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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Causes of Stress: Answers to Some Frequently Asked Questions

by Mark E. Gibson


What are the major causes of stress?

The discomforting physical and mental sensation we call "��stress"�� is caused by our minds, and then our bodies, reacting to fear or change. When we have fears around work, sex, guilt, lack of time, relationships, money, loss of control, health, and failure, our minds can race ahead of the present moment and create imagined future scenarios that have outcomes we don"��t want. Conflict is created when our values (safety, security, fulfillment, love) conflict with our real or anticipated realities.

Each of us experiences a unique set of "��stressors"�� that cause us to imagine and create in any moment the perception of fear or change. As an example, one person at the top of the rollercoaster ride may be absolutely terrified and white as a sheet as he clutches the handbar, while the person sitting next to him may be howling with anticipation of a thrilling hands-over-head high speed plunge down the rail.

Psychological stress is caused by what we individually consciously perceive as a threat to our mental and physical well-being. Regardless of whether the threat is real or completely imagined, our bodies react physiologically to the perceived threat in the same way.

How can I tell if I"��m stressed?

Commonly seen symptoms of stress include allergies, anxiety, arthritis, back problems, colds and flu, depression, digestive disturbances, exhaustion, fatigue, headaches, heart disease, irritability, and restlessness. There also can be loss of concentration, libido, creativity, sleep, and productivity.

A report by the American Institute of Stress stated that 75 to 90 percent of visits to primary care physicians were for stress related complaints. Other studies have concluded that more than one-third of American"��s consider themselves to be significantly stressed, and in today"��s modern complex society that number appears to be growing. In 2009 Americans spent more than $18 billion on sleeping pills and anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs.

What"��s the difference between "��acute"�� and "��chronic"�� stress?

"��Acute"�� stress is a temporary psychological sensation that comes and goes around specific experiences or perceptions, such as a wedding, speaking engagement, auto accident, facing the boss to ask for a raise, and so on. Mild acute stress can be good for us because it stimulates our brains and bodies to deliver a peak momentary performance.

"��Chronic"�� stress, on the other hand, is the longer lasting psychological sensation that is created by extended periods of anxiety and fear. With our "��minds"�� in this mode, our brain continuously releases, among other compounds, the hormones cortisol and adrenaline into our blood streams. While these neurochemicals are useful to us in short bursts to implement the "��flight or fight"�� response, in prolonged doses our internal organs, bathed in unnaturally high levels of these and other natural compounds, become "��diseased"�� with malfunctioning cellular physiology, and we get sick.

How does stress affect my mind?

"��Not right now "�" I"��m too stressed!"�� may sound familiar to you. When we are stressed physically, nutritionally, or psychologically, many of us can sense that internally, things aren"��t right. We can"��t concentrate well, we"��re irritable and unpleasant, we"��re anxious about trivial things, we have more frequent negative attitudes and forgetfulness, we seem to be out of control, and we feel depressed and tired. Less evident is but equally important is our loss of creativity, libido, and productivity. All of this is a result of chemical imbalances created by the brain responding to our conscious perception of fear or change.

How does stress affect my body?

The same chemical imbalances that create mental instability also have detrimental effects on health of our body parts. All sorts of physical disorders, like allergies, arthritis, asthma, cancer, immune system weakening, diabetes, hair loss, heart disease, ulcers, and sleep loss have been attributed to hormonal imbalances caused by chronic stress.

How do my attitudes and values affect my levels of stress?

If you are generally a fearful person (fearful of strangers, new environments, speed, loss of security, heights, dealing with phobias, etc.), you could expect to experience elevated levels of stress and the attendant symptoms and diseases. If you are a less fearful person (easy going, adventurous, calm, positive attitude, emotionally stable, etc.), then you probably experience lower stress levels and overall better health.

The values you hold (confidence, trust, compassion, sharing, optimism, objectivity, honesty, etc.) determine your attitudes, and it"��s your conscious attitudes that determine your psychological responses in all of your life situations (recall the rollercoaster riders described above). When you compromise your values, you create conflict between what you want and what is, has, or will, happen. You can minimize your stress responses by remaining true to your values and embracing attitudes that develop your positive living. (That"��s one of the growth behaviors I work on with my coaching partners).

Can the Serenity Prayer help me?

Absolutely! Recall, "��God, grant me the serenity "��to accept the things I cannot change, "��the courage to change the things I can,"�� and the wisdom to know the difference."�� Mental conflict that creates fear and unwanted change is what fuels stress. If you can acknowledge all those things you don"��t want in your life but have no control over, then you reasonably would accept them. So that conflict is gone. If you are objective and honest, then you"��ll apply yourself to make the changes in your life that bring to you greater security, love, fulfillment, and what ever else it is that you want. So that conflict is gone too. What"��s left? Accepting that there are no guarantees in life, you can dis-
empower all the stuff you can"��t change and empower all the things you can. No more fear, no more anxiety around unwanted change. No more over-stressed you! (Yes, it"��s easier said than done! Let"��s talk.)

Why do some people really push my "��stress button"��?

Your stress button gets pushed and you instantly develop an destructive attitude with a "��reaction"�� (not a thought-out "��response"��) when someone creates conflict with your values on a specific subject. It may be the way they talk, an opinion they have, how they carry themselves physically, how they verbally attack you or someone you care about, a bad habit they have that annoys you, or any other personality traits that you negatively react to.

It"��s all a matter of why and how you react "�" if you didn"��t care about their sloppy clothes (you choose not to go to judgment on the issue), than their appearance would be a non-issue. So, it"��s not so much about them as it is about you. As long as you react in judgment of people, you will have buttons that can be pushed, which is discomforting to us because then we feel like we are not in control. (I work with my clients to revise their value systems and conscious responses that free them from the negative judgment trap that creates stress).

How can I deal with my stressful work environment?

Very frequently the sources of stress at work seem to originate outside of our selves - with someone else. Their abusive behavior or words, their lack of appreciation, or their arrogance create conflict within us about what is happening and what should be "right".

At the outset you can approach the challenge in two basic ways: direct communications about your feelings and rational suggestions about changes that could make significant improvements (not just for you), or you can "rise above it all" and mentally position yourself so that you are no longer vulnerable to, or victim of, the source of the stress. The stress source may continue, but since you are now transparent to it, it will pass right through you with no effect. Admittedly, this is easier said then done, which is why I work very closely with my work stress relief partners on developing "mindfulness" that allows one to remain upright and solid at work in the midst of chaos and fear.

How can I deal with stress in my love life?

In my work on living unconditional love, I have come to appreciate the extreme value of honesty: "��Self Honesty"�� practiced within one"��s mind and spirit to achieve a high level of self-knowledge and commitment to positive values; and "��Expressed Honesty"�� that shares one"��s intent to offer constructive energy that benefits all humanity.

"��The devil is in the details"��, particularly when you are dealing with the complex issue of love. If you are living honesty, then you will know what you need in order to be happy and you will communicate it in every moment. You will also reciprocate by encouraging your loved ones to know and communicate their needs. Honesty allows every person to achieve his or her fulfillment. The strength of one"��s intent to create win/win outcomes is a good indication of true love. Many of the stresses found in love relationships (dishonesty, poor communications, insensitivity, lack of sharing and openness, thoughtlessness, feelings of vulnerability) can be remedied by you when you live complete honesty from your Higher Self.

How can I help my children to deal with stress?

What I wrote above about honesty in love relationships also applies to your relationships with children. The young mind of a child, however, does not always have the benefits of experience to know how to distinguish fact from fiction, or how to reach objective conclusions or make wise decisions that are derived from time-tested wisdom. An extra dose of compassion often is appropriate when you are dealing with the less experienced mind.

When a child knows that his or her parents, as role models, demonstrate complete honesty and openness and acceptance of everyone"��s realities, then you have a child who is capable of minimizing stress producing inner conflict that comes from the contradictions children frequently receive as they grow up. Thanks to mom"��s and dad"��s higher consciousness, a well-centered child can live a life with relatively low levels of stress because he or she, to some degree, consciously or subconsciously, has learned to accept the Serenity Prayer.

How can I get rid of my nagging worries and anxieties?

The simple answer is: Live a fearless life!

Admittedly, a life free of all fear probably is not possible (and actually it"��s not desirable) because our egos and imaginations constantly create all sorts of future threatening scenarios. Some scenarios have highly desirable outcomes that cause us to rise up to eager anticipation (if I drive faster I could get there on time), while others send us in the opposite direction where we cringe with the anticipation of really undesirable outcomes (if I"��m speeding, any accident I may have will probably be worsened). That"��s the Yin/Yang of being alive and thinking and making choices.

An enlightened person knows how to control his or her ego and imagination in order to remain focused on (and therefore manifest) the positive outcomes (I"��ll drive safely and find solutions for any problems arising from being late). You can minimize your nagging worries and anxieties by practicing the creative problem solving techniques I use in coaching stress relief.

Why is it that some people just seem to be relaxed all of the time?

It"��s easy for me to envision the truth of the statement, "��Ignorance is bliss."�� If I"��m ignorant of everything, would I be living in a state of complete bliss (even if I"��m not Buddhist or Hindu)? To me the word "��bliss"�� implies complete freedom from stress. Therefore, is ignorance a way to achieve a stress-free life? Perhaps, but there are other implications here that make complete ignorance not a wholly wise choice.

So, I"��d like to qualify the term to "��selective ignorance"��, where we consciously choose to acknowledge and respond to only issues in our lives that make a difference and that we have some degree of control over (again, see the Serenity Prayer discussion above). My impression is that people who seem to be perpetually relaxed enjoy a state of mind that emphasizes the positive over the negative, they are solution oriented, they have a high level of self-confidence, and they lead well-balanced lives.

If I live more in my Higher Self, will I experience less stress?

First, let"��s have an understanding of what "��Higher Self"�� is. For me, Higher Self is my conscious acceptance of my Soul, the spiritual place of my Godliness connection that I can willfully tap into when I consciously choose to live unconditional love. Enlightened people spend most of their lives living from, and within, their Higher Self.

I believe we all have a Soul that resides within our minds, and it is connected to every other Soul on Earth through our collective human consciousness network. I believe it is "��Higher"��, or above, the pedestrian level of our mortal lives where we often choose to give in to the temptations of dishonesty, greed, fear, separation, limited sharing and other traits of our Overly Protective Egos (OPiE).

I believe that people who live from their Higher Self enjoy much greater happiness and health owing to the absence of stress and conflict that is generated by the selfish and unfulfilled needs of the egoic mind. When you choose to live the values of your Higher Self, I believe you"��ll find your mortal/spiritual life alignment to be remarkably streamlined and filled with positive, constructive energy.

Are you ready to make an significant investment in the enrichment of your future?

Your time for coaching arrives when your mental, physical, and financial costs of maintaining the status quo exceed the cost of your growth benefits from coaching.

Mark E. Gibson is a certified stress relief coach who stimulates individuals and groups to creatively move through their conflicts and anxieties and into a life full of personal rewards. He offers free introductory coaching sessions. Mark can be contacted through his website,

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