I personally experienced my own stress related health issues and recovered. I saw firsthand how the accumulation of stress has a negitive impact on the mind, body, and spirit. Trying to learn stress reducing techniques during a crisis was not the best time to learn new skills. I was in the situation of sink or swim. I had children, so I was not going to let myself sink. I wish I had the skills in place and had been better prepared. I am grateful for the skills I have learned and can now share them with you. Being better prepared I can now minimize the effects of stress. Take time to become familiar with several techniques so you will be better prepared.
Since life is emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding, it is difficult to avoid stress. Stress can be a positive or a negative factor in our lives. With the right tools we can survive and become much stronger.
The Everyday Health Study regarding stress in the United States reports “Prolonged or unremitting stress exacts a stunningly toxic toll on the body, brain, mind, and soul.” We need to restore balance in our lives. When we balance stress with recovery we can bring more positive emotions of joy, peace, positivity, and passion back into our lives. This helps us to have a better perspective on our situation and find the best solutions.
There are three stages to the stress response:
1. The Alarm Stage:
The nervous system goes into alert causing fight, flight, or freeze. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in giving us the energy needed to either fight or flight. Our bodies secrete many stress-related hormones and chemicals. Chronic stress, over time, can be damaging to our bodies.
2. The Resistance Stage:
This is the recovery stage when the threat or situation is gone. The parasympathetic nervous system acts as a brake and decreases the stress response. In times of chronic stress, if measures are not taken, it delays recovery.
3. The Exhaustion Stage:
If we get stuck in the alarm stage and do not get to recover, the body starts to wear down. At this point it is important to take action to give your body what it needs to recover and heal.
Stress, even chronic low-level stress, can have the following affects:
- difficulty sleeping
- weight gain
- exacerbates flare-ups and recurrences in existing health issues
- depressed immune system
- mood changes, depression, irritability
- short term memory issues
- difficulty concentrating
- strained relationships
- stressed vital organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys
- decreased productivity
- interferes with the ability to get pregnant
Since it is impossible to avoid people or situations that create stress in our lives, it is important for us to develop several strategies to deal with life. It requires awareness of our bodies, educating ourselves with non-pharmaceutical modalities, and developing a habit of daily stress reduction.
There are many strategies to make us more resilient when it comes reducing our stress response. What is important is to become familiar and practice them as often as possible. When we improve our body’s ability to recover from stress, we are minimizing the negative side effects that result from excessive stress. If your stress is overwhelming and you are having difficulty functioning, consult a licensed medical professional. A good physical and lab work can help rule out any physical reason for feeling nervous and stressed.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the best guide to make sure you are providing self-care. To decrease your internal stress, it is important to meet both the physiological and psychological needs. The basic physiological needs must be satisfied for a person to move into the next phase then move into self-actualization. If the basic needs are not met it increases stress in all areas of your life, making it difficult to meet your psychological needs.
- SELF-ACTUALIATION: Need for personal fulfillment, striving to achieving ones fullest potential
- ESTEEM: Need to feel worthy, status, self-esteem, dignity, recognition, strength, freedom, mastery, independence, desire for reputation and respect from others, prestige and feeling of accomplishment
- LOVE AND BELONGING: sense of connection, family, friendship, intimacy, being part of a group
- SAFTETY NEEDS: feeling safe and secure, employment, resources, health, personal security, property
- PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS: The most basic biological requirements. These needs are the foundation to grow and thrive. (Food, water, air, shelter, sleep, warmth, rest, clothing, reproduction)
Life is cyclic and what is most important is to balance stress with recovery. It is important to understand different types of recovery needed to balance the various types of physical, emotional, and mental stress. Breaking the stress cycle requires active (movement) or passive (non-active) rest.
Activities that involve movement benefit people who tend to be more sedentary and have more emotional and mental stress. Examples of more active recovery are walking, jogging, noncompetitive sports, yoga, tai-chi, qigong, fishing, dancing, or biking.
When a person is active and has more physical stress, they benefit from more passive activities such as: meditation, watching comedies, massage, jacuzzi, naps, visualizing a safe place, prayer, or music.
One of my favorite books on building resilience for stressful times is Toughness Training for Life by James Loehr. In his book he outlines four key components that are needed to become more resistant to stress. He also explains how to build each area so you can navigate the difficult times.
- Emotional Flexibility: Allows you to be non-defensive, can access positive emotions such as humor and motivation to retaining the ability to be creative in problem solving.
- Emotional Responsiveness: Allows you to be present and focused on the stressful situation and to maintain their true self
- Emotional Strength: Allows a person to remain passionate and optimistic even under pressure. They do not break down by the negativity of their situation
- Emotional Resiliency: The ability to get back up after a setback or an emotional upset.
James Loeher Ed.D. states, “The urge to eat, drink, sleep, relax, and exercise is the special language of recovery; it represents a window into the physiology of your body. Learning to hear and understand this language is hearing the rhythms and pulsations of life itself. Our bodies are constantly talking, constantly reaching our conscious minds-or failing to make the connection because the way is blocked by alcohol, drugs, emotion, or a fixed decision to ignore the messages. When the volume of stress in our lives threatens to overwhelm us, we often fail to heed, or even hear, our body’s cries for recovery. We also often fail to recognize that opportunities for recovery are everywhere. To be stronger and tougher we must train to understand and utilize our opportunities for recovery…
Tending to our body’s need for psychological recovery should always be our first priority. Unfortunately, as we become increasingly more stressed, we neglect the body’s basic needs for food, sleep, exercise, and relaxation. The cost of these many vital neglects is often very high in terms of health, happiness, and productivity. The cost for all too many of us is our most precious possession- the years of healthy life that remain.”
It is vital that we find the time to recover daily from our stress. Daily practices minimize the accumulation of inflammatory stress hormones along with the wear and tear on our body and mind. In doing this, we become emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually stronger. As we condition ourselves daily to handle stress, we are preparing ourselves for more challenging times. Better conditioning can decrease the ill effects of stress. In decreasing the effects we can increase the possibility of a happier and healthier life for us and our future generations.