By Tom Meany, CTS, MHC, LPC
Stress has been given a bad rap (and rep) in our present day culture. It usually carries a bad connotation, but there is actually good stress in our lives. You need a certain amount of stress just to read this article. Stress is anything that challenges us to mobilize resources to deal with it.
General stress is day in, day out stress, and it can be positive or negative. It’s the stress you need to get up and get dressed each day, the stress you need to read this article. If you went to work today, missed your train, spilled coffee, leaving stains on your shirt and arrived late for work, that’s negative general stress. If you got to work with no delays and received an unexpected promotion or bonus, that would be positive general stress. At the end of the day, it’s over, positive, negative or mixed, but you start again tomorrow.
So what can we do to manage our stress?
We do have reliable resources that we can control and rely upon to manage our stress. Primarily the first is:
1. REST. We cannot function if we don’t have enough rest, which generally means seven to eight hours of sleep per night. A car cannot start if the battery is dead.
2. NUTRITION. The car cannot run without fuel in the tank. Some people react to stress by over eating, some withdraw from eating. We need to have a balanced amount of nutritious food even if we don’t feel like eating. Not eating will make any physical symptoms worse.
3. EXERCISE. Distress can cause us to generate high levels of adrenaline in our system. Over time this creates fatigue or physical and or emotional exhaustion. Adrenaline needs to be physically processed out of our system. The best way to do this is to introduce oxygenated blood and the best way to do this is physical exercise. The more aerobic the exercise the better, but even going for a long walk can introduce needed oxygenated blood into our system.
4. COMMUNICATION. Talking about what distresses us does two things. One it is an emotional catharsis. It is allowing a waterfall of emotion to flow out from being built up inside us. It’s also gives us some perspective, so we can view things more objectively. This is the most single, therapeutic factor for managing stress. Sometimes we need to get things off our chest and sometimes we need to be the listener. The best people to speak with are usually those that share similar stressors.
5. SPIRITUAL BELIEF SYSTEM. By this it doesn’t necessarily mean being a member of a church or congregation, but that can be helpful. It means believing in the universal notion that good should overcome evil in the world. It’s the lens on the camera so that we can look at the tragedy of 9/11 and answer the question: Why would God allow 3,000 innocent people to be murdered? It’s our way of making sense of things of life.
6. RECREATION. Distress can often cause us to withdraw from things we enjoy in life: socializing with friends, traveling, exercising, having fun. There is a child within us all that needs to play and play often. Not having fun in our lives can, in itself, increase stress.
So we can’t control, the sight, the sound the smell of things that may remind us of the distress in our lives, but we can control developing and accessing our resources. It is as if we are a sailboat and knocked on its side by an unexpected wave. The first thing we need to do is take a deep breath and let the wave roll over us. The next thing we need to do is think of which resources we need to access. How can I straighten out my sailboat?. . .
- Do I need to take a rest, put my head down?
- Do I need a drink of water, or something to eat?
- Do I need to go for a walk, just to get some fresh air?
- Do I need to be with people, to talk or listen?
- Do I need to meditate or say a prayer?
- Do I need to plan being with friends or a workout?
If you’re managing the stress in your life adequately, share this information with anyone whom you know who is struggling.
Tom is a Certified Trauma Specialist by The Association for Traumatic Stress. He is is also a Licensed Mental Health Professional Counselor in New York & New Jersey.