Life Outside The Net
Basics of Stress Management I
Written by Mitchell Stein
There are many ways to define stress, but one definition I like is: when you perceive a threat and don't think you'll be able to cope with that threat. The key words here are "perceive" and "think" which implies that stress is a phenomenon that starts in the mind, and in turn affects the emotions, the body, and even the spirit. A basic model for viewing stress and stress management is as follows:
This model, therefore, implies an interaction between the stressor (the stressful event) and your beliefs (whatever beliefs and emotional baggage you carry around), which affects how you think. Often this thinking could be termed "stinkin' thinkin'" since these thoughts tend to come automatically, at a below conscious level, and are often negative and distorted. These thoughts affect your emotions, which in turn, affect both your body and how you behave. An example of this would be to think about being audited by the Internal Revenue Service--or whatever your country's tax department is called. What kind of thoughts or fears does your mind conjure up when you think about having your taxes reviewed by your government? Feeling angry or scared? Is your stomach doing flip-flops? Are your muscles tense? What beliefs do you hold about your tax department that fuel your thoughts, feelings, and physical reaction?
Stress produces what is called a "flight or fight" response in the body. This is a survival mechanism built into us ever since the days when Ug, the caveman, was bee-bopping down the path and a hungry saber-toothed tiger jumped out. Ug's body went into overdrive to help him fight that big kitty, or perhaps instead, to RUN LIKE HELL!
In order to fight or run, several changes take place in Ug's body to prepare him: his muscles tense up, his blood sugar increases for energy, his body produces adrenaline for extra energy and cortico-steroids to numb any pain, his stomach tries to rid itself of any food that would slow him down, his breathing and heart rate increase, his blood pressure increases, etc. Ug probably doesn't stop to analyze what he's thinking, assuming he wants to survive; when the mind flashes "danger" the body reacts.
Now, I would assume most of you haven't run into a saber- toothed tiger recently, but the body reacts the same way to whatever the stressor is. The body doesn't know the difference between a real life or death danger and a "perceived" threat; it just reacts with a flight or fight response. Don't believe me? Try driving down the road over the speed limit, and see what happens when you see those blue lights (or whatever color your country uses) flashing in your rear view mirror. Try leaving for work ten minutes late and see how you feel when you arrive.
We rarely experience what are called "major stressors" . . . things like the death of a loved one. We do frequently experience what are called "daily hassles" or stimulus overload, e.g., the phone rings, the door bell rings, the baby cries, and the tea kettle starts whistling, all at the same time. Research shows that too much stress starts to affect our physical health because of how stress affects the body and the body's immune system.
Experts estimate that we experience about forty to fifty stress responses per day. However, we're so used to experiencing stress responses that we consciously ignore almost all of them. It is only when our body starts demanding our attention (e.g., tension headache, bruxism, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.) that we usually start to pay attention to stress.
To deal with stress, we need to first learn to recognize when we are having a stress response. The model shown at the start of this article provides two clear pathways for how to reduce stress and produce a relaxation response: change the stress producing perception (thoughts) or the physiological response. These two options will be the focus of future columns. Of course, there is also the option to do something to alter or get rid of the stressor.
By the way, all stress is not bad, and we will never live stress-free lives . . . at least not as long as we're still breathing. We need some stress (challenges) in our lives or life would get pretty darn boring. What we don't need is too much stress, or how stress affects us when there is not a real, physical danger.
As mentioned last week, laughter is a great stress reducer. So go out and laugh at something this week. Only, don't laugh at someone, particularly if he's twice your size or his name is Mike Tyson!
Copyright (C) 1994 - 1997 by Virtual Press/Global Internet Solutions. Internet Daily News and its respective columns are trademarks of Virtual Press /Global Internet Solutions.