Stressed! What to do about i?

If you live everyday as an emergency, you pay the price

Stress is a physiological (body), behavioural and mental response to a perceived or real threat. It implies you feel in danger.

Some stress is necessary and good:  in healthy doses it makes you more alert, focused, and productive. It improves your performance and awareness when you engage in an activity.  It helps you escape from dangerous situations.

When the stress response becomes regular and situations do not call for you tensing up about them , or when  it  reaches or exceeds your tolerance threshold and power of adaptation, you get chronically stressed and possibly sick.

Whatever you do, even when loafing, you create a state of tension in your being.  This tension is an intrinsic part of life.   The tension is a polarity between two opposites or counterparts: rest and work, excitement and relaxation, demand and ability, etc.  When one opposite follows another, or simply exists with the other, you create the tension necessary to do all that you do in your daily life.  When the tension drags you more toward a polarity, when the natural balance of opposites is lost, you experience stress.

The stress response is the way your body signals that you’re getting out of balance and is a prompt to guide you back toward homeostasis.

Recognising and acting on those signals enables you to regain a relaxed state. Getting used to and/or ignoring the signals, will lead you to chronic stress response and later, to possible illness.

Facts about Stress

  • We differ from animals: our response is mental.  The flight, freeze or  fight response comes from our perceptions. Our bodies can’t make the difference between real and imagined danger
  • Therefore, an event (an accident, an argument at work, etc.)  is not what causes the stress directly. It is our perception of the event that causes the stress. If we associate the event or situation with danger , then we activate our stress response.
  • An aspect of danger is that when the perceived demand of a situation exceeds your perceived ability to meet that demand, you experience stress.
  • Anxiety, phobias and panics are severe stress responses. These feelings are appropriate in dangerous situations (e.g., road accident, falling and rolling on a ski slope or escalator). They are over-reactions when they occur after an argument with colleague, a dash in a crowded street, or a difficult moment with a mate.
  • Stress kills. Most sicknesses are a direct effect of accumulated stress. It is thought that 75% of visits to doctors involve non specific stress related illnesses.
  • Stress creates escapist behaviors: drug and alcohol overuse, careless sex encounters.
  • Stress can be caused by intense, dangerous events or even by lack of stimulation
  • We reinforce our stress reactions as we learn to associate an event with stress.  Most of our stress responses are conditioned.
  • Our personalities influence our stress threshold: sensitive or pessimistic people are less resilient to stress.
  • Our childhood experiences such as the care and handling we received from our caregivers  influence our resilience to stressors.
  • The quality of our relationships influences stress.
  • Whatever our resilience threshold, we all need to counterbalance stress with relaxation.

Stress is accompanied by physiological, body responses, and if threshold is exceeded:

  • alertness and focus —  sustained hyper-awareness leads to fatigue, overwhelm and out of control emotional responses, insomnia, then depression
  • metabolism speeds up to bring pure glucose to the large muscles involved in combat and flight (e.g., thighs, core muscles) — over production of  adrenaline, cortisol, vasopressin and  endocrine chemical to help this process may result in heart disease over time, type II diabetes, hypertension, stiff neck , headache and back pain because of tension.

Changing your physiology is a simple and effective way to reverse your stress response back to relaxation.

  • slow, rhythmical deep abdominal and then diaphragmatic breath activates the parasympathetic nervous response associated to return to calm, jump starts vagus nerve function for reduction of  heart ventilation and muscle tension, and promotes release of acetyl choline, the hormone of meditation, to reverse stress by a return to relaxation.
  • Breathe in for 5 counts, hold for one, exhale for 5 counts and repeat. Fill your abdomen first, followed by you thorax. Exhale in the same manner. Be slow and deliberate as you breathe. Engage in full, deep breaths.
  • Do a full relaxation technique by tensing and then relaxing each body part as you keep your breath rhythmical. Think of tensing then relaxing your feet, calves, knees, thighs, and each body part as you breathe in and out. pay attention to your facial, neck and shoulder muscles. Breathe. This takes 3 to 15 minutes to complete.
  • Do an activity such as a walk or go swimming.
  • Get out of the room where you feel the stress occurs and start breathing  (as per above) after you close the door.

The suggestions above are effective response to diminishing stress, and are your  first line of defence  for quick return to relaxed state . Apply breathing every time stress arises.

It takes about 8 weeks to learn apply  this breathing technique automatically so to calm your stress response. Learning this breathing technique takes only a few trials.

other responses involve:

  • various relaxation exercises, meditation, imagery and sensory withdrawal.
  • walking out from the stress.
  • developing greater tolerance to stress through various CBT exercises and progressive desensitisation techniques.
  • learning to come back to the ‘now and then’, which can be learned over a few g sessions.

Learning to let go of mental and behavioural responses to stress is your second step.

Author: Pascale Aline

Psychotherapist & Performance Coach, I specialize working with tools for self enhancement, growth, productivity and healing (Biofeedback, EMDR, Mindfulness training)

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