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Stress: What it is and what it isn’t.

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

“I’m so stressed.” “My stress is so overwhelming.” “I’ve been stress eating.” There are many ways in which people report their stress. It is indeed though something that everyone “has” or experiences but it’s not an entity someone possesses like a toothbrush. Stress is a much broader concept that though everyone experiences it, the experiences is different for everyone.

What stress is. Stress is the body’s response to a circumstance that disturbs it’s normal physiological and psychological functioning. Stress may come in the form of chronic feelings of worry and anxiety. Stress may be a brief moment of high tension and emotional reactivity. Stress is a normal biological, emotional, and psychological process and experiences.

What stress isn’t. Stress is not an inherently bad thing that we need to avoid. There is “good” stress called eustress and there is “bad” stress called distress. We function most efficiently when we’re in a state of eustress. Think of this more like motivation. We can’t stay there always, that’s exhausting, we need moments of rest and relaxation as well. Distress on the other hand is where we find problems related to stress. Distress is the negative experience of stress.

What do we do about stress? We experience it. We work to harness and utilize the moments of eustress and we work to minimize the moments of distress. We do not have control over everything so we will experience all forms of stress. However, having a plan and structure in place that allows us to manage our stresses and stressors allows for us to reduce the negative impacts of stress. Following are some ideas on how to alleviate and manage stress:

1. Identify it

a. What are the signs?

b. Acknowledge that stress is present and that you’re OK

c. Brainstorm and problem solve

i. What do you have control over?

ii. What are possible solutions?

2. Harness it

a. Cognitive rethinking

i. What we think is what we feel. Think helpful thoughts

ii. Empower yourself

1. Give your self positive message (i.e. “I can do this.”)

b. Plan and prepare

i. Be as proactive as possible, when possible.

c. Break it down

i. Incremental progression

1. Many small tasks are easier to accomplish than one big task (i.e. Take it one step at a time).

ii. Prioritize

3. Self-care

a. Relaxation

i. Meditation and mindfulness

1. Stop your mind from wandering

ii. Deep breathing

iii. Yoga

b. Send time in nature

c. Utilize your support network

i. Talking to others (i.e. trusted friends, family, a therapist or counselor)

ii. Asking for help

d. Take breaks

e. Spend time smiling

i. Humor when appropriate

f. Sleep

i. A consistent sleep schedule can do wonders for the physiological response to stress.

g. Diet

i. Good versus bad foods, not focusing on losing weight.

h. Exercise and movement

i. You don’t need to hit the gym every day but you need to engage in activity

1. Cardiovascular exercise

2. Strength training

3. Stretching and flexibility

4. Helping others

a. Instill pride in yourself and others

b. Connect to the present

5. Your own interests and creativity

a. We are limited only by our own creativity and willingness to engage.

b. Do things that you enjoy

c. Practice managing stress

d. Utilize problem solving skills

e. Learn assertiveness.

This is obviously a quick, non-exhaustive list that begs for more questions and discussions. However, it gives the idea that stress is manageable and success is achievable. There are many reasons why stress becomes overwhelming. If you find that you aren’t able to manage on your own, reach out to a professional. There is no shame in asking for a little help. We’d be glad to meet with you.

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