Assess Your Stress

Have you assessed your stress level lately? Are you about to go over the edge?

The word “stress” has many meanings, one of which is a commonplace descriptor of an intrinsic part of life, yet the ramifications of it affect our health and well-being. Stress can describe a wide variety of circumstances and it can express the feelings associated with many situations. Stress can be emotional, physical or psychological. It can be acute or it can be chronic. Many people take for granted that stress is a normal part of everyday life that cannot be avoided or assuaged, particularly in our fast paced American society.The topic of stress is apropos at this time because the holiday season is often associated with more tasks, greater demands, time pressure, financial strain and more - all of which have the potential to spark undesirable emotions.
 
In this context, the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines stress as “physical, mental or emotional strain or tension.” Dr. Richard S. Lazarus was an influential psychologist and former psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who pioneered the study of emotions and stress. He found that feelings of stress often had less to do with a person’s actual situation, and had more to do with how he or she perceived the strength of his or her own resources. A practical and widely accepted definition of stress, based primarily on Dr. Lazarus’s findings is this:

“Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that
demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”

Due to each person’s unique perceptions and internal resources, what might be considered stressful for one person may not be a stressor for someone else. Nevertheless, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe found a correlation between specific life events and physical illness. Their research blazed a trail for subsequent scientific validation that supports the connection between stress and illness.
 
Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to and exacerbate health problems. Being in a state of stress disrupts the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis and heal. Stress is an important factor in adverse changes in sleep patterns, energy level, pain, muscle tension, headaches, stomach upset, blood pressure, heart disease, lowered immunity and more. Hot off the press in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology is a synopsis of the connection between stress and illness:

“The field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) has clearly demonstrated that
the physiological response to psychological stressors can dramatically impact
the functioning of the immune system, thus identifying one way in which
susceptibility to or severity of diseases are exacerbated during stressful periods.”

Stress not only affects the body, it also influences thoughts, feelings, mood and behavior. People experiencing stress are more irritable, anxious, lose focus or motivation, and can feel more anger, sadness or depression. This, in turn, has the potential to affect social functioning and relationships, often compelling a person to resort to non-productive behaviors such as over-eating, under-eating, drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use or social withdrawal.
 
The research results by Drs. Holmes and Rahe were published as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which is more commonly known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale is a tool to measure your total stress score. Assess your stress here.
 
Now that you know where you stand, are you about to go over the edge? Or would you rather take the edge off of your stress level?
 
Here are a few options for taking the edge off of your stress level:

  • Be discerning. You have free will and make your own choices. If you just started an exciting, new job and you or your partner is ill, then now might not be the best time to move into a new home. Do a sort of cost-benefit analysis for each choice you make.
  • The thoughts that you choose to think impact stress level (more than most people realize). 
  • Decide to let go of your favorite form of self-torture. This can be negative self-talk, ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.
  • Bow out. If you do things out of a sense of obligation or to please others and at your own expense - it's okay to say no. Everyone benefits when things are done from a place of heart-felt joy.
  • Prioritize. Prioritize your to-do list if you have one. Realize that it’s probably not all going to get done, and be okay with that.
  • Simplify. Read Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James or Simplify by Joshua Becker. These are both very quick and inspiring reads for those who would like to simplify their lives.
  • Plan ahead. Planning ahead often saves time and money. It can prevent crisis, feelings of overwhelm, that spiraling out of control feeling and as one example, multiple trips to the grocery store when a meal plan is not in place.
  • Plan on not planning. Set aside unscheduled time each day or week. During this time, foster the joy of solace, attune to self and go with the flow according to how you’re feeling. Attuning to self is one essential way that you can discern for yourself what your own needs are and how best to assuage the stress you may be experiencing. 
  • Roll with the punches when unforeseen things occur.
  • Forgive yourself for not being perfect.
  • Get outside. Spending time in nature each day has many benefits. It stimulates alpha level brain waves; characterized as a relaxed, effortless alertness.
  • Unplug. Too much screen time can adversely affect sleep, squelch creativity, impede social interaction and contribute to information overload in the brain.
  • Breathe deeply. A few full diaphragmatic belly breaths activates parasympathetic nervous system response, an innate physiological relaxation response. This reduces heart rate and/or blood pressure and encourages relaxing alpha brain waves.
  • Consider having your posture evaluated in order to make proper breathing possible. The subtle intricacies of proper posture and how they influence the whole body system and reduce stress is often overlooked. For more information and a wonderful resource, see this blog.
  • Exercise. Regular moderate intensity exercise is a powerful behavioral intervention and ameliorates stress. It is also “immune-enhancing,” reduces inflammation and can foster new brain cell growth.
  • Engage in an activity that facilitates centeredness and energy flow, and helps develop mindfulness, such as Qigong, yoga or martial arts.
  • Sleep. Practice proper sleep hygiene so you consistently get adequate sleep. The average adult needs approximately 8 hours per night; children and teens need more.
  • Meditate daily. Give your mind a rest.
  • Cultivate gratitude. Feeling grateful is simply incompatible with stress, fear, anger, anxiousness, worry and a multitude of other unpleasant emotions.
  • Be kind and generous. Recent studies reveal that altruistic acts with genuine intent may trigger the brain’s reward circuitry to increase feel-good chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine.
  • Visualize and imagine. The brain and body respond to the mental images that we naturally create, and it doesn’t matter if the image is self-induced or from the external world. The vividly imagined mental image becomes the blueprint and the subconscious mind uses every means at its disposal to carry out the plan.
  • And last but not least - Hypnotherapy! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention hypnotherapy as a means to reduce stress. The hypnotic state takes us out of "fight or flight." Hypnotherapy is an empowering way to transform limiting self-perceptions and false self-beliefs. 

Warm wishes for an easeful and joy-filled end to the year,
Lisa