It’s Only Bad If It’s Bad
The most surprising fact about stress is that it isn’t bad per se. Stress is a normal, natural reaction. Small amounts of stress keep us focussed, alert and productive. It is part of our natural instincts that keep us going forward against adversity ! So a bit of stress in your life is essential while having no stress at all can be a bad thing for your goals. This article aims to help you to focus on keeping your stress levels to a healthy level.
The simple truth is that if we hadn’t developed certain instincts during our evolution, we wouldn’t be here today. Stress is no more than your body’s natural defense mechanism kicking in. It comes when you feel threatened – whether the danger is real or imagined. But it can be overwhelming and prevent us from acting rationally.
To show an example:
Think of the adrenalin rush you get when you realize you’ve slept through your alarm and are now rushing at warp speed to get dressed and catch the bus to work. This is an example of good stress!
But if you’re doing that every morning – then maybe there are other lifestyle issues at play. Or a need for a different alarm clock.
But if your stress levels stop you getting out of bed at all, or going to work – then that’s a different matter. When stress interferes with your daily routine, then it’s a problem ! And you must address it before it goes even further !
Your level of stress will range from having heightened senses to debilitating feelings of anxiety and depression.
Feeling butterflies in your stomach before an exam or a big game? That’s natural stress at work. It boosts the adrenal glands and gets you ready for action. Worried about a work deadline? Again, that’s a normal stress, keeping you focussed, and shutting out distractions.
Most adults experience physical or emotional symptoms of stress at times. As well as raising your alertness, other effects are less productive. These can include headaches, feeling tired, or changes in sleeping habits.
When we suffer these negative stresses it can feel like we have no control, that they can get away from us. If uncontrolled they can dominate your life and turn it upside down, and you don’t want that.
But the surprising fact is that we do have control over these stresses. There are things we can do to manage it. We may not be able to remove it, but we can control it, and prevent it from becoming debilitating.
As we have said, the surprising fact of stress is that it’s only bad if it’s bad. You can manage many stresses before they become destructive. To help you do this, it makes sense to know a little more about the different types of stresses that you may face.
Recognising Different Types of Stress
There are two different ways of classifying stress. The first looks at stress categories – the causes or nature of stress. The second looks at stress severity – the effects of stress and its severity.
Four Categories of Stress
Stress factors fall into four categories:
- Physical stress;
- Psychological stress;
- Psychosocial stress; and
- Psychospiritual stress.
Your body experiences physical stress. Overworking or injuring your body to the point it cannot cope causes physical stress. Other common causes include traumatic events, the effect of pollutants, dietary imbalances, or substance abuse.
Psychological stress relates to emotional or cognitive stress. This includes feelings such as resentment, anger, worry, guilt, self-criticism, anxiety, and a sense of being out of control. It also includes perceptual stress coming from beliefs, attitudes, and the like.
Psychosocial stress comes from relationships. It includes marriage or family problems, work issues, social networks, and financial problems.
Psycho-spiritual stress comes from a questioning of values, meaning or purpose. It is often manifested as a lack of life satisfaction or misalignment with core spiritual beliefs.
Three Levels of Stress Severity
Psychologists recognise 3 types of stress:
- Acute stress;
- Episodic acute stress; and
- Chronic stress.
Acute stress is usually brief. It is the most common and frequent form of stress. It generally relates to negative thoughts. Examples include dwelling on a recent argument or concerns about an approaching deadline. Removing the cause leads to the stress receding as well.
Episodic Acute Stress
Episodic acute stress is the term used where there are frequent or recurrent stress triggers. This is more common amongst people whose lives are chaotic or crisis-ridden. They are always in a rush or feel pressured. They may take on too many responsibilities but are unable to organise conflicting demands.
Type “A” personalities are more prone to this type of stress. They have a strong competitive streak, with an aggressive nature. Often they have a deep-seated insecurity about performance, and a sense of urgency. These personality traits are more likely to experience episodic acute stress.
The personality type known as the “Worrier” is also more likely to experience episodic acute stress. They have a negative view of the world and tend to see disaster or catastrophe everywhere. They tend to be over aroused and tense, but are more anxious and depressed than angry and hostile.
Chronic stress is the most harmful. It can cause significant damage to both physical and mental health.
Chronic stress comes from prolonged negative physical and environmental factors. These include inter-generational unemployment, substance abuse, or a dysfunctional family or childhood. It can set in when a person feels that there is no escape over a prolonged period and gives up hope.
With chronic stress, behaviours and emotional reactions become ingrained. It is a grinding form of stress that wears people down. Chronic stress destroys lives, bodies, and minds. It can lead to a physical and mental breakdown, suicide, violence, heart attack or strokes.
An Approach to Stress Resolution
Another surprising fact about stress is that controlling it is much like any other behavioural change program. It is best achieved by a planned and deliberate approach.
Stress can come on gradually due to life changes, or due to a specific incident or experience. Either way, you shouldn’t let stress stop you from doing things that you used to enjoy.
Managing stress involves making thoughtful and considered, deliberate changes. The idea is that you build habits and attitudes through repetition. Resolving your stress begins with a plan, and the best place to start is to look back at your life before stress.
Investigate what causes your stress and where it comes from. Recognising the source is an essential first step.
Is your stress preventing you from doing things that you enjoyed in the past? It’s natural for stress or a stress disorder to make new things seem scary. But it can also have this effect on experiences that we enjoyed in the past. For example, a slow stress build-up may cause you to not want to spend time with old friends. Or a car accident may make you want to avoid driving or even riding in or being around cars.
It’s important to remind yourself that these were easy or enjoyable in the past. Seeing them from a different perspective now doesn’t change their nature. Even if it was a bad experience for you once in the past, as with the car accident, you should recognise that it was only one of many incidences. Recognise that other times it went well.
If stress is causing issues in your life you will need to make some changes to manage it. Any life changes need a personal commitment. We refer to these as stress resolutions. They spell out the corrective behaviour needed to maintain stress at acceptable levels.
Looking back over the last few years to see where things did and didn’t work out the way you wanted will clarify the changes you want or need to make.
You can make resolutions for almost anything, from weight loss, to learning, to better social interactions. A resolution becomes a commitment to change. And a written resolution is more powerful than a mental note. It acts as a reference point, a motivator and a guide.
The intent of a stress resolution is to help you reduce your stress levels. Make one when you feel that stress is damaging your life.
To make your stress resolutions, begin by planning. Take notes on what troubles you. Identify where your stress is coming from and how you can change this. Make a note of what you want to achieve.
When you focus on potential remedies, consider the impact and difficulty of each. Create resolutions, write them down, and determine the best ways to fulfill all your goals. Then set priorities.
Remember that if you try to do too many things at once you will almost certainly fail. Focus on one thing first. Set a routine and create a habit. Once you establish your routine and it becomes a habit, you can move onto your next item.
Make periodic assessments of your journey. Map your progress. It is inspiring and motivates you to keep going.
One of the surprising facts about stress that we have covered is that you can manage your stress. You will be surprised at how effective it is to set resolutions as a path to change.
That’s it for today. I hope this little article will help you overcome bad stress. Enjoy your journey to a less stressed life!