Stress can be positive or negative. In its positive aspect, stress can help us concentrate, focus, and achieve. Negative stress occurs when we can’t relax and we get caught up in an on-going cycle of distress that affects our health and well-being. Here's how to resist negative stress.
Did you take my Stress Resistance Quiz last month? If not, check it out here.
Since the dawn of time, humans have reacted to real or perceived threats with an automatic biological response called the Flight or Fight Response. With messages from our brain, this is our body’s primitive and natural biological reaction to danger that is necessary for human survival. It tells us that there’s a problem that needs to be managed and solved. Our ancestors recognized the threat of constant physical dangers such as wild animals and harsh elements, and were challenged to either fight or flee. Today, our challenges are things such as workplace stress, family pressures, and financial worries. Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, and is an unavoidable fact of life.
Unavoidable Chain Reaction That's Different for Each of Us
Stress is not a person, place, or thing — it’s a physical, emotional, and psychological reaction to a change of some sort. With any change, we experience a loss and a gain: we lose what is familiar to us and gain new and unfamiliar expectations and demands. Whether the change is positive or negative, the flight/fight response kicks in to warn you, and to prepare your body for action. The heightened perception of threat causes adrenaline and other hormones to rush through the body, in turn, causing muscles to tighten, the heart to race, and blood pressure to rise. At the same time, you may experience a range of emotional and psychological reactions such as anxiety, worry, doubt, fear, irrational thoughts, excitement, and anticipation.
It’s an unavoidable chain reaction and the reaction is different for each of us. We all have different stress “triggers.” What might feel threatening to one person won’t feel that way to another, and there are variations among people in intensity, duration, tolerance, and significance.
Getting Caught in an Ongoing Cycle of Distress
Stress can also be positive or negative. In its positive aspect, stress can help us concentrate, focus, and achieve. The ability to relax after a challenge allows us to “wind down” and replenish our physical and emotional resources in order to meet the next challenge. Negative stress occurs when we can’t relax and we get caught up in an on-going cycle of distress that affects our health and well-being. Remember, a negative and harmful stress reaction depends of four things — how often it occurs, the intensity of the reaction, how long it lasts, and most importantly, your perception of the event.
How to Resist Stress
Identifying your stress triggers and how your mind and body react to them is the key to stress management.
Restful and enjoyable activities, relaxation techniques like deep breathing, stretching, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. Relaxation also involves other activities that are restful and enjoyable. Find what works for you, whether it be music, reading, sports, hobbies, or just some quiet time in private.
#3: Positive lifestyle
Learning to think in more positive and rational ways about ourselves and others, and developing a plan to meet and manage stressful life events can enhance our sense of control. Exercise, nutrition, and relaxation can make us feel better about ourselves and reduces the impact of life stressors. An attitude of challenge, commitment, and control is a view of the world that works. Seeing change as a challenge, feeling a sense of commitment to something, and having feelings of being more in control. Remember that even though we have very little control over life events, we do have control over our behavior in response to those events.
#4: Being proactive instead of reactive.
We can’t foresee all problems, but having some kind of plan in place to manage our stress again gives us a sense of control over the events and changes in our lives. Assuming that we have no control makes us feel helpless and hopeless.
Erect some social and physical buffers as insulation against stress. Varying our activities and interests helps fulfill our many needs for satisfaction, recognition, expression, and emotional support. This way, when one area of your life isn’t going well, you have other areas to fall back on as buffers (family, friends, personal time, work, community involvement, spiritual involvement).
#6: See your choices
Identify your options for action when dealing with the stress in your life. When you feel helpless, look for things you can control. Change what you can (reaction, thoughts, feelings), and just let go of the rest.
Remember, stress is a fact of life, but it need not be a way of life. There are many things in life we can’t control, but there are very few things we can’t learn to manage better.
Do you live in the Canton or Akron, Ohio, area and need help managing stress? Ask your employer if your benefits cover an employee assistance program. Learn more about Mercy Concern.