Stress   2 comments

Silent Killer with a Deadly Bite!

Stress is an equal opportunity destroyer! It effects every human being no matter how old/young, wealthy/poor, healthy/ill. Stress and specifically one’s response to it is one of the primary factors that leads individuals with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues to relapse.

With that in mind I would like to share with you a few highlights from the materials that I use to in my Stress Management class.

 As has long been said, the first step to solving any problem is identifying it. So lets look briefly at a definition for stress.

   Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life. Your brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat, your body releases a burst of hormones to fuel your fight-or-flight response.

When the threat is gone, your body returns to normal

 In other words, Stress is a normal and believe it or not, HEALTHY, response to some of what we are exposed to in living our life from day to day. Although we do not experience the types of life threatening demands that our ancient and not so ancient forefathers did, the physiological stress response (Fight or Flight), is the most basic and animal-like response, in that there is one and only goal… SURVIVAL!

 The Physical stress response results in the release of 2 primary chemicals- adrenaline and cortisol.

 Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.

Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.

This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.

So, what does all that mean in English? Basically, Adrenaline gives you increased energy and “speeds you up” They don’t call it an “adrenaline rush” for nothing. At the same time, Cortisol, also boost energy levels by increasing blood sugar levels. In addition, it slows down the functioning of other “non essential” systems and diverts those resources to muscles and brain fro the “fight or flight response”. Once the threat has past, the body returns to a balance of energy throughout all systems.

So, that is how things are suppose to work, but what happens when an individual experiences too much stress over a long period of time?

The body does not return to balance and the medical problems ensue including: high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, obesity, memory impairment. Recent research has also identified a connection between chronic high stress and the development of diabetes.

So what is the answer?  A life without stress? Don’t we wish… or do we.

Is there such a thing as good stress?

Well, I guess I would not ask the question and bring it up at all if it were true, right?

Of course there is good stress, but so much attention is given to negative stress, that most people don’t even consider its existence.

Good stress, also known as eustress, is that “just right amount” of stress that motivates us to perform at our highest and best capacity. It is in this zone that we are the most calm and creative.  Good stress is the motivation that pushes us to be at work on a daily basis and do our best. It is the deadline that is approaching for that report or project that you have been working on for 2 weeks. However, even then, good stress can turn into bad stress, if we are not effectively motivated to complete the project in a timely manner and end up feeling overwhelmed due to our own procrastination.

Well, thanks Gary for stressing me out even more!                              Now what?   

What am I suppose to do about all this stress?

 Unfortunately, healthy and effective stress management is not something that is as easy “Do A,B & C” or “Don’t do D,E & F”. Healthy stress management is a new lifestyle and way of seeing one’s world and thereby responding to it. Most stress management training programs focus on dealing with acute stress and coping with emotions resulting from a given threat or demand. I contend that stress management starts with developing a lifestyle that minimizes stress causing situations, but, at the same time understanding that they are still going to be present and learning ways to reduce the intensity and longevity to one’s response to them.

Unfortunately, I can only give a very few brief ideas, but many communities and/or employers are recognizing the need and are offering stress management classes, which can provide you with more information.

The First and most important tool for managing stress is IDENTIFY YOUR STRESSORS.

Effective stress management starts with identifying your sources of stress  One way to do this is to make a list of the situations, concerns or challenges that trigger your stress response.

Take a moment to write down the top 10 issues you’re facing right now. You’ll notice that some of your stressors are events that happen to you while others seem to originate from within.

External stressors are events and situations that happen to you. Some examples of external stressors include:

       Major life changes. These changes can be positive or they can be negative

       Environment. The input from the world around us can be a source of stress.

Unpredictable events.       




Not all stress stems from things that happen to you. Much of our stress response is self-induced. (See previous post regarding the 90/10 Principal)  Those feelings and thoughts that pop into your head and cause you unrest are known as internal stressors. Examples of internal stressors include:

        Fears. Common ones include fear of flying, fear of heights and fear of public speaking.

       Uncertainty. Few people enjoy not knowing what might happen. Think about how you might react when waiting for the results of a medical test.

       Beliefs. These might be attitudes, opinions or expectations. You may not even think about how your beliefs shape your experience, but these preset thoughts often set us up for stress. Consider the expectations you put on yourself to create a perfect holiday celebration or advance up the career ladder.

The good news is that we have the ability to control our thoughts. The bad news is that our fears, attitudes and expectations have been our companions for a long time and it often takes some effort to change them.

Other “Preventive Maintenance” techniques include:

       Scale back. Cut back on your obligations when possible

       Prepare. Stay ahead of stress by preparing for meetings or trips, scheduling your time better, and setting realistic goals for tasks both big and small.

       Reach out. Surrounding yourself with supportive family, friends, and co-workers can have a positive effect on your mental well-being and your ability to cope with stress.

       Take up a hobby. When you engage in something enjoyable, it can soothe and calm your restless mind.

       Relax. Physical activity, meditation, yoga, massage and other relaxation techniques can help you manage stress.

       Get enough sleep. Lack of sufficient sleep affects your judgment and makes you more likely to snap over minor irritations.

       Get professional help. If your stress management efforts aren’t helpful enough, see your doctor or other mental health professional.

       Laugh. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.

       Connect with your Faith: Spirituality has many benefits for stress relief and overall mental health.

       Exercise: Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits.

       Relaxation Techniques:  Relaxation is a process that decreases the wear and tear on your mind and body from the challenges and hassles of daily life

What about acute stress (I am stressing NOW!)?

Many of the techniques identified above can be utilized to help address acute stress as well.

They are included in this final list of techniques for dealing with acute stress.

  • Hobby
  • Laugh
  • Meditation / Prayer
  • Listen to Music
  • Deep Breathing
  •  Exercises
  • Rest / sleep
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • Exercise
  • Read
  • Journaling
  • Visual Imagery
  • Pets

 As I said in the beginning, Stress Management is more than just a handful of techniques. Effective stress management requires us to re-evaluate our priorities and obligations. The biggest reason that many people have high stress is their own inability to say a simple yet very powerful 2-letter word – “NO”. We HAVE to start saying it, stop considering it a 4-letter word. Your friends, family, church, boss, etc. had much have you around and healthy in body and mind than to not have you around there at all.



So… Take a deep breath and






The American Institute Of Stress –

 Mayo Clinic –


2 responses to “Stress

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  1. Really enjoyed reading your information about stress! In particular, the way you have written about the fine line between “good versus bad stress” is thought provoking. Stress can indeed be a powerful and insidious force. Taking the time for self-care is critical for any person, in particular those who provide care for others.

    Ginger Hilley, Psy.D.
  2. Being asked to help my sister-in-law while she was taking her nieces to take care of the final arrangements for her brother who was tragically killed in a fire quickly brought the wall upon my head of what some families are facing today. One nephew recently married has been living with them since he was discharged from the Marines. He and his wife are both working and spent most of their time cooking in a kitchen caked with burned pans and dirty appliances, riddled with dirty dishes and trash they were going to “recycle.” Their second son is going to community college and working three part-time jobs. Their twin sons are seniors who spend their time in bed, at school, at extra-curricular activities or working to pay the expenses of high school while trying to save money for college. My brother spends most of his time trying to do free-lance work where there has been a significant decrease in the need for his services. He has macular degeneration, crippling arthritis, and overweight swearing off doctors as money hungry quacks. My sister-in-law works with disadvantaged children in the public school system where she spends most of her day getting bitten, kicked, and scratched.

    Entering their home was like entering a time warp — a capsule of people fighting within themselves to make it to a better moment — a better day. In the mean time, their surroundings a nightmare without structure. Their home showing signs of disintegration, evidence of deeper fractures within the family’s ability to cope with the stress they are currently undertaking. Bedrooms are full of the stench of dirty clothes, rotting food, and trash not to mention the filth of neglect. The foundation of the house is slipping. Nephews were asking if I knew anyone who might help them find someone who could fix the foundation of their home. Outside doors could not be closed and their were cracks in the walls. For some reason, I felt myself drawn deeper into a world much deeper than the superficial house where they are residing.

    They watched as I scrubbed, swept, and bagged trash. I scratched the surface of three of the thirteen rooms before exhaustion as well as an overwhelming sense of hopelessness sucked what energy I had left down a drain that seemed to see no end. My nephew watched as I took the bags of trash through the unlatching door. He asked, “Why are you doing this?”

    “Your mother needs help! She really needs YOUR help, Justin.” From his expression it was obvious I was speaking a foreign language.

    God grant the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

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