How Stress-hardy Are You?
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Stress is good for me? You’ve gotta be kidding!
When you face stressful situations as challenges, they can motivate you and give you energy. As you take on each challenge, you have an opportunity to gain satisfaction from a job well done.
Successful coping with life’s stressors can increase your personal sense of competence. You may discover deeper levels of personal strength and potential. Stressors can provide optimal levels of arousal necessary for high levels of performance.
Life without stress would be routine and boring.
On the other hand, stress can – literally – kill you!
Stressors are circumstances that you perceive to be a threat to your well-being. They appear in several ways:
• Stress might emerge in your life when you are frustrated because you can’t get
or do something you want.
• Internal conflict when you are trying to make decisions can create stress.
• Most people experience stress when they are faced with change – both for the
better or for the worse (the death of a loved one, a new boss, divorce, an
injury, moving to another location, marriage, being laid off or fired,
starting a new job, pregnancy, etc.).
• Pressures to perform or conform at work and in your personal life can trigger
• Plain, old daily hassles are likely to account for much of your stress (grocery
bag breaks, car won’t start, you lose your cell phone connection in the
middle of a conversation, you drop your house keys when it’s raining and
your hands are full, etc.)
When stress invades your life, your body mobilizes with the well-known “fight or flight” response. Your heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, etc. all rise. You have undoubtedly experienced this many times.
The “fight or flight” response works great for animals faced with predators. It’s fight the adversary or run for your life. It’s all over very quickly. The prey either escapes or becomes the predator’s lunch.
Among humans, the “fight or flight” response to stressors is much less helpful. Unlike animals, our frustrations, conflict, changes, pressures and daily hassles frequently don’t let up. They go on and on. Our bodies remain mobilized and on alert – until our immune system and health are compromised.
Stress frequently triggers emotional distress, muscular tensions, stomach problems, dizziness, migraine headaches, and other symptoms. Research has found links between stress and heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes, leukemia, cancer, and various infectious diseases.
You don’t have much control over the stressful circumstances that present themselves in your life. But, you do have choices. There are three main things you can do to cope with stress:
1. Modify how you perceive the circumstances that create stress for you.
2. Relax your body. Reduce the level of “fight or flight” arousal.
3. Take care of yourself.
It’s not the circumstance itself but how you perceive a circumstance that makes it stressful or not. Changing how you think about the circumstance will determine how stressful it will be.
For example, if someone in another car drives recklessly and endangers your safety, you may think “Nobody has a right to drive like that! Who does he think he is? He won’t pull that stuff with me!” All the while your breathing rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, etc. are rising. Instead, think calmer thoughts. Maybe, “There will always be drivers in a bigger hurry than I am. I would do best to drive defensively for my sake and others on the road.”
Stop blaming and criticizing yourself and others, or loading your thinking with “shoulds,” “oughts,” and “musts.” Turn the situation around by asking yourself questions like these about your situation:
“What’s the lesson here?”
“What do I do when I cope with a circumstance like this the best?”
“What is this circumstance telling me about the priorities in my life?”
“How else can I think about this situation to handle it better?”
“Is there a message here about how I interact with other people?”
“What does this circumstance suggest about the balance in my life?”
Breathe deeply. Sit in a quiet place. Close your eyes and breathe in slowly through your nose, filling your lungs and expanding your diaphragm. Hold it briefly and then exhale slowly. Feel the air moving in, all the way down, and out again.
Exercise regularly. Walk, dance, hike, swim, bowl, or any other exercise that will get your body moving. If it’s hard to stick with your routine, find an exercise partner. Do different kinds of exercise. Make it fun.
Slow down. Simplify your life. Plan your days. Set realistic goals for a day, prioritize them, schedule time for them (plus some extra time for unexpected tasks), break big things into smaller parts, delegate what you can, just take one thing at a time. Schedule time for yourself in every day.
Do whatever relaxes you: meditation, listening to music, visualizing yourself at your most content and calm moments, etc.
Get adequate sleep.
Eat healthful foods.
Enjoy stress-free activities. Take time for hobbies, volunteer activities, or similar pursuits.
Spend time with friends – especially those who are positive and optimistic. Nurture relationships that you value.
Play and laugh.
Refresh your mind by spending time in nature, reading inspirational literature, learning new things.
Choose a healthy lifestyle. No smoking. No misuse of alcohol or drugs. Limit caffeine.
Every time that you are faced with stressful circumstances, you make a choice that either builds your stress-hardiness or lets stress compromise your happiness and health. With every frustration, conflict, change, pressure or daily hassle that comes your way – pause – choose happiness and health. Change your thinking, relax your body and take care of yourself!
© Glen Rediehs, Ph.D.
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