Stress–we recognize it when we become overwhelmed and when it causes problems. On other days, we tolerate it, resigned to living in a world where new stressors emerge whenever a familiar stressor wanes. We usually locate our stress outside ourselves, in the environment and in the apparent sources of that stress. According to national surveys, the top sources of stress include money, work, health concerns and the health of our families, news of world events, and children. These surveys also reveal that Americans who report more stress are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as comfort eating, smoking, and being sedentary and inactive.
Coping with Stress
But how well do you really understand your stress and your coping with stress? Have you ever noticed that an event that causes you very little stress on one day will hit you like a brick on another day? Therapists and healthcare workers understand that stress is cumulative–it builds up–and that our capacity to manage stress depends on many factors that fluctuate from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour. Better self-care and overall mind/body health are important. People with more social support tend to cope better with stress and more readily rebound from its effects. Having regular physical exams to catch early signs of stress-related problems is also a good idea.
It is important to recognize that we all have moments in our lives when we become overwhelmed and over-taxed by our circumstances. Psychologists talk about “crises” being those moments when a stressful event overwhelms a person’s resources for coping. During these times, it is important to reach out to family and friends, community supports, and perhaps a professional to help you through difficult times. Managed well, most people are able to demonstrate their resilience, bounce back, learn from their struggles, and move forward with their lives. Managed poorly, a situational crisis can become a chronic struggle.
Understanding stress can help you manage it. However, it is even more important to understand your particular stress response. What triggers your stress? What do you worry about? How does your stress response “show up”–in your body (tension, breathing, heart pounding), your mind (worrying), your emotions (anger and irritability, sadness), and your behavior (isolating, unhealthy habits)? If you are unaware of your stress until it erupts into your life as problems in these areas, it may be time for you to “tune in” to what your mind and body are telling you–and time to learn more effective strategies for managing stress