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For every worry under the sun there is a remedy or there is none; if there is a remedy hurry and find it. If there is none never mind it. --LeGrand Richards
Learning About Stress
How would it be to live in a world without stress? For many of us, the initial response would be "Wonderful!" But let's stop and think about it for a minute. What would happen if we had no stress in our lives? Our muscles work only because they encounter the stress or resistance placed on them by gravity or by lifting. Without that stress, they would atrophy. Stress--or effort--is involved in all forms of growth, progression, and learning, It is a necessary part of our mortal existence.
Definition of Stress
Stress is the body's physical and emotional response to a challenging situation. The challenging situation doesn't have to be aversive or negative; even positive situations can be stressful. Consider, for example, the stress that can be related to happy occasions such as preparing for a wedding.
The body's stress response, also known as the "fight-or-flight" response, is designed to prepare us to deal with physical danger. When we encounter a challenging situation, our bodies send a flood of chemicals into the bloodstream to help us deal with the situation. Our bodies respond to this flood of chemicals with more focused concentration, speeded reaction time, increased strength and agility, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Click to read Jason's experience of the stress response.
See how the stress response changes the body's physiology.
The stress response occurs with good or bad stress, real or imagined stress. Because today's stressors are more often psychological and not life threatening, we don't often actually fight or run from our stressors. As a result, there is often no physical release of the energy and tension related to the fight-or-flight response, and stress chemicals continue to circulate in the bloodstream. Eventually, these chemicals can weaken the immune response, making us more vulnerable to illness and stress-related disease, such as heart problems.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Stress
Chronic stress, or stress which continues over a long time, can have damaging effects on the body, ranging from heart disease to impaired brain processes. Long-term stress can impair the immune system and often results in fatigue, depression, anxiety, anger, or irritability
Although we more often hear about the negative effects of stress on our health, some stress can actually be a positive thing. Short-lived, acute stress actually boosts the immune system. Because stressful situations are mentally stimulating, they prevent boredom. Short-term stress also helps to prevent damage to cells.
Dr. Hans Selye, an internationally renowned scientist who originally identified the stress response and its effects, said,
Our aim shouldn't be to completely avoid stress, which at any rate would be impossible, but to learn to recognize our typical response to stress and then try to modulate our lives in accordance with it.
Stress doesn't have to be a bad thing. For example, researchers have found that a moderate level of stress is required for us to perform at our best level. This graph depicts the relationship between stress and performance.
The effect that stress has on us depends upon our physical and emotional resources to deal with it. When we have adequate resources with which to approach stress, we are able to increase our emotional strength, become resistant to the negative effects of stress, and come to see stressors as opportunities for growth. When our resources for dealing with stress are inadequate, the resulting overload causes physical and emotional tension, weakness, and vulnerability. We view stressors as threats to our physical and emotional safety. When we feel helpless to deal with our stressors, we become vulnerable to anxiety and depression
Click to read Aubrey's experience with the pros and cons of stress.
Stress and Cardiovascular Disease
High levels of stress have been linked to cardiovascular disease. The component of stress that increases vulnerability for cardiovascular disease is chronic hostility and anger. To learn whether hostility is a problem for you, test yourself with the Hostility Checklist. If you answer "yes" to even one of these questions, your vulnerability for cardiovascular disease is increased.
Ways To Reduce Stress
When trying to reduce your stress level, there are three general approaches from which to choose:
- Change the stressful situation.
- Change our perception of the stressful situation.
- Change our capacity to deal with the stressful situation.
1. Change the Stressful Situation
Sometimes it is possible to change the stressful situation. There are several approaches that may be helpful.
- Look closely at the situation to determine whether any or all of it can be changed, as well as whether you have control over changing it.
- Seek information. Sometimes just knowing more about a situation makes it more manageable and helps us to know how we might be able to change it.
- Break the task into manageable parts. It's easy to become overwhelmed by a large task when we feel like we have to do it all at once. By "eating the elephant a forkful at a time," we are able to have small successes that move us toward accomplishing the larger task.
- Learn to establish priorities and develop time management skills. Consider a couple of examples. Is it more important to you to spend your time during the Christmas season putting up decorations, sending cards, baking, etc., or would you prefer to spend relaxed time with your loved ones? Is it more important to you to have a lot of belongings that require a lot of time for upkeep, or to spend your time in other ways?
- Explore the alternatives. Be creative, and don't limit yourself to the obvious alternatives.
- Use energy to drive action. Worry and anger generate a lot of energy, but you can use that energy more effectively by going to work on a possible solution to your problem.
2. Change Your Perception of the Stressful Situation
We make ourselves vulnerable to stress when we decided that:
- An event is dangerous, difficult, or painful; and
- We don't have the resources to cope.
The following ideas for changing your perception of the stressful situation can help you to increase your emotional resources for coping with stressful situations.
Change the way you think about the stressful situation
You might begin to see the situation as:
- Growth promoting. "Thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain" (2 Nephi 2:2).
- A challenge. "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10).
- A natural part of life. "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11).
- Fun, humorous. "I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?" (Tevye, speaking to God, in Fiddler on the Roof).
- Learning experience. "Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (D&C 122:7).
Accept what you cannot change
Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we are unable to change a situation. Or we may continue to try to change it, without success. At those times, the Serenity Prayer can be a source of peace:
God grant me the
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
Sometimes we may resist accepting the things that we cannot change because we believe that acceptance is the same as approval. In reality, accepting that we cannot change a situation is nothing more than letting go of requiring ourselves to change something over which we have no control.
Calm your anger
Let's face it. Anger is stressful. One helpful strategy for calming your anger is to change the way you think about the situation. Click to view a presentation on How to Calm Your Anger.
Our stress level increases when we demand perfection of ourselves and insist that we reach unachievable standards. Perhaps we require perfection of ourselves in just one or two areas, such as in our academic performance or our social interactions; or maybe we agonize over any sign of personal imperfection or weakness. Either way, perfectionism creates additional stress in our lives.
Use Calming Self-Talk
The way we talk to ourselves has a lot to do with our emotional response to a situation. If our self-talk is full of worry and self-criticism, our stress level will increase. Calming self-talk can lower our stress level and help us to handle the situation more effectively. Click to read examples of calming self-talk.
Challenge Faulty Thinking
Depending upon how we think about a challenging situation, we can either increase or decrease the level of stress that we feel. Click here for some examples of faulty or distorted thinking and how to challenge it.
Other Coping Strategies
Click for some additional perspectives on coping successfully
3. Change Your Capacity to Deal with the Stressful Situation
Most of us will be able to change our capacity to deal with stressful situations by improving our skills and increasing the efficiency of our bodies.
A common contributor to stress is the unwise use of time. The following articles are packed full of ideas for using out time more effectively.
A growing body of research shows how bottling up our feelings contributes to physical illness and greater levels of stress. Click for more information about expressing feelings.
Assertiveness is expressing one's feelings to another person in a manner that is respectful of both oneself and the other person. Click here for help with becoming more assertive.
Increase Body Efficiency
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet contributes to the strength and energy of our bodies. When our bodies function more effectively, our capacity to deal with stress is increased. Click for more information about eating a healthy diet.
Getting an adequate amount of quality sleep is essential in dealing with stress. When we are deprived of sleep, it is difficult for us to effectively cope with challenges in our lives. Click for information about sleep problems and suggestions for improving sleep.
Exercise increases our strength and stamina, but that's not its only benefit. Exercise is also a great stress reliever. Click for information about how exercise increases our capacity to deal with stress.
Relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation are useful ways of increasing the calmness and peace in our lives. What most people don't know about relaxation is that it triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural chemicals that create a sense of wellbeing. The following are resources for learning relaxation:
Scripts for relaxation exercises.
Relaxation recordings from BYU: https://caps.byu.edu/relaxation-recordings
Breath-Sync -- music tracks to pace breathing, including a video to teach diaphragmatic breathing: http://www.breath-sync.com/
EZ-Air breath pacer, downloadable free for 30 days:http://bfe.org/breathpacer01a.html
A Final Word
As you work to handle stress more effectively, remember that change comes about a little at a time. As you read through this section, you may have found one or two areas that particularly stood out for you. You may want to choose something to work on within those one or two areas and practice them for a while. Then, when those habits seem to be more firmly in place, you can try adding in something else. Gradually you will find yourself handling stress more effectively. If, after you have applied these ideas, you continue to have difficulties, you may benefit from talking to a counselor.