Worry Break: The Busy Woman’s Guide to Less Stress (Part One)
Many years ago, on my journey to discovering “who I am,” my therapist told me that I was under chronic stress.
Baffled, I said, “No, not me.”
There was nothing new going on in my life that was putting added pressure on me, but he pointed out that it didn’t need to be anything new. “It’s that you’ve reached the limit of your capacity to cope and it’s starting to affect your health,” he said.
Looking back, it made sense. I had a lot going on, for a while. My fiancé had died, leaving me a single parent of an infant and toddler. My aunt died. My sister had undergone major surgery. I was caring for my niece. I was going to school. I was advancing in my career, but struggling with insecurities.
No matter how strong we think we are, we’re really like rubber bands. We can be stretched until we pop. What does popping look like? It depends on the person. For me, it was thinning hair and scarring alopecia, shortness of breath, panic attacks, high cholesterol, intermittent depression, irritability, low patience, overthinking…
You get the picture. Stress can creep up on us and bring us to our knees when we least expect it.
Because of that, I wanted to share what I’ve come to learn about stress – how it works and how to manage it – in this two part post. Once you understand stress and stressors, you’re better able to manage it and reclaim your power and peace, communicate better, resolve conflict and stress less.
First, stress is normal.
Stress comes in all forms and affects people of all ages and all walks of life. Adults get stressed. Children get stressed. Even animals. You’re not weak or abnormal because you get stressed out.
The degree of stress in our lives is highly dependent upon individual factors such as physical health, the quality of our interpersonal relationships, the number of commitments and responsibilities we have, external expectations, our support systems, negative thinking, etc.
Why understanding stress is important.
Stress is a signal that something needs to change, and we suffer when we don’t make that needed change. Understanding how stress affects you allows you to develop effective solutions.
Think of your experience with flat tires: a flat tire makes it difficult to steer the car to your destination. It can make driving uncontrollable and shaky. This can cause an accident that harms you and others. It also prevents you from reaching your desired destination.
It’s the same with stress.
It interferes with your ability to steer your life or career, in the right direction and affects all areas of your life including relationships, work performance, and physical health.
Type of stress
There are two kinds of stress: positive and negative.
Positive stress, called eustress, is short-term and leads to better performance in specific instances of our lives. Eustress results in heightened senses, awareness, and use of our various body systems. It can help us get out of bad situations, or deal with difficult ones, even those that are good.
Negative stress, or distress, is often longer-lasting, and detrimental to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
What causes stress?
There are many kinds of possible stressors. For example:
Your thoughts, habits, choices, and behaviors (such as people pleasing)
Your environment, including the people, places and things that you engage with
Being incongruent with your authentic self
Feeling stuck or trapped
Lack of honest communication
Major life events, good or bad can cause stress, too: i.e., a wedding or a divorce, being evicted or buying a new home, staying stagnant or new promotion with new responsibilities.
How stress affects us
The chain reaction of stress can be broken down in this way:
stressor → thought → emotion → mind/body impact
A stressor leads to a thought, which gives rise to certain emotions, which then have an impact on the mind or body.
Common Symptoms of Stress
Some common symptoms of stress are:
Conflict in your relationships
Little to no patience or tolerance
Confusion and feeling flustered
The symptoms of stress can be broken down into cognitive, emotional, physical, and emotional symptoms:
Any or any combination of these symptoms may arise when you are stressed.
Check in With Your Stress
For now, spend some time thinking about how stress is manifesting in your life. What is it costing you? How does it make you feel? Can you see any obvious, and not-so-obvious, causes of your stress?
Take a moment to check in with yourself. When you think about your personal stressors, where do you feel it? Your head? Chest? Back and shoulders? Pit of your stomach?
It may seem silly at first, but learning to check in with our bodies like this is important.
In part two of this series, I go into more details about how you can better manage stress, including some of my favorite ways to de-stress.
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