After the looseness of summer, for most of us, the return of more strict schedules can be a welcome return to structure, but is can also invite stress back to the forefront. I can sense the first vibrations of stress preening themselves hoping for some for attention. In this post I pick up from my July 26 post, Taming Your Stress Things.
Stressful events that are too frequent, too long or too intense lead to distress. Distress is what we commonly refer to as stress.
Just a reminder stress is not all bad, eustress; healthy stress allows us to perform well. Our stress response is not terrible in and of itself- it is superlative to have all that energy unleashed if you are a water buffalo who needs to get away quick from a crocodile. What likely brought you here is distress, when stress becomes harmful: chronic, too much or occurs to often. That is when the stress response become more of a threat than the stressor itself- there is more than ample research that points to the dangers of a chronic stress response, increased chances of cardiovascular damage and disease, decreased immunity, memory trouble, emotional health suffers (irritability, anxiety, depression…), etc.
A complicating factor for people in the western world is that most of our stressors are not about immediate physical threats of being eaten by a predator, or more chronic challenges like famine or parasites (Oooo flashback to parasitology class in Public Health Grad School- ick), where mobilizing the extra energy to take off like a rocket or finding the strength to walk miles and miles to shelter is essential to survival.
By in large people we live well and long enough and are clever enough to create all kinds of stressors in our head. I hear you worrying about what to say on your date-job interview-at the meeting tomorrow… And we are gifted at extending our experience of stress- we don’t generally just run to safety and then placidly return to whatever it was we were dong before. We ruminate. We can turn on our stress response just by thinking about a stressor, future or past. We also live in a time where there are lots and lots of sustained pressures like paying the mortgage.
Here’s the good news folks, people are wired to for language with all its nuances and generative creative potential. We can harness that potential, along with the amazing plasticity of our brains to help mitigate our experience of stress. We can articulate where our stressors are generated, what they do to us, assess what we can and will do about them. We not aiming at idealized life where it is perpetually stress free- we live in the real world. Rather you want to be able to keep dancing, stay on your toes when confronted with a stressful event so you come through the experiences as best and intact as possible. You want to thrive in spite of (dis)stress.
Thriving in spite of stress is a two-part process: appraising the situation and then taking action to soothe the savage beast.
Appraising the situation1 is a two part deliberate process. Primary appraisal, is when you decide is something is a threat to you or your interests. Secondary appraisal is when decide if there is any things you can do the change the situation to minimize bad outcomes and increase the possibility of positive outcomes. This is when you decide is something is a threat to you or your interests.
All too often we go to an extreme of either TOTAL DENIAL or absolute OVERT CATASTROPHIZING of the issue/stressor.
Total denial Middle ground Overt catastrophizing
Finding a middle ground goes a long way to averting an excessive stress reaction in mind and body. The middle ground is anchored in 3 things:
- Check in with yourself and your assumptions. Give yourself the mental space to put daily events into the larger perspective. Sometimes it is worth exploring the roots of assumptions and negative appraisals of what’s happen.
- Give yourself a break. Accepting stress and learning to live successfully with it is a process.
- Bag of Tricks. A personal set of techniques, tips and tools you used to successful Tame Your Stress Things.
In my upcoming September 18, 2010 Taming Your Stress Things workshop in Jackson, MS, I’ll help you find your middle ground give yourself a break and stuff your own bag of tricks so you can thrive in spite of (dis)stress. More details about the workshop can be found here. Space is limited, so if you are in the Jackson, MS area, sign up now to reserve your spot.
1Claire Michaels Wheeler describes this two-part appraisal in greater detail in her handy book, 10 Simple Solutions to Stress.