Stress and Stress Relief
Jeremy, a 45-year-old mechanical engineer, husband, and father of three young boys, was used to working 10-hour shifts, followed by errands after work and various extracurricular obligations involving his children. Mondays were basketball nights, Tuesdays were karate, Wednesdays – church night. Thursdays were bowling night with his buddies. He could forget time off on the weekends, thanks to yard work, paying bills, and any other chores that needed to be taken care of.
By Friday, he was exhausted. He usually collapsed in front of the television with a cold beer, rubbing his sore neck and massaging his pulsating head. He was all worked out, parented out, and he just wanted to be left alone. Sometimes he even took his need for some relaxation out on the kids by yelling at them for being too loud or not listening.
Jeremy’s relationship with his wife became strained as well. “You’re not there for me anymore,” she said.
“Well, you try to work 50 hours a week, take the kids to all their activities, and try to have energy for you,” he said. Jeremy took out some of his emotions on the people he loved the most. To make matters worse, there were rumors of layoffs at the office, his father was sick with cancer, and he was drinking more than just a couple beers a night in an effort to self-medicate.
Jeremy was stressed.
For many of us, the above scenario is all too familiar. Even with the best of intentions, work, family, and other obligations can take their toll over time and cause acute or chronic stress.
Stress is something we all deal with every day. Sometimes that stress is "good" stress, which motivates us to action and keeps us safe. And then there is bad stress – extreme, long-term, draining on the body and damaging to our emotional wellness.
Signs of stress show up in many areas. Though stress reactions vary by person to person, how you react and cope with the stress is important.
Physical reactions to stress include:
- nervous energy
- appetite changes
- neck or back pain
- light headedness
- high blood pressure
Emotional reactions to stress include:
Not only are there physiological and behavioral consequences of a too-stressed mind and body, but your productivity at work can suffer as well. Stress can affect productivity in several ways, including:
- inability to concentrate
- increased incidence of errors
- memory lapses
- increased absenteeism
- tendency to overwork
In response to those stressors, our bodies constantly seek to maintain a balance between our reactions to the challenges we face and our need to recuperate from those challenges. When we don’t give ourselves enough time to recuperate, stress symptoms can become chronic and wreak havoc on the mind and body. In fact, research shows a likely connection between stress and many common diseases, including heart disease and obesity.
Stressed out people are more likely to partake in risky behaviors like drinking, smoking and driving over the speed limit, thus increasing their chances of illness and injury.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize we’re truly stressed out. The signs of excessive stress often go unnoticed. We can talk ourselves out of recognizing or dealing with the pain we're experiencing.
But we need to take the time to recognize physical pain and find ways to cope and overcome it, as it is often an early indicator that things are out-of-balance in our lives. Upper body pain in the neck, shoulders, arms, and head typically indicate stress and anxiety. Slow down, breathe, and take some time to reflect on what is going on in your life and how you are reacting to it. Chest pains or fainting are signs of a potentially serious medical condition; see a physician immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Other tips to relieve acute and chronic stress are:
- Breathe deeply from the abdomen, and recognize when your breath shallows; this indicates inadequate oxygen intake and could increase feelings of stress and anxiety
- Exercise regularly; try yoga to learn extra relaxation techniques
- Do something you enjoy, like going to a movie, eating an ice cream cone, reading a book
- Listen to music
- Talk to a friend or loved one, or even talk to yourself to help process a stressful situation
- Maintain a healthful diet full of fruits and veggies
- Laugh often
Over time the signs and symptoms of traumatic stress usually lessen. If your stress reactions do not lessen or reactions interfere with your ability to carry on your life normally, counselors at The Village Family Service Center can help you find ways to deal with and lessen your stress level. Our counselors have training in EMDR and other trauma-focused therapy models, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Family-Based therapies that are effective in bringing balance back to your life.