What’s stressing you? Is it the nagging of your other-half? The news? Or the simplest of things? Anything can stress you out; even thinking about the idea of stress gives you that heavy feeling, right?
First, let’s define stress. In medical terms, it is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that can cause harm to the body and mind. It can be an external stimulus, like the sound of a dog barking across the street. Or something within you, such as you replaying a bad situation that happened in the past. Stress may seem harmless and not much of a big deal, but it can turn fatal if left unchecked.
The dangers of stress
During a stressful encounter, your instinctive “fight or flight” response is triggered. When this happens, the adrenaline hormone kicks in, getting your heart pumping and blood pressure rising. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is also released to increase energy production. However, it hampers unnecessary body functions during the physiological response, such as digestive processes. After the stressful situation, the hormone levels simmer down.
However, when your body is always in a fight or flight response, you eventually endanger your system. According to Dr. Daniel Atkinson, clinical lead at Treated.com: “It’s when this stress becomes excessive over considerable periods of time that it can develop into what is termed ‘chronic stress.’”
Chronic stress is when your stress system is activated for an unhealthy amount of time. It has adverse effects on the mind and body, such as difficulty in sleeping, concentrating, headaches, fatigue, and even susceptibility to infections or illnesses. Eventually, according to the American Psychological Association, your body’s overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can lead to heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver, lung ailments, cancer, accidents, or even suicide.
Simple, prolonged stress can do much to a human. While stress is not a medical diagnosis, treatments can be applied to help a person cope with it. But it all comes down to how a person handles oneself in such situations.
Changing the way you think
William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, says to change the way you think about handling stress. “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another,” he said.
How do you rewire your mind to create healthier thoughts amid stressful situations? One way is by practicing mindfulness. Part of the reason why you’re stressing too much in a situation is because of that dread of not being in control. You overthink; plan your way out. Basically, your head is in chaos because you think too much.
By being mindful, you become aware of what you’re feeling in the moment. Regardless of whether it’s a negative feeling or not, you just let it flow and slip. In doing so, you learn to redirect your thoughts elsewhere.
This can be done through meditation, breathing exercises, and other practices that help you take control of the situation.
Besides mindfulness, a change in thinking requires a change in attitude as well. An experiment by Dr. Suzanne Kobasa and her colleagues at the University of Chicago is a wonderful example regarding coping with stress.
Participants of the experiment were employees from the Ma Bell telephone company. At the time, the company was in a downturn. Three traits were discovered in executives who coped well with the situation: commitment, control, and change.
The employees who had other commitments such as family, religion, and other activities were able to ride the tide. The situation was out of their control, but these executives adapted and chose to feel confident about what they could control. And finally, they saw the restructuring of the company as an opportunity for change.
Tons of information on the Internet teaches you how to relieve stress to a minimum with activities like taking a stroll in the park — exercising. There’s also the scientific-backed approach like avoiding caffeine or taking a supplement. Yes, they do work. But fighting stress, no matter how much you exercise or eat right, is all about how you think in situations.
Your thoughts and your attitude toward a situation will determine your stress level. Remember, it’s all in your head. As Charles Swindoll once said: “I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”