Where Do You Measure on Your “Stress Meter”?
Autumn brings the lull before the storm as we approach the end of the year and all the festivities of the upcoming holidays. I thought it would be a good reminder to promote physical and emotional health because, as much as we all enjoy holiday time with our loved ones, this time of year can be stressful as more responsibilities are added to our already busy schedules.
Recognizing signs of stress in ourselves and the people around us is the first step in developing individualized strategies to cope and prevent the effects of physical and emotional stress-related illnesses.
We are all familiar with the word “stress” but for a moment let’s consider that the word “stress” actually means “anxiety”. The word “anxiety” is an emotion. As we experience anxiety, the body responds by releasing the hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline is known as the “stress” hormone and it affects every body system. In small doses, it can energize and motivate an individual by giving an extra supply of strength and higher mental acuity. If adrenaline levels continue to rise, it depletes the body’s reserves leading to physical illness and mental exhaustion.
Consider that anxiety escalates in stages. In the early stages, mild anxiety is useful to accomplish important tasks. Taking measures to reverse stress when it is identified can reverse the accumulation of adrenaline that can be toxic. Consider the stages of anxiety below.
Mild Anxiety (coping)
Good anxiety that is triggered by an outside stimulus, causing a release of adrenaline that gives high mental acuity for learning and peak physical performance that builds strength. Normal anxiety.
Adrenaline increases and causes physical symptoms like muscle tension, nausea, and heart palpitations. This is reversible if the symptoms are recognized. A person can take deep breaths or listen to soft music to calm the symptoms. Reversal goes back to mild (normal) anxiety.
Unrelieved, the symptoms increase. Full force adrenaline starts to escalate with a snowball effect that can cause irrational or clouded thinking and judgement. This can lead to erratic behavior. If the escalation continues to increase without interventions, it can lead to the panic stage.
Otherwise known as a panic attack, feelings close in and escalate causing the body and the mind to seek relief at all cost. Fight or flight behaviors are present as the person tries to escape the pressure of the anxiety and its physical symptoms.
Remember that anxiety or stress is a natural, normal emotion. Knowing where we are on the “stress meter” is the first step in recognizing and identifying the root cause. For many of us, our responsibilities simply outweigh the time there is in a day to accomplish all tasks. This can be especially difficult for families who are caring for an aging parent and have careers or children of their own to tend to. For these families, the holidays can add that “one last thing” that puts coping out of balance. Respite services are helpful to pick up some of that pressure, allowing the holidays to be enjoyed rather than endured. Other resources such as housekeeping or bookkeeping services can also be helpful to balance responsibilities, even if it is temporary. Remember, none of us is immune to the effects of anxiety. Finding healthy stress management techniques which are tailored to work for you is imperative to facilitating healthy relationships while maintaining physical and emotional health.