Question of the Week

October 2, 2006


While most people's lives are not consumed by severe stress, the day-to-day stressors can lead to health problems, as well. What are those day-to-day "stressors"? "stres-sor [stres-er, -awr] ´┐Żnoun an activity, event, or other stimulus that causes stress"

What might be considered a major stressor by one person, may not bother another person at all. For different people, the causes of -- and reactions to -- the stressors in their lives are unique.

"Some teens become overloaded with stress.  When it happens, inadequately managed stress can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or poor coping skills such as drug and/or alcohol use. When we perceive a situation as difficult or painful, changes occur in our minds and bodies to prepare us to respond to danger.  This 'fight, flight, or freeze' response includes faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood to muscles of arms and legs, cold or clammy hands and feet, upset stomach and/or a sense of dread. The same mechanism that turns on the stress response can turn it off. As soon as we decide that a situation is no longer dangerous, changes can occur in our minds and bodies to help us relax and calm down.  This 'relaxation response' includes decreased heart and breathing rate and a sense of well being.  Teens that develop a 'relaxation response' and other stress management skills feel less helpless and have more choices when responding to stress."§ion=Facts+for+Families

Sometimes the day to day stressors seem so much a part of life that people don't realize the that the negative effects they are experiencing are a result of stress. Different people deal with stress differently, but in order deal with it at all one first needs to consciously acknowledge that it exists, identify the causes, and then try to deal with those situations.

"The main causes of stress are psychological. The effects of stress are both physical and psychological. As you react to stress your body undergoes changes. Early signs of stress include lip biting, nail nibbling, tooth grinding, and palm sweating. You may feel 'butterflies' in your stomach, and your throat may become dry, making it hard to speak. Your heart rate and blood pressure may rise. Stress victims often feel grouchy and restless, are unable to concentrate, and lose sleep. Under too much pressure, many people wheeze, ache, sneeze, or break out in rashes. Repeated tensing of the head, face, and neck muscles can narrow blood vessels and trigger headaches. Doctors report that well over half of all patients seeking treatment have no physical problems. The aches and pains are real, but they are caused by built-up emotions. Long-term stress can damage your physical and mental health and produce troubling behavior."

Even if the symptoms have been identified, just treating the symptoms will not solve the problem.
"* Take a stand against overscheduling. If you're feeling stretched, consider cutting out an activity or two, opting for just the ones that are most important to you.
* Be realistic. Don't try to be perfect - no one is. And expecting others to be perfect can add to your stress level, too (not to mention put a lot of pressure on them!). If you need help on something, like schoolwork, ask for it.
* Get a good night's sleep. Getting enough sleep helps keep your body and mind in top shape, making you better equipped to deal with any negative stressors....
* Learn to relax. The body's natural antidote to stress is called the relaxation response. ... [build] time into your schedule for activities that are calming and pleasurable: reading a good book or making time for a hobby, spending time with your pet, or just taking a relaxing bath.
* Treat your body well. Experts agree that getting regular exercise helps people manage stress. (Excessive or compulsive exercise can contribute to stress, though, so as in all things, use moderation.) And eat well to help your body get the right fuel to function at its best....
* Watch what you're thinking. Your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see things....
* Solve the little problems. Learning to solve everyday problems can give you a sense of control...."

While people can make changes in their lives to remove or reduce some stressors, others are unavoidable. In such cases, how one reacts to the stressor will determine the level of stress it is able to cause. If a "stressor" is a person, then the situation can be a little more complex.

"Underlying all constructive conflict management is understanding. Feeling that you are understood. And understanding the situation from the other perspective. Knowing that you are understood creates respect for you and your position. Understanding a situation from the other perspective creates an environment that fosters formulation of mutually beneficial solutions. This is much easier said than done. Any thing that creates common understanding contributes positively to constructive conflict management. Forcefully stating your case isn‚t one. Stephen Covey says it best. 'Seek first to understand. Then be understood'."

Questions of the Week:
What stressors in your life are avoidable? What stressors are unavoidable? What can you do to reduce the number of stressors in your life? What can you do to reduce the severity of stress caused by the stressors that are unavoidable or unexpected (those for which you are unable to prepare)? What can you do when another person is the cause of your stress? How is this different from how you would deal with stress that is caused by a situation (and not people or a particular person)?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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