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.

Tips for Stress Deflection

April 30, 2018 by  

Stress is mental or physical tension that results from physical, emotional, or chemical causes. In today’s ever-changing world of technology and strife, stress seems to increase and decrease in waves but never ceases. Changes in our world due to technology, the expectation of multi-tasking, the breakdown of the traditional family and other issues have shifted the nature and pattern of stress-inducing events.
Having said that, when stressors are relatively acute but infrequent, our bodies can recover. In fact, small doses of stress are actually beneficial to humans as they serve as a catalyst propelling us to higher achievement. However, prolonged exposure to stress does not give our bodies a chance to recover so we cannot fight or flee! In addition, that prolonged stress can cause irreversible physiological damage to our bodies and affect our cognitive abilities as well.
All these factors indicate that today we must have strategies to deflect and reduce our stress so that we can function effectively and stay healthy. In addition, we must find the fortitude to actually employ those strategies when necessary.

So what are some stress-busting ideas?
Here are some approaches you may wish to consider:
1. Breathe! Usually, the first thing that happens when we are stressed out, is we quit breathing appropriately thus reducing the oxygen levels to our brains which lowers our problem-solving abilities and rational thought.

2. Practice Active Listening……why? Because, just giving instructions or directions to someone does not guarantee that you will get what you expect unless you get some concrete feedback from the listener which proves that they received your message as sent, processed the information as necessary and so concluded what you expect to have happen. If you do not get this feedback, unless you are a mind reader, you actually have no idea what this person heard, how they computed the information and what they will actually do with that message. When we do not get what we expect we experience disappointment, resentment, complaining, confusion and of course, misinformation…….all of which cause stress!

3. Be Accountable…….that means taking responsibility for what you do and the mistakes that you make. If you do that you will learn from those errors and become a better problem solver.

4. Do not delay Problem Solving Techniques……… here is why, most problems will not disappear by themselves, in other words, you need to resolve issues and problems before they get worse and ignoring them or hoping they will fix themselves will not work!

5. Be Assertive……..if you have an issue with someone or a situation, it is best to address it but in an honest, calm and respectful manner. Allowing behavior that is inappropriate, disrespectful or even harassing, you enable it because we get the behavior we tolerate. Yes, it is often difficult to confront someone in such situations, however, if you don’t the problem will not go away by itself.

6. Get Regular Exercise……. Exercise helps to change your brain chemistry so that it releases more endorphins which give a feeling of wellbeing. In addition, you will have more energy to cope with your daily challenges if you are fit. This does not mean you need to run a marathon or develop the muscles of a weightlifter. Rather you can do whatever you enjoy that will get you moving. Take a dance or pilates class, take a drumming class, walk your dog a couple of times a day, do yoga, even learn to meditate. Whatever interests you and moves you will be good.

7. Eat Healthfully……..that means employing balance, moderation, and variety in your meals by eating from the four basic food groups, controlling your portions and enjoying a variety of different foods and styles of preparation. Your body needs proper nourishment to function well and you will feel better and stay healthier if you practice healthy eating. If you do not know how to do that, consider consulting a registered dietitian for some tips.

8. Get Adequate Rest…….most people today get less than 6 hours of sleep/night and that is truly not enough rest. Your body rejuvenates when you sleep and your memories become better embedded when you sleep. So, if you are not getting ample sleep neither of those functions is going to be happening, meaning you will likely not function effectively, make more mistakes and that will increase your stress.

9. Think Positively………..the only thing in your life that you have total control over is your attitude. One who thinks negatively, always sees the glass as half full and the bad in all situations is certainly not going to be a very happy person and will likely experience much more stress than a positive person. The positive attitude will bring solutions to challenges, find the good in any situation and will also experience far less stress because they will be too busy being happy!

10.Be Flexible…..in other words, go with the flow in any situation as some things you just cannot control and maybe you don’t have to control everything.

11.Laugh……..laughter is another thing that changes our brain chemistry and releases endorphins for a feeling of wellbeing. In fact, laughter helps us to heal so be sure to have some fun in your life on a very regular basis!

12.Believe in Yourself……self confidence and good self-esteem can help us to achieve more and at a higher level of performance. It does not mean that you need to become an egotist, it just means that you can believe that you can deal with pretty much whatever gets thrown at you.

13. List 5 Things that Make You Happy…….make that list and put in somewhere that you can see it often to remind yourself that your life is good!

14. Take a Vacation…..getting away from time to time is a great way to destress and it does not need to be anything exotic or far away. It can be just making sure you have some occasional “me time”. However, it can also add some fun to your life and your relationships.

15. Be sure you have a Good Life/Work Balance…..be sure to schedule in some time to spend with your loved ones and friends as that is just as important as being effective, efficient and creative and work.

In the end, remember that first of all, stress is different things to different people and that depends on their coping abilities, lifestyle, situation and even personality type.

However, for all of us, stress is rather like a violin…..

  • If you bow too hard on the strings the sound is very screechy.
  • If you do bow hard enough, very little sound comes out at all.
  • So your bowing technique needs to have just the right amount of pressure in order for the sound to be lovely.

So it is with stress……if you have no stress in your life, you likely do not have much of a life as stress is partly what makes us grow and change. However, too much stress is very harmful. So one must find a nice balance of occasional bouts of short stress and the ability to deflect enough stress so that it does not get out of hand and become harmful to our bodies, our minds, and our immune systems.

Stress: Is it Harmful or Beneficial?

December 6, 2017 by  

Stress is different things to different people and depends upon a person’s perception of a situation and is based on their life experiences.
The initial stress reaction is the same for everyone, it involves a burst of adrenaline that increases one’s heart rate, respiration, perspiration, and energy level…..but only for a brief period. It is caused by mental or physical tension that results from physical, emotional, or chemical causes. In addition, it is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demand exceeds the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.

Stress never seems to go away and is often beyond our control, so having effective strategies that you can exercise when necessary is essential to your well-being. That may mean getting regular aerobic exercise, walking your dog, meditating, singing, dancing, shopping, having a relaxing glass of wine, laughing with friends……it really does not matter, as long as you do something that reduces the effects of the stress situation for you.
When stress occurs for short or even moderate lengths of time, there is the opportunity for your body to recover from the stress reaction. In fact, in truth, short-term stress is actually beneficial as it gives you focus, extra energy, and spurs you to higher levels of performance….but only for a short period of time.
On the other hand, if stress goes on for long periods of time, your body does not recover, in fact, it “thinks” that your organ systems need to be sustained at a high level of operation so releases another chemical: cortisol, which keeps your organs on “high alert” and actually overworks them which can cause irreversible damage. So, long periods of stress can be harmful.

Here is another factor to consider…..men and women actually react to stress a little differently. The initial reaction is the same, however, shortly thereafter, women get a second cascade of chemicals which counteract the adrenalin rush with estrogen and oxytocin. These two chemicals slow down your heart rate and respiration so that you can begin to consider how to problem solve and your nurturing side is released. In men, however, testosterone, enhances the adrenalin rush and keeps you on “high alert” for longer. This difference may be one of the reasons that women tend to live longer than men as their organ systems have experienced less overwork. In addition, women tend to build strong support systems with their women friends and in times of stress, turn to them for needed support and assistance. Men, do have friendships, of course, but tend not to seek help as often or rely on their friends as women do because society has taught them to be “strong” and self-sufficient.

So if we go back to the initial premise: is stress harmful or beneficial……it is both. It just depends on how long it lasts. If you experience short stressful periods, you can actually leverage those high energy periods to your benefit by getting more done and doing it better. However, if you are in a situation that causes long-term stress, and if you do nothing to deflect or reduce it, you will sustain irreversible physiological damage which could result in disease or various physiological harm, panic attacks, other behavioural symptoms, cognitive deficiencies, communication problems, and perception issues. None of which are good for you and which have not allowed your body to recover.

It does not matter what works for you as a stress reducer, it just matters that when you find yourself suffering, that you definitely employ those strategies so that your body can recover. Unfortunately, stress is a part of life and often occurs from situations that were not in your control, that is why you must be able to deal with it effectively so that it can be used beneficially rather than cause you harm.

Stress…..the Road to Disaster or the Key to Success?

September 10, 2016 by  

Humans have actually identified stress since the beginning of time.

Plato, in the 4th Century BC, conjectured that, “all diseases of the body proceed from the mind or soul.”

Early societies considered the phenomenon of stress as a demonic possession of the body.

In 1831, Dr. James Johnson developed a precise description of the physical reaction to stress.

In the 1920’s, Walter Cannon established “fight or flight” syndrome.

In 1936, Hans Selye began to investigate the “syndrome of just being sick.” He has been referred to as the Father of Stress and developed the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): flight or flight, resistance, then exhaustion.

As many as 75% of today’s workers experience some level of stress and over 75% of all doctor’s appointments seem to be related to stress ailments.
Stress has been linked to heart disease, immune deficiency, memory loss, diabetes, periodontal diseases, pre-term/low weight births, fatigue, weight loss, weight gain, sleep issues, gastro-intestinal problems, headaches, irritability…the list goes on and on.   Symptoms experienced usually fall into 5 common categories: Behavioral, Perceptional, Communication, Physical, and Cognitive.

In short, it appears that stress is a very costly issue in today’s world and does not seem to be going away any time soon.  In fact, stress seems to increase and decrease but never ceases. When the stressors are relatively acute but infrequent; our bodies can recover from their effects.
However, changes in our world such as technology, the expectation of multi-tasking, and the breakdown of the traditional family has shifted the nature and the pattern of stress-inducing events. Which is likely why it has become such a common, persistent, expensive, and pressing concern.

So far you likely think that stress is all bad when in fact there is another side to this troubling issue. Here is another way of looking at stress……
POSITIVE STRESS actually challenges us to higher achievement by increasing our creativity and resourcefulness. Therefore mild to moderate stress over brief periods of time can actually be beneficial to our productivity, efficiency and creativity. This “modern stress” can promote survival in the workplace, helping us meet deadlines and get more accomplished.

The stress our ancestors experienced helped them survive by taking advantage of the “flight or fight” mechanism. If they needed to save themselves from an imminent danger, they had the necessary boost of adrenalin to boost their energy so they could run away. Once safe at home they could recover to hunt another day. You have likely heard stories of people having the strength to lift a car off of a loved one or make it up a steep embankment to safety after an accident….that is mother nature taking care of us by giving us the necessary resources to save ourselves.

Here is why…..Stress hormones activate the mind, improve concentration, increase muscle function and speed reaction time: but only for brief periods! Every time a human is challenged to do something new, we get stressed, but if we leverage that energy in a positive way we can actually gain a competitive edge and do better.

On the other hand, prolonged exposure to stress does not give our bodies a chance to recover: we cannot fight or flee! When this happens we can experience irreversible physiological changes that be life changing. In truth, HR personnel will tell you that individuals who are forced to take a “stress leave” often never return, or if they do, they never seem to achieve the same level of competence as they have lost self-confidence in their abilities. In addition, many of these people can end up having to take more stress leaves….a pattern emerges in their ability to cope with the regular stress of their job.

Moderation is the Key! Too much stress causes you to feel overwhelmed, and this can lead to procrastination and more stress. Unhealthy levels of stress interfere with a person’s creativity due to poor concentration and memory issues. Finally, stress reduces the oxygen levels in the brain which interferes with your rational thought.

So here are some tips to reduce your stress at work…..
BREATHE!!! You need to make sure you are sending adequate oxygen to your brain so you can think clearly.
Organize your desk:  An untidy desk makes being efficient and organized pretty impossible as finding what you need can take too much time and be frustrating as well.
Organize your e-mails:  These can also be set up in a way to make finding what you need quickly an easy task and you can also “weed out” the ones you really do not need to keep.
Practice Active Listening:  This key communication skill will improve your relationships as well as reduce conflict, resentment, confusion, disappoint and complaining, all of which reduce efficiency, productivity and innovation.
Employ Accountability Skills:  Do not let issues fester and take responsibility for what you do. Life will be happier if you employ this strategy with regularity.
Do not delay Problem Solving Techniques:  When problems go unresolved they can turn into bigger issues, so it is best to deal with them as soon as possible to avoid larger ones.
Be Assertive:  Standing up for yourself is something no one else will do for you….that does not mean being it aggressive, it means knowing what you want and asking for it in an honest and respectful manner.
Exercise:  Regular exercise changes your brain chemistry releasing chemicals that give you a feeling of well-being. It also gives you more energy and better coping skills to deal with the stressors you face.
Eat Healthfully:  Meals that include variety, moderation and a balance of the 4 major food groups will also give you more energy and ability to cope with the challenges thrown your way.
Get adequate rest:  Your body recovers when you sleep, your memory is consolidated, systems can heal and you gain energy and coping skills for the next day.
BREATHE!!!!   Again, this is the most important for proper brain function and high energy levels!

Identifying stress before it hurts your organization can prevent having to pay a high price in the form of absenteeism, turnover, lost productivity, and workplace accidents. Be sure to introduce fun, social activities, and laughter into your daily life…..a work/life balance is the key a healthy, happy successful life!

Want to Relieve Your Stress?

February 2, 2016 by  

Stress is actually different things to different people….it is a result of our individual experiences. However there is no reason why you cannot learn some simple, basic techniques for deflecting it.

Let’s look at some of the most common causes of stress:
1. Usually you become stressed due to having to face something new, as we naturally fear the unknown.
2. You can also become worried if you are going to have to deal with something that is unpredictable.
3. Another source of possible stress can come from a threat to your ego, especially if it is about your competence and this is happening in front of your colleagues.
4. Finally, some of you may become unduly uncomfortable when you feel you have little or no control over a situation.

Now here are some simple destressors you can try:
1. Breathe in deeply by extending your diaphragm fully, then breathe out slowly. Do it about 15-20 times. When we are stressed we often breathe in a shallow manner, thereby reducing the oxygen to our brains. This impedes rational thought and our problem solving abilities. Once you increase the oxygen again, you will be able to think more clearly and therefore deal more effectively with the situation. Besides it usually puts the stress response on hold.
2. Sing….this also increases your abdominal breathing (if you do it well) and again you will slow down your stress response and begin to feel better.
3. Exercise changes your brain chemistry by releasing more endorphins, the feel good, happy chemicals, and also uses the energy generated by the stress response in a physical manner. These chemicals also can enhance your immune system helping you to stave off infections more effectively.
4. Laughter also releases those feel good chemicals so reduces the effects of the stress response and enhances your immune system at the same time.  In parts of Asia, there are laugh clinics where people who are ill can come to improve their health.  The leader employs techniques to get the attendees laughing.
5. Read, according to study at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, 6 minutes of reading is sufficient to reduce stress levels by 68%. That is even better than listening to music, which reduces it by 61% or by having a cup of tea which reduces it by 54%.
6. Meditation is another great stress reducer. A study at Boston University, University of Montreal and Laval University, concluded that meditation when done regularly can cut stress levels by 40%.

Stress is a natural part of your life…..it will occur. It is more important how we deal with it. In fact, not all stress is bad. Short term stress can actually propel human beings to higher levels of achievement because the burst of adrenalin can actually provide us with high energy, clarity and endurance for brief periods of time.

It is the long term stressors that are most harmful, particularly when you do nothing to reduce the side effects. Long term stress can result in irreversible physiological damage to your organ systems, your memory, your cognitive abilities, your sleep habits, your weight, and your communication skills. It can cause you to “awfulize” and catastrophize situations as you have lost the ability to perceive issues as they truly are. I can lower performance levels at work and cause more mistakes. This can hurt your self-confidence and self-esteem. Many employees who are forced to take a stress leave, often come back with lowered performance levels, more frailty and the high chance that they will require another leave. Some never return to work.

Stress has been around from the beginning of time however it has been only in more recent times that we have begun to realize just how devastating it can be if not dealt with in an effective manner….and that will vary from person to person.

So, if you have been feeling anxious, irritable, unhappy, etc. or have noticed behavioural changes in a family member or colleague, try to seek help for yourself or encourage the other person to seek it for themselves before the resultant problems become irreversible.
Life is too short not be enjoying it….so face your challenges, use them as opportunities to learn, but do not dwell on them!

How to Avoid a Bad Day

February 18, 2012 by  

Every day when we get up we have a choice……We can choose to have a good day or we can choose to have a bad day.
If we choose to have a bad day…..it will be bad.
If we choose to have a good day….it will be good.

What is the difference?

Our attitude!
We cannot control many things that happen to us, but we can control our perception of those things and in so doing can ensure that we reduce our stress and enjoy our lives more.

Here are 10 possible solutions to remedy a bad day:
1. Try to find humour in the situation.  Making something amusing can change our brain chemistry and make us feel better. Some cultures actually employ laughter as a means of healing.

2. Move!  Activity also releases endorphins and increases our feelings of well being. So a little exercise is a good stress releaser.

3. Give the situation the attention it deserves.  Pick your battles, if it is an issue that needs resolution, deal with it. If it is a petty, silly matter, just let it go, life is too short to spent it stressing over insignificant trivia.

4. Make a list of the things you are grateful for.  We all have good things in our lives…celebrate them, remind yourself of how lucky you are!

5. Seek advice.  Talk to someone you trust, just being listened to will make you feel better and maybe they will have some additional suggestions for you to consider.

6. Thank someone! Constructive criticism may be hard to take sometimes but if we never make mistakes we will not learn much, as they are the growth opportunities from which we can reap great benefits.

7. Engage in a high focus activity.  This will take your mind to a new place and might even help you to accomplish one of your important goals.

8. Employ a spiritual GPS.  Sometimes situations need a higher power, guidance might be calming and when we are more relaxed we think more rationally so our problem solving skills are more effective.

9. Become accountable.   Ask yourself this, how did I contribute to this situation, and what can I do now?

10. Try this thought process: what can I stop, what can I start, what should I continue, and what should I change. Sometimes taking the time to examine how we are doing and strategizing how to do it better can be most enlightening.

So, adjust your attitude about your life and you will empower yourself to avoid a bad day.

Remember, if it is to be, it is up to me!