How Stress Takes You Down

The Bottom Line:  Pay attention to what stresses you and be proactive in dealing with it.

My Stress Insider App and Blog are all about stress in all life areas and how to manage it.  This blog post brings up a number of reasons why you want to pay attention to your stress and to learn whatever you can about managing it and reducing it when possible.  It’s critical to get the inside track on stress.

There’s little denying that we’ve all felt stress.  Some good, positive and motivating like getting pumped for a competition or an exciting event … some bad and negative like being in a traffic jam or listening to your neighbor mow the lawn at 8:00 pm while you’re trying to enjoy the evening.  Or, more seriously, trying to cope with an illness in the family or experiencing financial problems.

Unfortunately, a lot of people won’t admit it when they’re under stress and sometimes they don’t even know.  Often, even when you think you are not stressed (on the surface), your subconscious is trying to deal with your stress.  So don’t assume that because you are not always thinking about something or worrying about something, you are not feeling the impact of stress.  Your brain never stops working and stress never stops invading both your body and your brain.

Short-term Impact of Stress

Here are a few things that can happen when you have a sudden stressful event that lasts for a short time:

  • Increased heartbeat
  • Sudden tightening of the muscles
  • Faster breathing
  • Immediate sweating
  • Cold hands, feet, or clammy skin
  • ‘Butterflies’ or stomach sickness
  • Dry mouth
  • Urge to go to the bathroom

Fortunately, these reactions are short-lived and usually don’t last once the stressful event is over.

Long-term Impact of Stress

But if your stress continues (chronic stress) these reactions don’t stop and they can become very unhealthy.  It’s like having your car in neutral and having the accelerator floored.  Something will give way unless you let up on the accelerator.

Eventually chronic stress will affect your entire life.  Here are some more effects:

  • Interfering with your judgment and causing you to make bad decisions
  • Making you feel threatened
  • Reducing your enjoyment in just about anything
  • Making it difficult for you to concentrate or to deal with distraction
  • Leaving you anxious, frustrated or angry
  • Experiencing muscle spasms, headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath
  • Making you socially withdraw and having no desire to see other people or participate in things that used to bring you pleasure.

And that’s not all!  Long-term stress can have an even greater effect on your body and mind by:

  • Changing your appetite (making you eat either less or more)
  • Changing your sleep habits (either causing you to sleep too much or not letting you sleep enough)
  • Encouraging ‘nervous’ behavior such as twitching, fiddling, talking too much, nail biting, teeth grinding, pacing, and other repetitive habits
  • Weakening your immune system that leaves you open to catching colds or the flu more often and causing other illnesses such as asthma, headaches, stomach problems, skin problems, and other aches and pains
  • Affecting your sex life
  • Making you feel constantly tired and worn out.

And that’s still not all!  We can also experience many other things:

  • Worrying and feeling anxious (which can sometimes lead to anxiety disorder and panic attacks)
  • Feeling out of control, overwhelmed, confused, and/or unable to make decisions
  • Experiencing mood changes such as depression, frustration, anger, helplessness, irritability, defensiveness, irrationality, overreaction, or impatience and restlessness
  • Increasing dependence on food, cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs
  • Neglecting important things in life such as work, school, and even personal appearance
  • Developing irrational fears of just about anything.

WOW!  That’s a lot of information … and that’s only some of it.

It’s little wonder that STRESS IS RESPONSIBLE FOR EITHER CAUSING OR WORSENING 95% OF ALL ILLNESS !

And what’s more … stress has a knack of attacking your weakest point

Even short-term emotional stress, such as an outburst of anger or a sudden traumatic incident, will attack your weakest point and can trigger some very harmful physical reactions like heart arrhythmia and even heart attacks in those who are predisposed to heart problems.  In the longer term, stress will also attack your weakest point, either physical or mental, potentially resulting in debilitating conditions such as ulcers, severe back problems, muscle spasms, aneurysms, and any number of mental health issues.  Whatever your vulnerability is, stress will find it and relentlessly attack it.

What Can You Do About Stress?  Here are just a few ideas.  There are many more in my book “Stress Relief is an Inside Job”.  Have a look when you get a minute.

  1. Identify what’s causing stress.  Monitor events in your day or in your day-to-day life and monitor your reactions to these events.  You will soon discover what is stressing you and then you’ll be able to put together a game plan to deal with your stressors.
  2. Talk to people.  Never underestimate the importance of your social supports in sharing your stressors and coming up with solutions.
  3. Don’t react.  Walk away when you’re angry and before you react, take time to regroup by counting to 10 and then consider your response.
  4. Get exercise.  Exercise helps you blow off steam and also makes you physically stronger and better able to handle stress.
  5. Eat well.  A healthy body goes a long way to helping you combat stress.
  6. Rest your mind.  Cut back on caffeine, reduce your television viewing or computer time and do some relaxation exercises before going to bed.
  7. Get help.  If your stress continues and you’re feeling overwhelmed, consult with a mental health professional who can help you learn how to manage stress effectively.

Regardless of what causes your stress, your ability to handle it will dictate whether or not you live a happy, healthy life or have a miserable existence riddled with poor relationships and illness.

Always remember, it’s not all about the actual stress in your life, but the way you handle it.

More to come in future blog posts.