16 July 2015

The impact of stress and what to do about it

A couple of years ago when my wife was picking me up from a meeting, I broke my foot just by pivoting on a flat surface. It’s actually quite embarrassing. However, at this point in my life I was starting my second year of graduate school, my hours at work were in limbo, and I just came from a meeting where I was voted onto the board. I understand now, looking back, that I was under a lot of stress and was vulnerable to injury.

Stress is a word that receives a lot of attention, and usually negatively. People often say exhaustedly “I’m so stressed,” with their face in their palms, and then wonder what life would be like stress-free.

Actually, it doesn’t matter if the stress is positive, such as a wedding or buying a house; or negative like a deadline. To the body, stress is stress, even if it is expected. Stress is cumulative, a build up of the everyday wear and tear.

As stress builds up, there are some common symptoms: headaches, flushed face, stiff neck, difficulty breathing, stomach pangs, shaky legs, feet & hands, cramps, and pounding heart, just to name a few. When these symptoms hit, there is a loss in energy, increase vulnerability to illness and injury, and is often referred to as burn out, or rust out. It’s important to realize that burn out, while similar, it is also unique.

A common stress problem solving thought is to ‘remove’ the stressor. But if the stress is originating from parenting, work, relationships, health, and life milestones (i.e. graduation, marriage) – these are typically out of an individual’s control, and can’t be removed. There may be little things that contribute to the cumulative stress that can be lessened, but for the most part, it is best to change priorities and find activities that help you recharge and rejuvenate.

Activities that recharge and rejuvenate don’t need to be elaborate or lengthy; they can be little and short. Just a couple of ideas: going for a walk, reading a book, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, gaming (video or board), taking a bath, and the list could go on because each of us has different ways of recharging. Get creative; make it a priority to take care of yourself. Sometimes you may need to accommodate, such as going on a walk with your children or doing a yoga exercise with them.

But what is actually the most simplistic, yet shocking way, of dealing with stress, is changing our perception of stress. Changing it from being this yucky-negative thing to realizing and understanding that stress is something that everyone goes through, that we can learn from it and it helps us build our character. It is possible to have successful stressful situations.

In the end, research has shown that if we view stress through a positive perception, that alone can increase longevity, not to mention increase our overall wellbeing and health.