Minimizing the Stress Response: Awareness

The holiday season is approaching; although holidays provide a welcome break in our lives, they can also be a source of unmanaged stress. Understanding how stress affects us, and what to do to prevent it from overwhelming us, can help to make the holidays into a joyful time.
Stress is a complex reaction that affects our mind and body. Generally, our mind and body work together to our benefit, but when stressed the mind/body connection may become detrimental to our health. When we perceive ourselves as “being stressed” our mind swings into action. When our brain recognizes stress there are four responses that occur: thoughts, behaviours, emotions, and physiological responses can change and become difficult to control. So as you can see, stress is not simple it can cause complex reactions within our mind and body. It is important to recognize that stress and how we deal with it is within our control thus we can change how we cope with it.
Often coping with stress is defined by how we view the situation. If we believe that the demands of the situation are more than what we can cope with; we will be STRESSED. We sometimes believe it is the situation that causes stress, when in reality; it is how we view the situation and not the specific situation. It is important to understand that people react differently to stress and that there are many factors impacting how we respond to stress.

One of the factors that can help diminish the negative effects of stress is the ability to honestly assess how you are managing. Awareness of how you are reacting to potentially stressful situations is important; so starting to self-monitor how you are reacting can help you to minimize the effect stress has on you. Some questions you might ask yourself:

  1. Are my thoughts consuming my focus? Am I constantly thinking about something and I can’t seem to stop these thoughts from occurring they are affecting my sleep, my concentration and my mood? Am I losing the ability to look at what is happening in my life objectively?
  2. Is my behaviour changing? Am I starting to avoid certain situations, or not spending time with friends or family, avoiding work, or not performing my job as well as I used to, am I drinking, eating or taking more medication than I should?
  3. Are my emotional reactions changing? For example; am I becoming oversensitive feeling insecure, doubting or overanalysing my decisions, feeling down or depressed, being quick to criticize, or get angry, feeling that my situation is hopeless or “boxed in”?
  4. What is my body doing? Have I noticed any physical symptoms such as: feeling faint, hot and/or sweaty, heart rate increasing, breathing becoming shallower, muscle tension increasing, and my blood pressure rising when I am stressed? Am I getting sick more often that I used to?

These four questions can help you to gauge if stress is becoming a problem. Take control of each and every situation by understanding how you view and react to stressors in your life. The key to coping is engaging in positive self-care. For example, take time for yourself, have a support symptom of friends and family you can talk to, monitor your stress level and assess if the four stress responses affecting you. If they are, take action to decrease these responses.
Remember that often your perception of a situation not the actual situation is what escalates the stress response. So enjoy the holiday season, pace yourself, be aware of how you are reacting, relax and take the time to enjoy the season!
Look for Coping and Changing My Stress Response in our next newsletter. Have a fantastic holiday season! Donna Piercy Registered Psychologist
Donna works from the following OWC locations – Macleod and Marlborough

A poem to help you relax…

Breathe Deep
Let go, Relax, Unwind, Retreat. Recognize your body, head to feet.
A constantly working object You need to take time out.
Your body does so much for you Shouldn’t you help it out?
It is surprisingly easy to rediscover, Something we already know
That through our intricate systems It is blood that has to flow.
Circulation is so beautiful How it helps, hot it heals
Where it goes, and how it feels.
Then be reminded, of what soothing sense of tough Delivered with Compassion,
That you deserve so much. Awaken all the muscles
Be grateful for what you can do And remember no one can
Take time for yourself, except for you.
Then, with renewed energy
You can face the outside world you keep But inside now you have taken a moment To really feel and just
Breathe Deep.

Written by Rita Acharyya
Registered Massage Therapist at our Macleod Trail location