What Is Stress and How Can One Cope?

April 13, 2021 by  

Stress is mental or physical tension that results from physical, emotional or chemical causes.
In fact, physiologically everyone reacts to stress in the same way initially. You get a boost of adrenalin which speeds up your respiration, perspiration and increases your focus and energy. But only for brief periods of time. Prolonged stress causes a build-up of cortisol, a chemical that speeds up the function of your organ systems and over time can cause irreversible damage to those systems. High cortisol levels are dangerous.
As a result, one needs to have stress deflecting strategies that can be exercised when facing a lot of stress, especially if it is for along time.

Stress is also different things to different people. For example, something that stresses you might not stress me and vice versa.
Some jobs have more stress than others built into them. For example, air traffic controllers have to make sure that no planes are coming in and going out at the same time and must be aware of everything that is going on all the runways. This can be rather stressful. Now, they have great training that offers them strategies to deal with issues and must consider that training will allow them to handle any problem that might arise will on duty.

Then there is Dentistry. Dentists have the highest suicide rate of any profession. Why?? They work under very tight time constraints on nervous, anxious, stressed-out patients who believe that they go to the Dentist, he or she hurts them and then they pay. Many have had unfortunate experiences when they were young and never got over the trauma of that situation. When I was practising, I used to have parents bring in their small children before their first appointment so that I could “play with them”. I would give them a ride up and down in my chair. I would let them play with my air/water syringe in the garbage pail, I would polish a fingernail for two, I would put the suction end on their hand so they could see what it did and hear the noise. I would blow air on their teeth and put some water in their mouth & then suction it out. Then I would give them a prize. That way, they got to know me, (no parents in the room), had some fun, heard the noises, saw the equipment I would be using to clean their teeth and maybe just think going to the dentist would be fun. Sadly, I knew 3 dentists who committed suicide when I was in practice as a Dental Hygienist.

Next, there is the construction industry where there is a myriad of things that can go wrong, often do. Materials can arrive late for damaged, same with appliances and plumbing fixtures. If a problem crops up it can upset the timeline and as everything is sequential, if one job is delayed it can affect the rest and a site supervisor can lose some subcontractors because they have other commitments and scheduled you when you thought you would need them. Renovations are also difficult as one never knows exactly what one might find when a wall is removed or a floor pulled up or a ceiling opened up. Surprises can often turn into a major problem that will take much more time to adjust around.

Today, in our very technological world, change has become the new norm and humans generally do not like change as we prefer to deal with what we know and are comfortable with. Those who are not willing and able to embrace change today will get left behind and may even lose their jobs. Change is the event, the transition is the process and must be handled very well with open, honest communication addressing concerns and fears, an appropriate time frame to allow the employees to adjust and learn the new processes or equipment. In addition, upper management must model the commitment to this change and offer compelling reasons why it will be advantageous to embrace this change. Questions need to be answered honestly and quickly and management needs to be available to support and encourage everyone as they move forward.

I am sure that engineers also run into many situations that might not have been anticipated and must readjust plans in order to complete a job.

Medical personnel deal with traumatic situations day in a day out and often have to convey devastating news to family members when something terrible has occurred. Police and EMT staff face the same sort of issues seeing very traumatic things every day and that is extremely stressful for them.

Again, many jobs are stressful but here is the thing……no one’s life is a long straight smooth road. Everyone faces bumps, potholes, curves, hills, washouts, and landslides. It is really how we deal with those obstacles and challenges that we face in our lives. If one can espouse a positive, problem-solving and critical thinking attitude about whatever one faces, life will be better, less stressful, and ultimately happier. Happy people are sick less often, deal with difficulties better and that is because they are positive about life and do not let those unfortunate situations ruin their lives and keep them unhappy.

One other thing to bear in mind is this, other than the initial reaction to stress, men and women do handle stress differently. Women experience a second cascade of chemicals, including oxytocin which reduces the effects of adrenalin and slows things down for them. Estrogen also enhances the effects of oxytocin. Because of the testosterone in men, that chemical enhances the effects of the adrenalin and keeps them on “high” for longer.

The best stress deflecting strategies include the following:
1. Get regular aerobic exercise as this changes your brain chemistry and releases endorphins which give us a feeling of well being and enhance our immune system.
2. Breathe, it seems that when we are stressed we breathe in a very shallow way. This reduces the oxygen to our brains and when our brains do not have sufficient oxygen rational thought does not occur.
3. Eat healthfully with a well-balanced diet full of lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein sources. If you do not know how to do that very well, consult a registered dietitian for help with this.
4. Get adequate sleep. That means at least 7 or 8 hours each night. Without enough sleep, our cognitive abilities are reduced so we perform at a lower level potential making more mistakes and forgetting things that we normally do not forget. Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves and memories become embedded in our brains so without proper sleep those functions do not occur and we can suffer healthwise and in how we function generally. This can also depress people.
5. Get fresh air…..go for a walk with your dog, hike in the woods, go for a run in a park or along a lake.
6. Socialize with friends and family doing fun things. Humans need social interaction as it is good for our well-being and mental health.
7. Sing in a choir or just sing. This also changes your brain chemistry and makes one feel happy.
8. Take up a hobby that is fun for you…..painting, pottery making, cabinetry, beading, sewing, quilting. Whatever you fancy! Even cooking and baking can be fun and you can have fun preparing dinner, lunch, or brunch for family or friends.
9. Meditate this may not be for everyone however if it works for you, do it. Yoga is good for this as well.

Whatever works for you to reduce your stress, make sure that you do it! There really are no wrong strategies, just pick something that works for you and employ it when necessary!
We all have stress in our lives, it is normal and a little bit of stress is not a bad thing as it gives us a boost of energy, great focus and allows us to get things done well. It is the prolonged stress that does not abate and is not dealt with appropriately that is harmful. It can hurt you physiologically, mentally, and emotionally so do not let that happen to you…..pay attention to what is causing you stress and deal with it and your attitude about it. If you do that you will be happier, healthier, and more successful.

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