Handling Stress Effectively

How do you define stress?

There are many good definitions and really the perception of stress is highly individualized. What one person may think of as stressful does not cause concern to another person. Public speaking is a perfect example. One person may fret about this to the point of becoming mentally and physically exhausted, whereas another may greatly enjoy the experience. 

Stress can be thought of as your brain’s reaction to perceiving a threat. The threat may be either external or internal, but in most situations there really is no threat. It is just a perception. Nevertheless, these perceptions can trigger unwanted physical, mental, and behavioral responses, such as a heightened “fight or flight” reaction, increase in heart rate, bladder urgency, tunnel vision, dilated pupils, shaking, slowed digestion, and irritability.

In the short-term, stress can actually be beneficial. It can help you decide if should you fight or flee! It can spur you to get out of bed in the morning and get going – make things happen! However, long-term stress can be very detrimental and can be a factor in depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, personality disorders, and other mental concerns. Therefore, recognizing stress and the effects it can cause are very important in maintaining your overall health and well-being. We all need to improve our stress-resilient mindset!

Positive Challenges

People with good stress resilience view stressors as challenges rather than threats.  They view problems as predicable and controllable and can better protect themselves against the toxic effects of stress. Stressors become less stressful if you think you can escape or solve them at will. Our brains actually have a system for turning off harmful stress responses, and a stress-resilient body has a stronger immune response, decreased inflammation, and better sleep patterns, which all equate to better health!

Resilience is like a muscle, and it can be developed like any other muscle. We can learn to anticipate stressors (or challenges), recognize our individual triggers, and use resources that have been effective for us in the past, such as social support, past experience, meditation, etc. Start by identifying things you can control. Do a little pre-planning as well – have a plan for resolving the stressors and tools ready to help yourself. Work on your problem-solving skills by learning and practicing multiple strategies to solve problems and enact solutions. Practice makes perfect! Honing your problem-solving skills will increase your ability and confidence in dealing with stressful situations.

Idle Minds Make Bad Habits

Stress and worry can also be a sign of an idle mind. We worry and stress when we have nothing better to do – so do something! Think of stressful thinking as a bad habit, and you can replace bad habits with good habits and positive reinforcement.  Sometimes that is very hard to do – it takes willpower and reframing your own beliefs and expectations. But rest assured it can be done, and you can do it! Shifting your attention to honing your problem-solving skills and positive thinking can make a huge difference.

Another way to help yourself is to stop “What if” thinking and to focus on “what is.”  Focusing on positive thoughts and your blessings is a good place to start. Strive to create positive hopes and expectations. Replacing toxic thoughts with realistic ones can help you to increase your predictability and control. Increase your awareness of triggers – sometimes even keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings can help identify your triggers. Sometimes we have to accept our lack of control over situations – we cannot change everything. You can also try scheduling a “worry break.” Give yourself ten minutes a day to worry about everything, then turn off the worry valve! Physical exercise is also a great to incorporate on a daily basis. And remember – 90% of the things that we worry about never happen!

Choose Happiness

Learning to handle stress more effectively will improve your entire quality of life, not just your health concerns. It will also improve your relationships with other people.  Choose happiness, and happiness attracts happiness. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Truer words were never said! View your stressors as positive challenges with optimism, gratitude, and commitment. If you feel you need more help with stress or anxiety, please visit your practitioners at Forum Health in Valparaiso. We offer free half-hour consults to assist in your needs!

Renee Kimberling, ND, RN, CNHP

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