Who Me, Stressed?

by Timothy A. Heck, PhD

It has been some time since I last blogged. Isn’t is incredible how busy our lives can become? It is not that I don’t want to do some writing. It is not that I don’t have anything to say, not that it is all that profound. It is just that life is far too demanding for me right now. Holmes and Rahe (1970) showed us back in the 70s, just how stress works on our lives. They defined
stress as a response to a demand placed upon us. Those demands they termed as stressors. Their findings were rather surprising, at that. Let’s explore some of those and see if any apply to our lives.

First, they discovered that not all stressors have the same effect on us. Hence, they developed a stress weighting scale, which is readily available through almost any online search, being that it is now public domain. For instance, celebrating Christmas is not as stressful as losing a friend, but both do have some level of effect on us.

Second, stress is accumulative over time, which is why we generally evaluate a 12-month period for capturing the amount of stressors in our lives to measure its effect. That means that the effects of stress you are experiencing today are actually from what has been demanded of you over the last twelve months. So, don’t just look at the “now,” but look at the “yesterdays” of the past year.

Third, our bodies have a natural way of adapting to increased stressors, particularly through hormonal and cardiovascular changes. Take, for example, the last time you were startled by some noise behind your back you were not expecting. Your heart jumped a beat, started beating faster; your muscles became primed with energy, your nervous system went into Diffuse Physiological Arousal (DPA), and you were ready to fight or run from the immediate danger-stressor. That’s all fine and good if there’s a thief about to attack you, but what if it’s about the multiple demands of work, family and commitments trying to “attack” you? And what if those “attacks” carry on for hours, days, weeks and even months? Now your body is running at a proverbial 7 or 8 on the 10-point scale and this DPA condition can lead to a host of physical problems, including even heart disease over time.

Fourth, the accumulation of stress over time, without adequate recovery periods, will manifest itself primarily in our physical health. That is why your Physician will almost invariably inquire about your lifestyle when you have high blood pressure, headaches, stomach problems or even the more serious variety of illnesses. It is not that stress is the etiological basis for the illness, but it will almost always exacerbate whatever condition is being experienced.

Now, let’s talk about some steps to take to reduce negative stress effects in our lives.

  1. Everyone needs some stressors to keep us moving and motivated, but take the Stress Test to see just where you are. It’s simple and worth the few minutes it will take, although some of you won’t have the time, given all the stressors in your life right now.
  2. Take time to rest regularly. Vacations are great and we all need them, but learn to take daily, weekly, and monthly “mini-vacations.” There is a reason that God “rested” on the seventh day. In his case, it was not that he was tired, but perhaps setting the stage for a practice all of us would need. The Hebrew term for “rest” is to cease. That is to say, just stop for a time, perhaps even a 24-hour period, from all the work and let your mind and body recover.
  3. Exercise regularly, preferably three times a week, including a 15-20 minute aerobic workout that accelerates your heart-rate by at least 15%. This great reduces the DPA effect and “stirs” the blood throughout our system.
  4. Learn to say, “No”, and put some much needed margins into your life. Margins are those time spaces that you will need for the unexpected demands life will inevitably put on your life.

Well, much more could be said about stress, but I don’t have time right now…too many things to do.

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