Stress and stressors
We live in stressful times. A great percentage of people resort to medical help in dealing with their stress levels brought on by the daily demands and the perceived complexity of their lives. Usually we only recognise the emotional stress of relationships, office politics and general ‘busy-ness’ of the modern life as the source of stress, but there are various other stressors constantly at play that exert their effects on your ability to cope.
Us humans need stress, or stressors, in our lives to keep us going. In a way the stress on the nervous system is the umbrella term for all demand placed on the nervous system by our internal and external environments, demanding a response from the organism. Without these demands the body would not function. When the stress on the system mounts past a sustainable limit we ‘become stressed’ and start feeling like we are not coping. This manifests in a myriad of ways emotionally, physically and spiritually. Controlling the quantity and quality of the stressors is important and surprisingly easy, and it will help you clear a bit of bandwidth in your system.
Learning to clear your head can make all the difference in the quality of your life right now as well as every day from now on.
Why - Let’s liken this situation to your house. In a situation where there is only baseline stress all the daily chores and routines get tackled efficiently and in a timely fashion, leading to a very organised, tidy, clean and well functioning home. In other words, it’s a smooth and comfortable operation. When the stress mounts up certain daily chores get neglected. Let’s face it, if there is a broken down fridge that requires our immediate attention more than doing the ironing, then the ironing may pile up over a few days until the immediate problem is solved. If the stress reaches a critical limit, much like a fire alarm, you will not worry about hoovering the lounge, nor the broken fridge either, but you will go straight into panic mode. Stress management, or managing the various stressors in your life is very important so that it doesn’t pile up and swamp you under.
Recognising the stressors for what they are and their true meaning opens up various interesting possibilities. See, we consciously apply stressors to our bodies on a daily basis to achieve certain things. You stress your body by going to the gym to get fit. You stress your cognitive capabilities when learning new skills or languages. Some stressors are applied in controlled quantities to produce a specific response from the body. If these stressors can be controlled, why can’t all? By exerting control over the various stressors in your life you stop being a victim of circumstances with resulting knee jerk reactions, but instead you become much more a creator of your own destiny who rationally assesses and calmly responds to the stressors. In a way it removes the stress from the stressors.
What - We can divide the stress on the body into three distinct categories. Physical, emotional and chemical.
- Physical stress incorporates topics such as injuries, acute illness, chronic health conditions, and various lifestyle factors (lifestyle choices) like inadequate exercise.
- Emotional stress is relatively straightforward, it’s anything that gets you wound up and frazzled in your head.
- Chemical stress includes your food and drink, medications, environmental toxins and exposure to radiation to name a few.
Under good conditions, when we are not stressed, “the chalice of stress” only contains moderate amounts of stress across the board. It doesn’t matter which source of stress is the greatest, but when the chalice of stress overflows, we struggle to cope. At that point any addition of stress will result in an explosion (in our behaviour, health, mood, or other actions). For example, people get snappy and irritable with their kids because they are bogged under with the workload, there’s illness in the family, a few financial worries are pressing on them and they feel sluggish from being too busy to exercise. That’s when an innocent query from a loved child simply is too much to cope with and it results in grumpiness and sparks further tension and even resentment.
Employing a structured approach to managing the various stressors in our lives puts us back in control and reduces the likelihood of a bad reaction. This control has to be learned and then exercised daily for it to become truly effective. At first the amount of choice of stressors can be truly bewildering and a bit stressful in its’ own right. Yet slowly and deliberately working through the list is the only way to emerge clear headed on the other side. Simply burying your head in the sand will not help in any way.
How - First you need to assess your current situation. Have a look at the “Baseline Assessment” to get started. Once you know what you are up against, you can get to work. Rushing into it and trying to tackle all the problems within the first week is a sure fire way to end on antidepressants, so pace yourself. Some things are simple and easy to take care of, some take more time and effort. It’s a good idea to write a plan. Each item should have a separate plan of action as to how to gain mastery over it. Some problems are huge and most likely will require you to learn new skills or to obtain knowledge to solve. That’s ok.
In your daily practice you need to remain aware of your goals and consider your actions in the light of the big picture as well as the current smaller issue you are trying to work through. This may seem tricky as you are reading this article, but trust me, once you get started it gets much easier to manage. The one caveat is that you should avoid slipping back into your old habits at all cost. Sometimes we get frustrated and the doubts rise to the surface, but those moments are there to test your resolve and to give you an option to revise your plan if needed.
Take Home Message - Breathe. Take a moment. Breathe again. Engage your cool head and work through the problems. That’s the only way to solve them.