First and foremost, we need to understand that stress is something that is unavoidable…at least in certain situations. In fact, it is critical for our human existence as when we are put in a situation of danger whether it is perceived or real, our human body is into autonomic response and kicks into high gear with a “fight or flight” response. We are thankful for that as it induces production of adrenalin and cortisol which give us some physical powers (heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and our senses become sharper). These physical changes increase our strength and stamina, speed up our reaction time, and enhance our focus—all preparing us to either fight or take flight from the perceived danger.
So, we definitely recognize the stress response is a way our body self-protects especially in a time of threat
Stress also provides other benefits like when we are on stage to perform, or playing sports, or any type of competition elevating us to yet another level of focus, concentration or commitment not readily attainable without the stressful situation.
But there is definitely another side to stress…one that we tend to hear about most frequently because of the tremendous negative side effects on one’s health, mood, productivity, relationships and overall quality of life. So, understanding how to respond to stress is critical to take back control of our health and our lives.
Step one is always prevention...but typically not a highly implemented approach since most do not take these actions. To help avoid our body’s imbalances in hormones which trigger stress, committing to eat a healthy diet and exercising daily will typically provide tremendous headway in reducing and/or avoiding negative stress altogether. Other habits that trigger stress are tobacco use, excess caffeine and alcohol, as well as use of illegal substances. Notice how giving up control of our minds typically never ends up in something beneficial for our human bodies. Eliminate or severely diminish these negative habits and you are taking yet another step to a healthier you.
Step two is just getting clarity on how to recognize it when negative stress arises. Triggering points are when you frequently find yourself feeling overwhelmed, restless, anxious, and frazzled typically caused by the excessive production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Alertness then allows us to immediately respond so we can eliminate many of the adverse side-effects. “Drama queens and kings” (yes, you too men but less prolific) also trigger stress hormones. Those are truly self-inflicted as we are actually choosing the drama…but not so easy to “choose out” if you do not “see it” and are addicted to the attention you get.
Step three is learning how to respond once you recognize the signs and symptoms of unhealthy stress. One of the most critical ways for us to approach stress is work on mind control. You see, most stress begins in our minds…when we perceive things around us as out of our control we tend to overreact. Instead, as soon as we perceive such a situation, work on your response with some mind control activities:
- Focus on something very positive in your life and journal on it. Developing an overall a high sense of confidence in your life through working on your mind is very effective.
- Take on the activity causing the stress straight on, and define it first as neutral and then perhaps even finding something positive you can take from it. You are capable to redefine a perceived threat.
- Come from solution: “I can overcome” either with your own ideas or surround yourself with others who can support you in coming up with positive responses. Fall in love with challenges or as some say, “eat challenges for lunch.”
- Collaborate with a healthy support group whether friends, family, coworkers, etc., which lead to us recognizing that life’s pressures no longer are as overwhelming. When we are isolated, stress is more readily experienced.
- Work to learn a more effective way of dealing with your emotions. When emotions run wild the tendency is to fall into stress more readily.
- Work on your mindset to be one of hopefulness and optimism as those mindsets will view any hardships or negative happenings as mere challenges to overcome and make you better.
If your efforts are not successful, and you are not finding proper relief to control your stress, definitely pursue a medical professional. Your medical professional may be able to teach you some other coping mechanisms.
Also, be aware that some of the items we suffer from may not be from the stress but could be from a more significant health issue. Learn the warning signs of a heart attack versus stress symptoms which include chest pain, especially if you also have shortness of breath, jaw or back pain, pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, sweating, dizziness, or nausea.