44% of Americans are more stressed than they were 5 years ago
1 in 5 Americans experience physical symptoms of stress- heart palpitations, shaking, depression
3 out of 4 doctors visits are for stress related ailments
Stress increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, among others
I’ll confidently go out on a limb here and say that each and every one of us is dealing with stress. What was the last thing you experienced stress about today? Was it worth it? Are you still thinking about it?
Chances are you experience stress to some degree on a daily basis. Maybe it’s from your kids who aren’t listening. Perhaps it’s your partner lost in his/her cell phone. It could be co-workers not completing their work on time, complicating your work status. You may be financially strained right now. Maybe you’re juggling so many roles and responsibilities that you don’t feel you’re actually doing anything well. Regardless of the source(s) of your stress, stress is pervasive and stress can stink. But does our stress have to be so hard on us?
Since we are all unique, the way stress manifests can vary person to person. Stress can be caused by a physical or emotional change, either of which causes us to experience symptoms of stress such as irritability, lack of concentration, or physical pain, to name a few.
We’ve all been told that stress is largely bad. And, yes, chronic stress is bad. When we are living in a constant state of stress, we are putting our health and well-being at risk.
Fascinatingly, when we change our mind about how we think of stress, we can actually change our response and change the way stress impacts us physically and emotionally.
I’d like you to stop and pause for a moment and consider the following question. Where is your stress coming from? (Identifying the root cause is essential.) Once identified, is the root cause something that can be changed? Do you have any control over the root? If yes, great- you can begin problem solving how to resolve that stress (it may take time and stress management along the way). However, if what is causing you to experience stress is something you do not have any control over, then you’re faced with the task of figuring out how to better handle your stress via stress management that works best for you.
Let me tell you a secret here— wait for it… wait for it…
Regardless of the source of your stress, You have control over how you respond to your external and internal environment. No one is forcing you to eat that fourth piece of cake. No one is making you lash out. No one else is responsible for your lack of self care.
Whether you’re experiencing stress because you feel like you have no control, you don't feel validated, you’re going through a change, or any number of other things, here are three things you need to know:
Stress stinks when it’s all consuming- we’ve all been there. But it doesn't need to be this way. You can make the choice to take charge of your stress. (And stop allowing your stress to control you.)
You have to determine what you can realistically do to take better care of yourself and in turn begin to experience less stress. Maybe that means exercise? Eat more veggies? Play video games? Talk to a friend or counselor?
Be diligent and disciplined and put your self care routine into action.
How YOU view your stress matters.
For example, if you’re late to an important appointment, you may notice that in addition to the thought(s) swirling in your head (‘I’m always late, what is my problem?’ ‘I’m totally going to blow this opportunity.’ etc.) your body also responds: hormones are released, your heart races, your breath quickens, you tense up, and stress can trigger inflamation. These physical responses are your body’s way of preparing you for action (fight/flight). When this cycle happens over and over for whatever reason(s), your entire well-being can be at stake.
Instead of giving in to your stress and allowing it to control you, you can actually turn it around. This is the good news about stress!
The information you receive from your stress can help you rise to the challenge and respond to your stress in a healthier way. If you can perceive stress as helpful- and see your stress response as your body's way of giving you information- you can more easily reframe your stress and manage it more effectively. (Doesn’t relief from stress sound nice?)
Fascinating recent research completed by Dr. Kelly McGonigal shows that stress actually helps us. Research shows that stress makes you social, which can be a life saver. The hormone oxytocin is a stress hormone, and is pumped into your body during a stress time, and effects both your brain and your cardiovascular system. When oxytocin is released during a stress response, it’s actually motivating you to connect with others and seek support.
Biologically, oxytocin is encouraging you to talk about how you are feeling rather than keeping it inside. And vice versa, this hormone is encouraging you to be there to support someone you care about who is experiencing stress. From a cardiovascular perspective, oxytocin is anti-inflammatory and helps protect your body during stress. This hormone can actually help you to heal from stress and make you more resilient.
The way you think and act in response to stress matters. Stress creates an opportunity in all of us to cultivate courage, resilience, compassion, and energy. When you choose to view your mental and physical stress response as helpful information , you’ll likely feel more capable of dealing with challenges in your life, and you’ll realize that you shouldn't face your stressful situation alone.
Some circumstances that cause stress are more mild and temporary- like the stress around an upcoming meeting, or what to make for dinner. Other sources of stress can be more intense and long lasting such as having a sick family member, going though a divorce, making a move, or seeking a new lifestyle. Regardless of the severity of your stress, you can best help yourself and your stress if you connect with others, help others who are stressed, and seek professional help to process your stress and its effects if needed.
Always remember, you are more than your stress and there are people who care about you and your stress. Your stress can stink, or you can choose to do something about your stress and turn your stress into a more positive aspect of your life.