In addition to eating right and exercising stress management is a key factor to personal health and balance. Shortly after returning from the Middle East I took a class in Stress Management, fortuitous timing? Maybe, but stress management and ultimately resilience is something that everyone can use. After all there is no stress free life, but the ability to manage and release tension is a skill that should be honed. Even more than the ability to be able to handle stress is one’s resiliency abilities.
Resiliency is defined as “the ability to overcome challenges of all kinds–trauma, tragedy, personal crises, plain ‘ole’ life problems–and bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful” by Nan Henderson M.S.W, President of Resiliency in Action.
Finding true balance in your life comes not from just the number on the scale or a belly that is full, but from being happy with yourself, facing stress and learning how to either get rid of it or learn from it is just one piece of that. I can say from experience that sometimes stress can manifest itself in physical ways. For example have you ever felt nausea when you make an expensive mistake, say an automobile accident or seeing a tree on your roof after a storm? What about physical pain, say a headache, after a particularly hard exam? Stress management is not only important to one’s physical health as well as mental health, from a holistic point of view.
In a nutshell the class was 9 weeks long and here is the breakdown:
Unit 1- the nature of stress Defining stress, General adaptation syndrome, and Differences between the sexes and stress response
Stress- noun \ˈstres\ : a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc. : something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety : physical force or pressure
General adaptation syndrome is a person’s short- and long-term reaction to stress.
Differences between the sexes and stress response, yeah that’s real. Psychcentral.com relates the differences to traditional gender roles, upbringing, and the differences in hormonal chemistry.
Unit 2 the body as a battlefield Importance of improvement of memory, Physiological effects on memory due to prolonged stress, Damage excess stress causes on the Hippocampus.
Importance of improvement of memory, has been linked to the prevention of the memory loss at advanced age, one can find “memory improving” tools all over the internet and one of my personal favorites is the free (heck yes I said free) Brain Workshop download. Actual studies if these tools are useful is varied, but the games are fun and sugar free!
Physiological effects on memory due to prolonged stress go beyond the obvious. (Read pulling an all-nighter to get a big project done, or inability to sleep from worry.) Poor decision making skills, slower reaction times, and other things that are similar to alcohol intoxication symptoms. Studies by the NIH have shown that stress releases cortisol (yes the same hormone that diet pill advertisements say make your spare tire not so spare), which is related to memory loss. Www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17544378
Damage excess stress causes on the Hippocampus is premature aging of the brain- and in layman’s terms that can (but not always) mean that diseases normally associated with the elderly can happen at a younger age. (I am pretty sure I am losing my mind already, now there is some proof that in a wildly leaping way that I’m right.)
Unit 3 feast or Famine Building blocks of psychological stressors, The subtleties of predictability, The subtleties of control.
The building blocks are frustration, outlets, social support, control, predictability, and the perception of things getting worse (and this one is most frightening- after all once we have a handle on “bad” things are easier to control, it is the unknown that is truly scary). Having a good outlet; exercise, music, art, a pet can reduce stress levels.
The subtleties of predictability- Remembering the subtleties of predictability when faced with certain “future” stressors can be beneficial. One of the most “dangerous” employers in the US (armed forces- because let’s be honest, by definition these men and women put themselves in danger so that no one else has to) trains using high stress scenarios in order to lessen the stress of an actual battlefield environment. Rock drills, trips to the gas chamber, vehicle roll over simulations, war games are some of the tools the military uses in order to better prepare for an actual situations a service member might encounter.
UNIT 4 ONE PLANET UNDER STRESS Stress prone personalities, Stress resistant personalities, Self-esteem and its effect on stress
There are two types of stress personalities, those who do well with stress using it to their advantage and to succeed or those who have a hard time coping with stress seeing it as a negative influence on their lives causing illness or repeated failure.
Stress-personality type surveys can be found all over the web, but the following site has several in one place. (There are also tools and references listed here that can be pretty helpful too.)
This next website has some great coping skills and management techniques (although you need to scroll halfway down the screen).
UNIT 5 UNDER STRESS: WHAT NOW? Successful aging, Vulnerability to learned helplessness, Principles of coping with psychological stress
Successful aging while a relative term (some people feel that they need to look 25 at 60, while others just don’t want to wear a diaper) can be achieved to your personal best through maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, balanced diet, as well as avoiding tobacco (not just smoking but all tobacco-this is big soapbox in my house) and alcohol.
Vulnerability to learned helplessness- Repeated feelings of loss of control of external issues. Sometimes people seem to be living under a cloud that causes similar stressors to be recurrent causing them to feel helpless and stressed. (Using the repetition to your advantage is a pretty good way to break that stress cycle.)
UNIT 6 AGELESS WISDOM OF MEDITATION Breathing for relaxation, Meditation, Mental imagery and visualization techniques
Yes, these are all good ideas. Finding a technique that fits you and your lifestyle can be a huge benefit. Breathing can be a very quick way to calm yourself down, I always think of the movie Anger Management where everyone is in the park saying ‘goosfraba’. Meditation can be as simple as clearing your mind or using a guided meditation tape. Mental imagery and visualization are simply playing a situation out in your mind in order to better see the desired outcome, this is something that professional athletes have been using for years- ever hear the phrase “be the ball”. Or to name drop another movie from the very beginning of Cars where Lightning has his eyes closed and seeing himself winning the Piston Cup.
UNIT 7 SIGHT, SOUND, AND BODY WORK Stress and eating habits, Stress response triggering foods, Four domino factors of stress
Stress can affect eating habits, some folks will binge during periods of high stress and other people will be unable to eat almost anything due to manifestations of stress into an upset tummy. (Some people can go either way depending on the situation. But both can cause long term medical issues if not put under control.) There are some foods or food components that can trigger stress and some that can actually help prevent/ control it (no I do not mean a half carton of chocolate ice cream or a tube of cookie dough). Prevention Magazine’s website has a list of 13 good stress foods and Livestrong offers a list of things to avoid. Just a hint caffeine, sugar, and alcohol top the list. Of course my pot of coffee a day habit may have to go….
UNIT 8 THE WELLNESS MANDALA Flushing stress hormones, Exercise and stress reduction, The mind-body connection
Letting go – flushing stress hormones is essential, just like the buildup of toxins in a basin, the buildup of stress hormones can have negative effects on your heart and other internal organs. (High blood pressure, hellloo?) Exercise, exercise people keep moving! Dancing or kickboxing are some ways I really like to exercise when I am stressed- I mean when I am really mad, punching and kicking a heavy bag feels gooooddd.
Mind-body connection. Connection being the key word here. Stress happens in the mind but manifests in the body, connection. Me punching an 80lb bag is completely body, but makes my brain quiet- connection.
Balance- our body even on a cellular level wants to be balanced (homeostasis) so it is natural that we on an organism level need balance too.
UNIT 9 APPLYI NG STRE SS: CRITICAL MANAGEM ENT AND PREVENTION TO YOUR PROFESSIONAL LI FE Information seeking and stress, Hobbies and stress reduction, Forgiveness as a coping skill
Information seeking and stress, there are those who benefit from more information and those who get overwhelmed by details and overload.
Hobbies and stress reduction- get one, they help. I prefer a hobby that moves my body, but any hobby that gives you an outlet and that you enjoy- writing, painting, baking (unless you plan to eat all of it) is an awesome hobby. (Just on the personal note shopping may not be the best hobby because when people stress shop they have a tendency to make more impulse purchases which can lead to compulsive shopping and financial woes thus more stress.
Forgiveness- this is a great stress reliever, forgiving someone and moving on can actually impact your stress levels long term. Below is a link to a really great article about forgiveness and stress that touches on some of the points of why forgiveness is really difficult.
Sapolsky, Robert. (2004). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed guide to Stress, Stress- Related Diseases, and Coping- 3rd Edition. New York, NY. St. Martin’s Griffin Press. Seaward, B. L. (2009). Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being 6th Edition. Boston,