Life has never been as stressful as today. In other words, stress is increasing everyday even as we go through daily life. Did you hand in that report? Did you make a profit? Did you make a correct decision? Did you design a better report?
Modern living certainly bring great stress to our life. Stress, as we know it today, is certainly at a level which our grandparents would have never envisaged just a few decades ago.
In fact, did you know that 90% of doctor visits are for stress related symptoms?
Stress bombards us every day from all directions. Maybe it’s sitting in the midst of highway gridlock when you are already late for an important appointment. Or how about the bill you forgot to pay? It could be a phone call from the school complaining about your child’s behavior.
These are just the annoying little stress triggers that we handle every day. What about the larger issues? Retirement, moving, divorce or, heaven forbid, the death of a loved one or friend can come out of the blue and here comes the stress, launching you into treading murky waters one more time.
The impression is that the feelings of stress come from outside sources when, in reality, it happens inside of us.
When we feel as though we are under pressure, our bodies react the same way that we have trained them to do with a rise in blood pressure, tightening of muscles and accelerated breathing.
These physical symptoms are generally referred to as “fight or flight” responses. This is a term left over from historical times when the choices were to flee or stand and fight.
Unfortunately, today we don’t have those options. Each situation must be dealt with and that’s where the stress comes in. Some stress is unavoidable and is actually good for you as we will discuss further on. But too much stress leads to troubles that can range from upset stomach to anxiety attacks and even as serious as heart attacks.
There’s a whole arsenal of stress busting tools available that we will discuss here. Hopefully, the more you understand your stress, the better prepared you will be at controlling your body’s response to stress and restoring a calmer state of mind.
Your Stress Guide
WHAT IS STRESS?
HOW TO CONTROL STRESS
OTHER STRESS REDUCERS
TAKE A STRESS TEST
CONFIDENCE AND SELF ESTEEM
WHAT IS STRESS?
Chemically, stress is a condition that your body enters as the result of a message received from your brain telling it to prepare to run or fight. The body reacts by preparing for that eventuality. The brain tells the adrenal glands to send a rush of two hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline) to the muscles in preparation for them to respond to a fear or a threat.
It is the job of the brain to protect the body. It accomplishes this by telling the noradrenaline to redirect blood flow from lower priority areas of your body (like skin or your abdomen) to the muscles to give you a “power boost.”
At the same time, the brain is also telling the adrenaline to speed up your breathing to take in more oxygen to feed the work being done on the muscles with the noradrenaline.
Unfortunately, when you can’t make a decision about how to react (fight or flight), these two hormones are caught in limbo rushing around madly waiting for you to decide what you want them to do. Since you aren’t doing that, the only choice they have is to cause vomiting, make you tremble, panic or maybe even pass out.
It’s actually a very efficient process and has worked wonderfully for thousands of years. When we were running across the plains barefoot with a spear in our hand bearing down on supper, we needed this process to protect us. Indeed, the entire system is just the result of the brain doing what it is supposed to do … keep the body functioning and protect it.
We no longer chase the woolly mammoth nor does our survival revolve around running away from a rival tribe (well maybe just a little). The battles today are demanding employers, uncontrollable traffic, annoying neighbors, partners, children and oh yes, taxes!
Here’s where the interesting part of this analysis comes in. Even though our situation has changed, the chemicals are still there along with the vehicle to drive them.
The system is very efficient and works quite effectively. This is why you have stress. It is merely a response to a perceived threat and the brain will set it in motion on a subconscious level even at the slightest sensation of danger. In fact it will DEMAND this action.
Since we now live in an “enlightened” society, we are conditioned not to throw a spear at the boss, strangle our spouse or set the neighbor’s house afire.
What is needed is the ability to change our programmed responses. We need to discern the difference between real threats and our own internalized perceptions of danger. Sounds pretty simple, huh?
Sure it does. Until you’re sitting in that freeway gridlock, half an hour late for the most important career busting appointment of your life, knowing full well that your blankety blank boss will turn the account over to that jerk in the office and you’ll never get the raise you were counting on when your son starts college in the fall. … whew!
Here come the chemical twins, adrenaline and noradrenaline ready to do battle with no battle to go to. They’re rushing through your body and have got to attack something. Your muscles aren’t responding by running or fighting so they’ll just pick any old organ to attack instead. A good one is the heart.
Sometimes a dose of the chemical twins is a good thing. After all, even though we are now “civilized” there are still very real threats in the world. Just take a look at the evening news or read about the latest “mugging” in the newspaper.
So, here is the paradox. You need the chemical twins to protect you from real danger but you don’t need them to cause illness, unhappiness and stress. The challenge is knowing when to have them and when you don’t need them.
Logically you know that you don’t need them under most normal situations like: at work, at a party or when the kids are screaming in your ear.
So what can you do? Some people turn to drugs or alcohol and others take out their frustration on the people they care about the most. You can learn how to control the twins. Let’s do that now.
Learn how to control stress
What’s causing your stress?
A slow buildup of everyday annoyances: a dead car battery, traffic jam, buttons that pop off your clothes as you are going to an important meeting. It’s the little things that get under your skin
Is it a tight schedule and seemingly insurmountable problems? Bills to pay, a boss to please, a colicky baby to pacify? Juggling many roles is a main cause of stress.
Maybe it’s positive and negative life changes, from the joy of a wedding to the loss of a spouse, from the exhilaration of a job promotion to sadness at moving away from old friends.
Perhaps the cause of your stress is inner conflict. Anger with your boss actually may be old anger against a parent bubbling to the surface. If you can recognize a pattern from the past, this can be an instant stress reliever. Take some time, even just 30 seconds and write down your feelings.
What you need to do is relax. Huh? It can’t be that simple! Yes, it can and you can do it. No, we can’t control other people and situations. What you can do is control how you respond to people and events.
What you have done is to give away control to others. What you need to do is regain that control, seal it up and only let the twins out when it’s really necessary.
When was the last time you actually relaxed? Can you remember what it was like? Were you calm and collected? Was your breathing normal? Were your muscles loose? And, did you feel that way without any outside stimulants like drugs? If so, the good news is that you can restore that same feeling at will. Yes, you can definitely take it back whenever or wherever you choose.
When your mind is bypassing the chemical twins and sending truly relaxing messages to your body, wonderful things begin to happen. Just as the chemical twins jump to attention when you stress, other chemicals go to work when you relax causing you to have a feeling of contentment.
While relaxing, actions taken by people and external events are still important but not necessarily personal. You are able to discern that no one is launching a direct attack upon you or anyone or anything of yours.
Small problems remain small problems and not the woolly mammoth charging down upon you. Large events will become smaller and not cause you to get out of your car during gridlock and shout obscenities to the drivers in front of you.
Those people who are horrible and annoying, shrink to a caricature serving up no more significance in your world than an ant on a picnic table. As you continue your journey toward relaxation, you can watch these people with amusement. When you reach the point of total relaxati
on you are able to see your world as it is, not for how you feel about it.Everything you do is a matter of choice. You choose to be angry, happy or indifferent. You make a conscious choice to take action or not to take action.
\On the opposite end of the spectrum are the chemical twins controlling what you know is stress and you are bumped, pushed and thrown into chaos. No choice and no idea why you don’t have a choice.
Obviously, relaxing is a good thing because it gives you choice. It puts you back in the driver’s seat instead of the chemical twins.
So relax already! Sure, just like that.
Do you remember tormenting your neighbor’s cat as a child? You had the upper hand until kitty fought back. You’d step away from the torment and probably forget all about it until the next time you scratched. It took a few lessons, but pretty soon you understood if you tormented the cat, the cat would fight back. So you stopped. That was a conscious action taken to prevent being hurt. It was a survival strategy just like fight or flight, except that this was behavior modification instead of an automatic response.
As you grew older, the behavior for survival changed but the bottom line is that you probably used a dozen behaviors without even thinking about it every day of the week. The one behavior that you probably overlooked is the most important one of all, the behavior to relax.
If relaxation is just another behavior, then that means it’s a learned response. And, if that is the case you are able to change the behavior. Chances are you were never taught how to do that, which is why you are reading this in the first place.
You have to teach your brain how to do it. Actually, your brain already knows how subconsciously, but you need to teach it how to do it consciously. In order to do that, you need an understanding of how your mind works.
Everything you have ever encountered or done in your entire lifetime is permanently recorded in your subconscious mind. Most of it is not remembered consciously. If I ask you, “How much is two and two,” you will immediately answer, “four.” That was from your conscious memory. But if I ask you what you had for dinner ten years ago tonight, it will more than like be impossible for you to consciously remember it at all. However, your subconscious remembers it in great detail.
When you drive your car, you are probably thinking about all kinds of things other than driving the car. Your subconscious, through habit, is controlling all your driving actions. You just automatically arrive at your destination without giving it detailed conscious thought.
You don’t have to think “push the brake” or “ease up on the gas pedal.” You do it all automatically, controlled by your subconscious. Your subconscious is designed to protect you. It controls all body functions. If you are cold in the night, it awakens you. If you need to go to the bathroom, it awakens you also. It controls your heartbeat and all other involuntary functions of the body.
Your subconscious doesn’t rationalize; it doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t know truth from falsehood. It merely acts upon whatever information is stored within.
There are actually four states of consciousness, but for our purposes we will be dealing with just two:
Beta – this is our waking state
Alpha – first step to the subconscious