Stressed-Out! Understanding & Managing Stress

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We sure are one stressed-out society, and it’s only getting worse. High-stress levels cause physical and mental health crises, lost jobs, and strained relationships…just to name a few. That’s why we’re going to get up close and personal talking about managing stress in this month’s blog series, because as you know, once we understand something more deeply, we can better manage it. So, let’s get started!

What is stress?

The medical definition of stress is that it’s a state of physical, mental or emotional strain as a result of external pressures or highly demanding situations that we don’t have the resources to deal with. While a bit of stress can be good for us to propel us into action and to get us motivated, high levels of stress have serious implications. We all experience stressful situations throughout our lives, but we differ in our ability coping and managing stress.

What is a stress response?

When we feel stressed (either real or imagined), our bodies go through a stress response, which is sometimes called the flight-or-fight response. Our pulse increases, we get a surge of adrenaline, and hormones like cortisol are released; we are wired this way to help us get out of threatening situations quickly. This stress response helped our ancestors escape extreme, physical threats that were essential for survival (think bear attacks, enemy tribes and so on), but in modern times, our stressors are usually more psychological as opposed to physical.

What triggers stress?

The interesting thing about stress is that what triggers one person might have little or no impact on another. It’s all about how we individually perceive a situation and determine if it’s dangerous or threatening…physically, socially, or emotionally. For example, one person may have an intense stress response stemming from an upcoming presentation or new job, while another may feel entirely calm. However, the increasing demands of today’s lifestyle are definitely contributing to higher stress levels worldwide. In Canada, 73% of working adults aged 20-64 reported some levels of stress, and that number is growing. Some of the top causes of stress include:

  • Work
  • Finances
  • Life changes such as moving, losing a job, divorce, kids, etc.
  • Poor health/illness – for self or loved ones
  • Family demands
  • Terrorism
  • The state of the environment
  • Pressures stemming from abuse and bullying (including cyber-bullying and social media)
  • A general feeling of lack of control

Some of these challenges aren’t necessarily perceived as stressful if we have the resources to cope or manage them, or if we simply don’t understand or internalize their impact. Further, a lot of stressors in Western society are caused by simply over-scheduling ourselves. We jam up our calendars with kids’ sports, lessons, events, social gatherings, extra workloads, gym memberships and so on, and then wonder why we can’t cope with something minor like an oil change or a head cold.

As you can see, stress is complicated, but the good news is that it’s manageable. Over the next few blogs, we’ll get down to business to more thoroughly explore the physical and psychological impacts of stress. Together we will learn how to avoid triggers and find successful approaches to managing stress.