In today’s world I have often heard the following two phrases. Maybe you have heard them too:
“I am stressed”. It is a phrase frequently repeated and apparently with pride.
“Stress is a killer” others say, with much emphasis on “killer”.
Are both groups right? Is there good stress and bad stress?
Here I will look at healthy stress versus unhealthy stress and allow you to decide. At the end I hope we will know if we can be stress free as part of a healthy lifestyle.
What is stress
There is no settled definition of stress. I’ll use this one as I find it just as meaningful as the others I came across. Stress is
“a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”.
Some schools of thought teach that there are two main types of stress: eustress – which can be termed good stress – and distress which is also called bad stress.
Others say there is acute stress (eustress), episodic acute stress and chronic stress (distress).
Acute stress is good as it helps you cope with a demanding experience – the death of a loved one – in a manner that is acceptable and or controlled.
If you are experiencing episodic stress it means that you have not adequately handled the situation and it keeps reoccurring. Unless a way is devised to cope with and better yet, remove the stressor, it may develop into chronic stress.
Chronic stress can be a progression from episodic stress or one can go from acute stress straight to chronic stress. It all depends on how the stressor is dealt with.
Chronic stress is stress that appears to ongoing – someone is unwilling to accept the death of a loved one or the ending of a relationship.
A stressor is that stimulus which brings on the stress.
Can healthy stress work for you?
Your training from childhood, the principles you were raised to respect and live by and more importantly how you personally think and respond to your stressors will determine what stress is healthy and which unhealthy for you.
So consider this; you are late for an appointment. You are barely keeping within the speed limit and from your estimation you would arrive at the meeting with about 15 minutes to spare. Then there is a whooshing sound followed a flap, flap lap of your rare type. Immediately you know that you have a flat.
You pull over safely to the shoulder and before the sound of the engine has faded you are already unbolting the spare from the trunk. You quickly loosen the knots, jack the car, remove the flat tyre and replace it with the spare. Knots tightened and secured, you let down the car, throw in the flat and jack and you’re on your way again.
You arrive at the meeting with 5 minutes to spare. That is eustress in action.
The adrenalin rush that was necessary to help you complete the task that would usually take you 15 minutes, allowed you to complete it in 10. The chemical secretion was adequate for the job at hand. By the time it wore out in the body, you had done what was needed.
Results of unhealthy stress
Using the same example we can look at distress and what it does to the body.
So you hear the same sound of escaping air and flap, flap, flap of the tyre. Your heart rate increases immediately because you know what it means. You conclude that you will now be unable to get to the meeting on time.
Without looking into the rare view mirror, you change lanes to get to the shoulder. Brakes screech and another vehicle flashes by leaving the sound of expletive in you ear. You make it to the shoulder.
Your heart is pounding now as a result of the near miss. You take your hands off the steering and they are trembling. You feel a headache coming on. Now you are certain that you will miss that all important meeting.
You are finally calm enough to get out of the car and attempt to change the flat. Your hands are no longer shaking but they are sweaty and you feel weak. You are finding it difficult to loosen the knots on the wheel. Though only 5 minutes have elapsed since getting the flat, it feels like half an hour.
Finally, you have the flat off and as soon as you put on the spare the jack slips. You are barely able to get your fingers out of the way. It’s now 5 minutes past your appointment time. You get back into the car and head for the nearest exit. It had never occurred to you that you should call anyone at the meeting.
By the time you get back home you are irritable, snappy and have no desire to speak to anyone.
While all this is happening, chemical changes are taking place in your body. These changes affect your organs and various systems. You are unaware of the changes at first but as you continue to encounter stressors, the negative effects pile up.
Then one day you don’t feel well and you visit your doctor. He identifies your illness as depression and places you on a course of treatment. Some days you are good, some days, not so good.
Episodic acute and chronic stress can lead to heart attacks, diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, abdominal pain, back pain, panic disorder and migraine.
It is believed that it also contributes to cancer. This is not an exhausted list.
Living stress free
Stressors will come into our life. It’s a part of our existence. How we respond to those stressors will ultimately determine if we become stressed or surmount the problem and move on.
I have come to understand that your spiritual upbringing and how you interpret it, plays a great part in how you respond to stress. If you believe that God is in control in your life and nothing happens without His permission, then you will not approach any event negatively.
So to when you accept that it is never His will to do you harm but instead to work everything for your good. So you do your best in any situation and leave the rest up to Him, always seeking His guidance to know what is the best thing to do.
In addition to that, here are four more things you can do in response to a stressor:
1. Take deep breaths to calm yourself. Exhale slowly.
2. While doing the breathing exercise, consider your situation. What is the stressor? Have you ever encountered it? How did you handle it then? Were the results what you wanted? What do you need to change to suit this situation?
3. Remember that you and God are together in this, that you have had His help before. Whisper a quick prayer for help.
4. Examine solutions that come to you to deal with the stressor. Choose the best one and act upon it.
If you are an unbeliever then you will have to do these on your own. The results will not be as positive as that of the believer who has the help of the Creator.
Stress, what stress?
Stressors are a part of everyone’s life. Sudden demands are placed on each individual and he had to determine how to respond.
The response determines whether the stress will be seen as good or bad, eustress or distress.
When we experience acute, episodic acute or chronic stress we need to regulate our approach to managing it. Correctly handled acute stress will not progress to any of the two unhealt
hy stresses, episodic acute or chronic stress. If not rightly coped with these two bad stresses can result in physical and psychological damage to our bodies.
Fortunately there are ways we can deal with stress that will see us live what can be considered a stress free life. A life of complete trust in God is the best way to ensure this.
Hans Selye comments:“it is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it”.