Stress is the accumulation of tension that you begin to feel, both physically and emotionally, as you try to adapt to the changes and demands in your environment. There are many stressful life events that we experience at one time or another, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of an important relationship. In addition, stress can build up on a daily basis due to school and financial pressures and can be just as damaging as major life events if you do not learn how to release it. How you manage the stressful events in your life will determine whether you feel temporary anxiety or long-term anxiety, relatively short-term sadness and grief, or chronic depression. This is true for physical problems as well. If you find ways to manage your stress you might have only mild stomach or intestinal distress from time to time rather than developing ulcers or colitis. That is to say, if you do not manage the stress in your life on a daily basis, it can have long-term consequences.
People experience stress in different ways. A stressful event for one person might be relatively minor for another person. Also, stress is not necessarily bad. A small or manageable amount of stress might motivate one to achieve and could help them give their best performance. Even anticipated and happy events such as graduation or marriage can be stressful. Again, how you cope emotionally and physically depends on how you perceive the stressful event and what interventions you use on a daily basis.
Our stress reaction is triggered when we perceive danger, whether it is physical danger, emotional danger or both. Our bodies have what is known as a "fight or flight" response which helps us respond quickly if we are suddenly faced with danger. This reponse was helpful to the caveman who had to fight on a regular basis to obtain food and protect his shelter. Unfortunately, our bodies have the same physiological response when we hear a frightening noise or fail to achieve something that is important to us. Anything that we perceive as a threat stimulates our body to respond: the heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, hormones pour into the blood that send sugar to the muscles and brain to mobilize energy, digestive processes are turned off so energy is available elsewhere, and so on. These changes were designed to help us react physically but we rarely need to respond in that way anymore. Therefore our bodies begin to experience wear and tear when these processes are stimulated over and over again with no outlet.
It is important to take some time to examine what is stressful to you and then devise a plan for yourself. Try to figure out what you can and cannot change. Maybe you can eliminate some stressors or find a way to encounter them less often. It is better if you can do this evaluation and put some methods of stress reduction to work for yourself before you are in the middle of a crisis.
Let's examine some possible problems and resources. Do you create stress for yourself? Do you procrastinate and leave major projects to be completed at the last minute? Do you fail to organize your time and simply cannot get your work done? Then a workshop on time management might be helpful to you. There are also many books available regarding effective time management.
Sometimes energetic, organized people get themselves overcommitted and do not allow enough time in their schedule for relaxation. The wear and tear of always having to be somewhere and doing something can be quite stressful. Can you make sure you schedule exercise, yoga, or meditation into your daily routine?
Another way in which people sometimes contribute to their stress is by overreacting to events. Do you sometimes exaggerate the magnitude of the problem rather than put it in perspective? Do you complain about a problem to the point that it starts to take on a life of its own? It is important to assume the attitude that life is to be lived, taking the good along with the bad. It is important to accept your feelings and express them and at some point be able to start problem-solving.
And finally, do you add stress to your life by trying to please everyone? The end result of this is that you ignore your feelings and they build up inside of you. In addition, those around you begin to ignore your feelings too because you have taught them that your feelings are not important. This can lead to much tension, stress and unhappiness in your life. Doing some reading on assertiveness or attending an assertiveness workshop would be a helpful stress reducer in this situation.
These are just a few of the possible ways in which stress can affect your life. This message is simply an overview on stress management and frequently people need help examining their specific situation. The Counseling Center is available to help with stress management, so stop by or call for an appointment.