Using Stress to Your Advantage

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In medicine, stress is the result produced when a structure, system, or organism is acted on by forces that disrupt equilibrium or produce strain.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life or one cubit to your stature?”  Matthew 6:27, King James Version of the New Testament.  

What causes stress in your own life?  Is it caused from physical or emotional trauma?  Is it caused from lifestyle factors?  Does intense joy cause some form of stress on your body?

The key to stress in a given situation is whether it makes continuous demands on the reservoir of energy in your body.

When stress is of a long-term duration, it can affect the mind as well as the body:

  • If a woman has several small children close in age, she may become overwhelmed and stressed by the physical exertion of caring for young children;
  • There are physical demands on a woman when she is pregnant, including the anticipation of the birth of a baby–causing anxiety and stress;
  • Caring for a child with physical or mental disabilities is taxing on the mother’s nerves;
  • Caring for elderly parents who need special attention can be extremely stressful;
  • Employment or unemployment is taxing on heads of households as well as the family members; and
  • Whether or not to retire and what to do upon retirement.
There are common, everyday stressors that affect you, such as:
  • Driving in rush hour traffic
  • Getting to an appointment on time
  • Meeting deadlines at work
Stress and the Body
Adrenal hormones begin to circulate through your bloodstream when you are confronted with a dangerous or challenging situation.  It is referred to as “the fight or flight” response.  Cortisol is the hormone that is triggered by stress and is produced in the adrenal glands.  Your healthcare professional may check your cortisol levels to find a clue to your body’s response to stress.
How to Manage and Use Stress To Your Advantage
  1. When you are undergoing an emotional or physical reaction to a stressful event in your life, make a mental note.  Does it make you nervous or does it physically upset you?  In what way does it affect you?
  2. To eliminate or avoid the stressor completely, take a break:
    1. Find a place for a change of scenery;
    2. Read a good, uplifting novel or classic;
    3. Thoroughly clean your house, garage, or yard;
    4. Take up a new craft or resurrect an old one; or
    5. Find the energy to write down some goals and time management skills — make a plan to reward yourself when a goal is accomplished
  3. In your view of the stressful situation, is it an exaggeration?  Do you view the situation as an absolute urgency?
  4. Some stress-reducing attitudes may help you cope better:
    1. “No one can please everybody all of the time”
    2. Let someone else be in charge of the situation sometimes
    3. Put the situation in the proper perspective
    4. Avoid the “What ifs” or negativity
  5. When you are in a stressful situation, does your heart beat faster or race or do your muscles become tense?
    1. Take slow deep breaths
    2. Notice the physical changes when you breathe:
      1. Muscles become more relaxed
      2. Blood pressure measures within the normal range
  6. Plan some lifestyle changes:
    1. Exercise 3 to 4 times a week, including walking, hiking, swimming, or cycling
    2. Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals and snacks every day including fresh vegetables and fruit
    3. Get down to your ideal weight and maintain it
    4. Avoid stimulants such as nicotine, caffeine, etc.
    5. Get 5 to 7 hours of REM sleep and be consistent with your schedule
  7. Often overlooked in our society today:
    1. Build your emotional reserves
      1. Friendships
      2. Family Relations
      3. Marital Relationship
    2. Be kind to yourself
    3. Forgive Yourself
  8. Build on goals that are of interest to you
  9. Expect that there will be occasional ups and downs!
Need a lifestyle coach to get you back on track?  Call Healthy Life Institute at 801-893-1190.
Thomas, Clayton L., (ed) Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 18th ed. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company, 1997.