Learn about the effects of STRESS and coping techniques.

According to the media, Americans are stressed. Lost productivity and medical expenses in the United States are soaring. A November 2010 study published by the American Psychological Association found that over half of its survey participants said their stress is caused by concerns over money, work, the economy, family responsibilities, relationships, personal health, and housing costs. Children, too, can be profoundly affected by stress.

What is stress?
Stress is bodily or mental tension caused by a physical, chemical or emotional factor. It can play a part in many diseases. A stressor is something that knocks you off balance, either for a moment, or for a long period of time. And, stress can negatively affect your health.

What happens when I am “stressed”?
When you experience stress, your sympathetic nervous system quickly engages. This “fight or flight” response allows your body to “kick into high gear” and battle with or escape from your enemies. Your body often responds without thinking, since you might need to run from a tiger. In a few short moments, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure increases, your muscles tense, and your digestion almost stops. Unfortunately, even though we aren’t often chased by tigers anymore, any stressful event, such as being late for work, worrying about bills, starting or ending a relationship, losing a job, or other events, can make us feel like a tiger is in the room.

What are the effects of stress?
A certain amount of stress is important for your health. Stress wakes us up in the morning, and keeps your muscles from becoming weak. However, stress can be very harmful. If you are often “stressed,” you might gain or lose weight, have insomnia, get more colds, or notice a change in your libido. Stress plays a part in heart disease, strokes, lung health, immunity, cancer, injuries, liver disease, suicide, and other conditions.

How can I reduce the effects of stress in my life?
Dr. Lee Lipsenthal, a specialist in stress, says we often live under the illusion that we are in control. Stress occurs when we believe we have lost control. We can reduce stress by taking control in small ways. The first steps are awareness and action:

Be mindful.
Pay attention to what is occurring and how it is affecting your body. Decide what you’d like to change. Do you feel angry, nervous or fearful? Are you suddenly overwhelmed with fatigue or have an upset stomach? Then, specifically identify the stressor, if possible.

Calm yourself.
Slow your heart rate and breathing by using a simple breathing technique from Dr. Andrew Weil:
1) Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
2) Hold your breath for 7 counts.
3) Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound, for 8 counts. Do this up to 3 times; doing it more may cause you to be lightheaded.

Get physical.
Go workout. Vacuum with enthusiasm. If you are at work, find a private spot and shake-out your limbs. Stretch lightly while breathing deeply with your belly. Using your fingertips, tap your body lightly for 1-3 minutes at the area where you feel discomfort.

Get vocal.
Get in your car and sing or yell. Talk it out with a trusted colleague, friend or family member. If you can find a private spot, say out loud why you are upset. Try doing this with your tongue sticking out between your teeth. Try laughing vigorously. It is difficult to remain angry or stressed when you are laughing, even if you have to make yourself laugh.

The next step is to make a conscious choice about the situation for the future. Try one or more of the following:

Avoid the situation.
Accept fewer responsibilities by saying “no,” more often.
If a task can be finished in a few minutes, complete it now rather than setting it aside for later.
If traffic is a stressor, take a different route to work.
Decide if a stressful relationship can or should be ended.
Don’t discuss subjects that are likely to cause an argument.
Shorten your “to-do” list—finish some tasks or remove them from the list, if possible.

Change, or alter, the situation.
De-clutter your office or home by discarding unneeded papers and items.
Organize your files.
Find a professional to release anger or grief from prior experiences.
Choose to forgive others for hurting you.

Find ways to adapt to the situation.
Learn to compromise. Accept your strengths and do not dwell on your shortcomings.
Ask yourself: Will this be important tomorrow, next month, next year, etc.?
Try meditation or mind-body relaxation techniques.

Accept the situation.
Acknowledge that you are making a decision to remain in the stressful situation. Recognize that there are things in your life that you cannot change today. Find the positives in the choice you’ve made.

Get help.
Individual treatment or therapy is often needed to learn coping mechanisms or to break the cycle of stress. Medical conditions caused by stress may require treatment. In certain situations, medication may be needed temporarily until the stress can be brought under control or eliminated. Behavioral counseling can be effective in providing you with techniques to further control your stress. To identify and release emotional blocks, consider working with a non-traditional energy healer, but choose wisely–many individuals falsely claim to be ‘energy healers’. Investigate their track record and do not financially commit to their services until you confirm their claims.

A word of caution: If you feel suicidal or homidical, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY BY CALLING 9-1-1. Resources are available if your stress is overwhelming you or affecting your health. Talk to your doctor or other professional before using harmful coping techniques such as self-medication, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, or mindless eating. If you have a desire to harm yourself, go to any Emergency Department immediately.

Helpful resources:
Soul Healing Therapy with Patrick Rodriguez: http://www.soulhealingtherapy.com
Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD (Book)
Log On: Two Steps to Mindful Awareness, Amit Sood, MD (Book)
Meditation for Optimum Health, Andrew Weil, MD & Ann Marie Chaisson, MD (Audio CD)
Binaural beats audio


(c) Trinity Integrative Family Medicine, Inc., glkocourek, Oct-2011; latest revision 09-May-2021