“Tame Your Stress”
by Suzanne Sears
Stress is simply the body’s response to a change in the environment (internal or external) that requires a physical, mental or emotional adjustment.
Stress can be ACUTE (of swift onset and short duration) or CHRONIC ( a slower onset but long duration). Your body has a very efficient “emergency response mechanism” to handle acute stress (usually brought about by your brain’s perception of danger, either real or imagined) which involves some very powerful stress hormones to help you cope with the emergency ( the Fright-Flight or Fight Response)
When stress becomes chronic, cortisol (another very powerful hormone) levels become higher and more constant and can affect your body in many unhealthy ways. The body is not meant to handle high cortisol levels for long periods of time.
The most important point to consider about stress is that it is all PERCEPTUAL! This means that what bothers you may not bother someone else, and vice versa. Your personal interpretation of what is stressing you out is based on your past experiences , your mental and physical health, family coping styles, cultural norms , etc. In other words, we all experience life through our own “filters” ( think of Spam filters on your computer) and this determines how we perceive changes in our environment.
Not all stress is bad! Even good things we consider happy times will cause stress just because they require adjustments to the changes that occur (think of new baby, weddings, graduations, new homes, etc.) “Good” stress is called eustress and “bad” stress is called distress. The effects of stress can make you more sensitive to subsequent events. Eventually you may overtax your coping skills and experience a major reaction (i.e. a “Meltdown”). Avoidance is not a healthy option.
The mental perception of stress can affect the whole body because of the Mind-Body Connection. This involves the “thinking brain” (Cerebral Cortex), the “emotional brain” (the Limbic System) and the “primitive brain” (Brain Stem where all basic body functions are regulated, such as heart rate, breathing etc.). The hypothalamus, a vital structure between the Cerebral Cortex and the Brainstem not only regulates many body functions, but connects to and controls the Pituitary Gland which in turn regulates every other gland the body. This is how what you think and feel can have an effect on your entire body.
Since most of us can’t control many of the things that happen to us every day, we need to realize that we can control how we perceive and respond to the changes going on in our lives. If we can control our perceptions and our responses, then it follows that we can control how things affect us and most importantly, what we learn from our life’s experiences. In other words, you have the power to “push your own buttons” (or not) and to determine who you let push them as well! “People can’t drive you crazy if you don’t give them the keys!”
Coping with stress involves four major steps:
1. Identifying and acknowledging your personal stressors. Why do they stress you out? Do you actually need your stress?
2. Analyze your usual response(s). Are they working for you? If not why?
3. What are your expectations? Who made these for you? Whose voice is “narrating” your life? (eg. parents, significant others, boss, yourself)?
4. What can you do to better cope with your stress? Can you change your perceptions of your stressors? Ask yourself the following questions:
(a) Is this a major event/crisis or just an irritation?
(b) What will it be tomorrow? In six months? Next year?
(c) Is this even my problem?
(d) If it is my problem, can I fix it? If not, why am I allowing it to stress me out?
(Don’t spend your life rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!)
You can learn to better “Tame Your Stress” by making some adjustments in your perceptions and in your lifestyle. Improving your physical lifestyle habits ( such as getting more sleep, eating a healthier diet, exercising, having fun(!) can help you be more resilient when stressors increase in your life. Alcohol/drugs, smoking, and excessive eating may make a person feel better temporarily, but will actually exacerbate the effects of stress on the body.
Some positive ways you can cope with stress emotionally are practicing yoga, self-hypnosis, meditation, music, art (and crafts or hobbies)and having fun(!). Learn to dance! Do whatever makes you happy as often as you can. Laughter is actually good for you! These things usually increase your brain’s production of endorphins (your natural pain-killers) which in turn makes you feel good.
Most importantly, surround yourself with positive people who care about you and are supportive of you. I often recommend a little book called “What You Think Of Me Is None Of My Business” by Terry Cole-Whittaker (amazon.com) for people who are allowing others to determine their self-worth and damage their self-esteem. I also like to refer people to Joel Osteen’s books and presentations,because they are usually positive and very encouraging with regard to these same issues.
By taking some positive steps, you can actually change the effects stress has on your life. Because we believe this to be true, the staff of Healthy Changes Hypnosis offers a free “Tame Your Stress” class every month as a community service to the people in the Houston area. In this class, we talk about stress and teach people some good stress reduction techniques, including Self-Hypnosis, Resource Tapping, Yoga breathing, etc. Please check out our web-site at www.HealthyChangesHypnosis.com. We hope you will join us for this class (usually the third Saturday of each month) and learn how to truly “Tame Your Stress”.
Suzanne Sears RN, is an Advanced Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with Healthy Change Hypnosis in Houston, TX