t think.  Save that thought!). Ok, back to business.

Additionally, the stress response also helps you rise to meet challenges. It keeps you sharp during a presentation at work, increases your concentration when you need it most, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be hanging out.

However, beyond a certain point (where your mind and body can no longer handle it), stress stops helping and starts damaging your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.  I mean really, does Bruce Banner look like he can handle relationships or a job?  Need more of a visual?  Well, check out the picture below: The Stress Cycle.

So, I know what you’re thinking… 

  
                                                          What causes stress?


Great Question!  Many different things can cause stress -- from physical (such as fear of something dangerous) to emotional (such as worry over our families or jobs.) Some of the most common sources of stress are: Survival Stress:  “Fight, Flight or Freeze”, Internal Stress:  “Out of our control”, Environmental Stress:  “Around you”, Fatigue/Overwork: “Doing Too Much.”  

Something you want to keep in mind is, that sometimes, what starts out as motivation, or enjoyment can quickly become too much to deal with.  Remember, stress becomes overwhelming when you are no longer able to handle it in a healthy way. How much is too much? In order to answer that question, we have to first understand:


                                                      Good Stress Vs. Bad Stress


So, If I asked you:  On a scale of 1-10 where are you stress wise, what would you say? Where on the curve above are you?  Would others in your life agree? Your doctor? Would God agree? Are you being honest?  

Good Stress is:  Short lived, infrequent, over quickly, inspires you to action, helps build you up.  Examples:  Roller coasters, exercise, studying…

Bad Stress is:  Ongoing, chronic, negative, breaks you down, paralyzes you leaves you worse off.   Examples: Family conflict, unemployment…

                                                 Signs and Symptoms of Bad Stress

So, how do you know when your “bad” stress levels are building up?  Easy:  What’s your body saying?  Stress typically shows up in the body first.  More often than not, we misread these symptoms and end up at that doctor thinking that we’re sick.  Don’t feel bad, I mean it’s not like you’re a CSI detective always on the lookout for clues.  But, to help you out:  Some of the common signs of bad stress include: 

Headaches, muscle spasms, shoulder & back pain, digestive problems, ulcers, nausea, fatigue, allergies, low energy, skin irritation-rashes, colds-flu, chest pain, rapid heart beat, insomnia, heart disease….  

Stress doesn’t stop there.  After it hits your body, it then hits your mind and emotions.  (Remember, it’s trying to signal you and sometimes we misread the physical symptoms. So how does it impact you emotionally? It causes or intensifies:  Anxiety, depression, confusion, irrational fears, forgetfulness, low concentration, frequent irritability-boredom-worry-guilt, restlessness, loneliness, mood swings, crying spells, temper flare ups, sexual problems… 


Are you in tune with your physical and emotional signs of stress? Or, do you only realize it when you are in pain, at the doctor, emergency room, having a panic attack?  Your body is constantly talking to you, but are you listening?  Are you checking in with others around you or are you dismissing their concerns and adding more to your already full plate?  

 Hmmm. Let’s find out.  Ready for an activity? Of course you are! Grab a pen.

What are your stress triggers?  Take a minute and write down 3 things that make you want to pull your hair out, or give you an instant headache…  
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I bet at least one is financial, relationship or health related.  The top stressors for us daily are usually money, healthcare, kids if you have them and relationship stress.    Can you break those down into smaller categories? Try to break the top one into three smaller ones…   Now that you have a better idea of what causes stress for you.  Let’s wrap it up by taking a look at: 


                                      The Stress Journey Through Your Mind, Body & Relationships


As stress levels increase, so do the symptoms and long term impact.  Recognizing how it progresses (everyone is different) and at what speed is vital in making sure we and others around us don’t suffer for too long needlessly.  Unfortunately, all too often we don’t pay attention soon enough, until our jobs, families, relationships, marriages start to break down.  By then, it can be a long road to repair and restore what’s been lost.  Let's look a little closer at how stress progresses...

Low Stress:   Increased heart rate, butterflies, slight sweating, energy boost, nervousness

Mid Level Stress:  Colds, Flus, frequent injuries, exhaustion, increased pain, low immunity, irritability, long recovery

High Stress:  Family Conflict, Divorce, social isolation, chronic illness-pain, Anxiety, Disability, Job loss

Take it all in, process it, and try to make a stress list.  Look at the pictures below, and identify the different people, places, activities, tasks, thoughts that bring on that level of stress.  Ok…. That’s enough for today.  I bet just reading it sparked your anxiety right? No worries, we’ll continue next time… Make sure to check Part 2: Stress & Your Faith.  Coming to your email soon!

Looking for help with managing your stress? Call today 760-490-0109 for your free 15 minute consultation, or send me an email so we can get you the help you need.

Nyshia Johnson

HD Christian Family Counseling, 14420 Civic Drive, Victorville, CA, 92392