In some situations, stress can make people more alert, more energized and feel more alive. But in other circumstances, stress is, well, stressful, and doesn’t seem to have any positive values or usefulness at all.
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care is also familiar with this classic dilemma and enjoys discussing stress with our patients, including different levels, what can trigger stress, how to manage it, and ways to lower it when the levels get too high and everything feels too crazy.
Dealing with stress is certainly a challenge since this world is full of all sorts of physical, mental and emotional situations that certainly can be called stressful.
Whatever your age or situation in life, there’s usually some sort of stress. You can be working. You can be staying at home. You could be older and receiving traditional care, palliative care or hospice care.
Or you could be fine, relatively speaking, but someone close to you could be going through their own health or financial stresses, so some of this likely will affect you anyway.
The key is to figure out the sources of particular stresses, and then find ways to combat them.
Good stress vs. bad stress
According to Psychology Today, some stress actually can do some great things for you. Stress is compared to a vaccine, where a small amount is tolerable and manageable, but too much too long can be damaging to the brain and the body.
A relatively small amount of stress can actually help toughen someone mentally and make them less susceptible to other stresses. We learn how to deal with stressful situations, whether it’s avoiding them altogether or taking control.
Being able to be active in your stress management efforts can even provide a boost to career and life satisfaction. Mental health is able to cope, physical health is satisfied, and people even seem excited to see the next stress manifest itself and figure out how to engage or avoid.
Essentially, the old joke about ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’ may have a ring of truth to it after all!
While the idea of better stress awareness sounds good in theory, sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin to find relief. It’s not always easy to be aware or feel alert when you’re right in the middle of a stressful situation or something that doesn’t seem to be going away.
It’s actually chronic stress that’s believed to be the most damaging.
Chronic stress generally means there’s some kind of situation that won’t end, where someone is always alert and ready to respond. This is the feeling that many members of the military use to describe the constant alertness required.
The body responds to stress in several ways – stress can cause the body to produce hormones to be prepared. But too much of this stress hormone over a long period of time can either damage the body, or the body will get used to that level of stress and larger amounts are required to reach the same level of alertness in the future.
Research shows that chronic, prolonged stress can cause inflammation, heart disease, and body pain. People who have ongoing levels of stress also may have weaker health overall.
The Federal Occupational Health says stress can affect people all the way to the cellular level and can cause everything from depression to stomach pain.
There are plenty of places to start in an effort to avoid or at least reduce stress:
- Center your mind and body. Even though this may sound a little cosmic, look for activities that involve the mental and physical parts of you working together. This could be yoga, meditation or tai chi. Both involve slow, low-impact motions that leave you feeling good. These are activities that everyone can do as well.
- Spend time with good people. This can be family, friends or other loved ones. Just people you trust and enjoy being around. Bonus points if laughter is involved.
- Take time to drink. OK, any beverage will do if it allows you to pause and wait, but tea is naturally stimulating without too much caffeine, alcohol or artificial ingredients.
- Reflect and recall. During periods of great stress, it’s easy to dwell first on the negative and focusing on ‘what’s currently on fire,’ metaphorically speaking. But taking the time to think of good things in your life can help your overall perspective.
- Figuring out what’s critical, what items are important later, and what items really aren’t important at all can help you professionally as well as personally. This ability can help you transform an overpowering to-do list into manageable chunks that aren’t as intimidating.
Overall, while there are some ways that stress can be useful, for the most part, it can be minimized or reduced.