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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stress, Obstacle Or Opportunity

 By: Audrey Pihulyk


Although we can see stress all around us, not all stress is harmful. It can be a source of positive energy, motivating us to greater heights of achievement and creativity. However, stress that is not managed or controlled can become a negative force that robs us of our peace and compromises our health.

Years ago, I listened as my niece practiced on her violin. As she played certain notes, the piercing sound that resulted came from strings that were too tight. I like to compare this to how we feel when we are experiencing too much stress. On other occasions, when the strings were too loose, the sound was flat and boring. I like to compare this to when we do not have enough stress in our lives. However, when the strings were tuned properly, she produced beautiful music, soothing to the ears, and comforting to the soul. So with our lives, if we handle stress wisely, it can help us to operate at our maximum.

Excessive stress affects the body in many negative ways. When the body experiences too much stress, certain symptoms appear. Sugar is released into the blood, along with increased insulin. Digestion shuts down, the level of cholesterol increases, the blood thickens and the heart rate rises.

In the caveman days of "fight or flight," stressful situations made these bodily symptoms useful. It prepared the cavemen to fight or to run for survival. Today, however, there is little outlet for the fight or flight behaviour, so modern man must learn other ways in which to effectively deal with stress.

For example, consider being caught in a road rage incident. You may be innocent and in control of your senses, willing to talk the problem through. However, the other driver may be reverting to the automatic fight mode and bent on doing you harm. In this scenario your body behaves as though under attack, but because you are "civilized," you do not follow through as our ancestors might have done when they were faced with a stressful situation. Unresolved stress brought on by situations like this, compounded frequently and without proper outlet, can cause stress to build up and become chronic, incapacitating us physically, mentally, and emotionally.

We all react to and internalize stress differently; it is an individual reaction. To some people, speaking to a large audience is stressful; to others it is very stimulating. Some people are like "horses", able to handle significant amounts of stress, while others are like "butterflies," unable to handle much stress at all. Nevertheless, there are psychological/emotional warning signs which indicate when a person is not adequately coping with stress.

Too much stress is very damaging to the body’s systems. Some early signs of excessive stress may include irritability, tension headaches, impatience, anxiety, and poor job performance, susceptibility to colds and flu, and irritating skin conditions. As the stress becomes more acute, other serious signs may appear, such as high blood pressure, heart palpitations, depression, substance abuse, gastric problems and chest pain. It is important during the early stages, when symptoms first appear, that action be taken to deal with stress before it becomes acute. Many of these signs can be reduced and even eliminated when stress is brought under control.

Some primary causes of stress are irrational thinking, negative attitudes, and speaking critical and fault-finding words. These can alter a person’s mood, emotional outlook, and conception of events which can then trigger long-term stress or other negative emotions. It all boils down to "what you think is what you feel."
We can change irrational thinking by analyzing our own thoughts and replacing faulty ones with truthful ones. Dr. Burns, in his book, Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy, mentions that rational thinking is crucial in helping people gain control over their negative thought patterns. Doing so will change people’s moods and increase their capacity for productive living.

Becoming a successful "stress manager" requires using other key strategies. Take inventory of the past week’s activities, both in your personal and business life, noting what your body was feeling and what caused these feelings. This will help give you an idea of the stressors that affect you and your reactions to them. By adapting or removing these factors which trigger your stress, you will be able to bring under control many of the psychological and emotional warning signs brought about by excessive stress.

At first, beginning to manage stress may seem like an awesome task, but as you continue to practice stress management, your life will become more orderly and peaceful.

Another important strategy in combating stress and relieving tension is through adopting some relaxation techniques. One efficient way is through tightening and relaxing of the various muscles in the neck, causing the muscles to automatically relax. Another technique is to scan the body’s muscle groups for tense areas and, when finding them, to take a few slow, deep abdominal breaths and say to yourself, "Relax and let go." This exercise will also help you to think more clearly when confronted with an immediate stressful thought or situation.
Another helpful technique is to schedule a time in your day when you can practise progressive relaxation. Begin by lying down and telling the large muscle groups in your body to relax. Move progressively from one muscle group to another until your entire body is in a state of relaxation. Remain in this mode for at least fifteen minutes. Be patient with yourself as you practice these techniques, as it will take time and concentration, but the end result will be worth it.

Finally, include exercise in your program of stress reduction. Exercising on a regular basis can strengthen muscles and also the cardiovascular systems. It is known that exercise increases the flow of endorphins into the brain, elevating mood and bringing the feeling of well-being. If done correctly and regularly, exercise can have far reaching benefits for mind, body, and spirit.

Audrey Pihulyk is Nurse Audrey, the "stress specialist" who brings stress relief through her speaking, writing and entertaining. When it comes to stress and balancing your life - Nurse Audrey has been there and done that! If you are experiencing damaging stress, check out her 2CD set: Surviving & Thriving On Stress found at: While you are there read the Blogs where you will find ideas on how to balance your life more effectively.

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