What is stress? How does it shake out in your life? The word stress has become quite commonplace in our vocabulary. We're constantly told that we live in a high-stress society in which the pace of life is too fast and the pressures are too great. We're told that we must learn to cope with stress, because it has harmful effects on our bodies. But how do we deal with something that seems nebulous and different for each and every individual?
According to the scientist who pioneered stress research, Hans Selye, it's "the rate of wear and tear within the body." But how do we personally decide when the wear and tear is more than the body can handle? We all have our breaking points and some of us will collapse under the weight of stressors sooner than others.
In science, stress is neither good nor bad; it's just the body's way of reacting to events in the environment. Of course, positive stress such as a challenge that you readily accept and enjoy can actually enhance your life and spur you on to greater productivity and satisfaction. The key is to decide when enough is enough and remaining in control of that stress.
Over five million people in the United States suffer from one form or another of what is now termed stress-related illness. Of course, there are other determining factors that equate to a disease state but undue amounts of hormones produced during times of increased stress will cause those weak points to weaken more quickly. It is now proven that failure to cope with stress hinders your body's natural abilities to fight off disease. Therefore developing an ability to cope can actually help prevent disease.
How do you know if you are having a difficult time managing the stressors in your life? Here are some key markers:
1. Is it hard for you to unwind during your free time?
2. Do you need a tranquilizer or a drink to relax?
3. If you're upset about something, do you find that your thoughts race through your mind at night to the point you can't sleep?
4. When you're tense or anxious, do you feel the need to eat or smoke?
5. Do you often get so worried that you have indigestion, diarrhea or nausea?
6. Are there people or situations in your life that make you feel uptight just by thinking about them?
7. Do you feel that you're almost always racing against the clock?
If you answered yes to any one or more of the above questions, then it's time to think about making some changes in your lifestyle. Oh, "dread" you say? Well consider this: do you want to have more energy; want to have more time to spend doing the things that are truly important to you; want to live longer and have a better quality life throughout your years; or how about having a more loving relationship with family and friends. You may even find yourself getting more work done because you feel better. That's no small payoff indeed.
Many people feel that stress is responsible for all their problems. If we could only relieve the stress, life would be simple, uncomplicated and smooth sailing. Yes, someone's got to pay the bills, get up in the middle of the night with sick kids, try and do the right things by voting, being civic minded, involved in neighborhood and community but we don't need to make ourselves sick or be accused of being "The Grinch That Stole Christmas" because we can't deal! We do have a responsibility first to ourselves and then to our loved ones to learn coping skills that will allow us to be the kinder gentler souls we know is just underneath waiting to be excavated.
Stay tuned, next week I'll take a look at some coping skills. If you are habitually addicted to your state of business, next week's column is for you.
Till next time, Rebecca.