Stress Series, Part 1: What is it?

Stress Series, Part 1: What Is It?

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By Fawn Faletego

Stress is not a sexy subject, but it’s one most of us have an intimate relationship with on a daily basis.  What is stress, exactly?  The scientific explanation says it’s the ‘fight or flight’ response to an intense situation which may light up parts of your brain like a Christmas tree and flood your body with hormones, but let’s get into what stress is on a personal level.

1) Not all stress is bad.
The word ‘stress’ may have negative connotations for you, and that’s to be expected.  The majority of focus tends to be on the ill-effects of stress on our person, and how we’re literally surrounded by it at every turn.  Heck, you might feel the spike in heart rate or uneasy feeling, ironically, when scanning article titles such as ‘Stress Kills! How to Avoid Stress.’  However, it’s not all bad.  The big “S” comes in very handy when we need that extra moxie to get that work promotion, or when we need to be on high alert in a life-threatening situation.  It’s the reason mothers can lift cars off of their trapped children.

2) Not all stressors are bad.
A stressor is a ten dollar word for an event or stimulus that causes stress. Divorce, death in the family, job loss and even taxes are pointed to as some of the main culprits in causing it.  Ok, so things that suck = things that stress me out.  Got it, thanks scientists!  But wait… joyous occasions such as marriage, children, and a new job can also create a whirlpool of emotions as well.  A major life change, no matter if it’s positive or negative, can cause stress.

3) Not all stressors are major life changes
A life-altering stressor such as a bankruptcy may have the same level of reaction in your body as daily traffic.  It’s not like your body has a switch that says ‘legitimate stress alert!’  Your body can’t determine the difference between the two, and can physically react the same way.

What good is it like, you might ask, to have a ‘fight or flight’ reaction to a slow moving morning commute to work?  Here you are, sitting in your car and listening to NPR, and all you want to do is sprout Inspector Gadget wheel-legs on your car and hop over all the slowpokes on Mopac.  This feeling of anticipation, anger and anxiety about being late to work may be a ritual for you nearly every single morning.  So, for you, slow traffic is a stressor.

4) Your stress menu is different from somebody else’s
It’s important to note that just because one has stressful situations in life (some more than others), doesn’t mean that person is reacting to those stressors.  Stress is strictly a reaction to your perception on a situation.  For example, your co-worker’s physical and emotional reaction to a waitress’s snarky comment might be to shrug it off and forget about it, whereas your reaction might be to elevate your blood pressure, tense up your muscles, and simmer in a quiet rage for the rest of the day.

Stresses are tiny fissures that run along our daily lives, and as with any object with crack lines, they threaten to break wide open with any great pressure.  They don’t often do (as we are made of stern stuff), but what a way to live, always on the brink!  But as a wise sage Leonard Cohen once sang, “There is a crack, a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”  Perhaps realizing our daily stress triggers, effectively dealing with major events in our lives, and acknowledging the effect all of this has on our quality of life can push us to make real, lasting changes in the way we live.

If you find that you or a loved one need help with this process, you can make a counseling appointment so we can help you or them get back on the right track. If you would like more information about what our counseling process entails, you can read about depression counseling, anxiety counseling, and personal growth counseling.

Check outStress Series, Part 2: This is your body on stress in which we explore the effect of stress on our mind, body and spirit, and a playful weekly series throughout February in which we’ll have daily to-dos to help you slay that stress monster. Also, contact us if we can help you or someone you know deal with their stress!