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Better understand the stress response, the causes of stress, and what you can do about it. Learn relaxation strategies, time management, mindfulness practice, and other life strategies.

Jennifer Sanford

on 9 March 2015

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Transcript of StressLess

What is Stress?
Stress occurs when you perceive that the demands of a situation exceed your personal and social resources
There are two types of stress, acute and chronic.
Acute Stress

occurs when the body goes into "fight or flight" mode (due to a perceived threat) and stress hormones, adrenaline [norepinephrine] and cortisol, are secreted by your pituitary gland into your body. This response is meant to be adaptive-- your focus, reaction time, pain tolerance, and strength are all improved. You go into survival mode. This is the response that any mammal has when it is physically threatened. During the acute stress response, glucose and oxygen (energy) are diverted away from other bodily functions (like digestion, growth, reproductive tasks) to accomplish this. Stress symptoms that you will notice during this response, include increased muscle tension, rapid/shallow breathing, sweaty palms, and dry mouth. Unfortunately, your prefrontal cortex (the "thinking" center of the brain) goes pretty much "off-line" during this acute stress response, so it is difficult to make well-reasoned decisions. The fight or flight response is very effective if you are being chased by a lion (you really don't need to "think" in this situation, you just need to "react"), but it is not the most effective method of dealing with the common psychosocial stressors of today (e.g., relationships, school, work, finances, etc.).
Chronic Stress

produces longer-term changes in our physiology and brain chemistry. The stress (fight/flight) response is only meant to last a few minutes. If it is set off repeatedly or is prolonged, eventually we will run into serious health problems. We get too much wear and tear on our bodies and energy is constantly being diverted away from the normal tasks of living (growth, repair...). Feeling overwhelmed and pressured for too long can cause depression, anxiety, heart disease, addiction problems, obesity, and other issues. In fact, stress is the number one cause of 80% of America's health problems.
Causes of Stress
A potential stressor is something, someone, or some situation that has the ability to threaten you or something that you value. There is no person, place, or situation that is inherently stressful to everyone in all circumstances
Something becomes a stressor only when you feel threatened by it and feel that you can't cope with it.

There are certain LIFE EVENTS (e.g., marriage, divorce, moving, death of a loved one, losing your job, etc.) that many of us think of as universally stressful, but it is all in how you think about the event that determines just how stressful that event might be for you.

Since stressors are relative and not universal, it is possible to alter your relationship to them and how you view them.
Stress Symptoms

aches and pains; diarrhea or constipation; nausea, dizziness; chest pain or rapid heartbeat; frequent colds or infections; loss of sex drive

having memory problems; difficulty concentrating; poor judgment; seeing only the negative; anxious or racing thoughts; constant worrying

moodiness, irritability or short temper; agitation or inability to relax; feeling overwhelmed; sense of isolation or loneliness; depression or feeling generally unhappy

sleeping too much or too little; eating more or less or gravitating toward "junk food" when this is not common for you; isolating yourself from others; procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities; using alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes to relax; engaging in nervous habits (like nail biting, pacing, picking at your skin)
What Can You Do?

Exercise Regularly (30 or more minutes of exercise at least 3 days a week).
Eat a Healthy Diet. Avoid processed foods. Start the day with some protein (e.g., eggs or a protein shake). Never skip breakfast. Eat lots of vegetables and fruit. Avoid late night meals. Reduce caffeine and sugar intake-- these contribute to a crash in mood and energy.
Avoid Alcohol, Cigarettes, and Drugs. These may help you to feel temporarily better, but they add to our body's stress load and also tend to create their own problems. We postpone dealing with the stressors in our lives, and problems often build and multiply.
Get Adequate Sleep. Sleep is the chance for our bodies to do reparative work and for our hormones to come into balance. Lack of enough sleep causes an increase in chronic stress (allostatic load), and contributes to weight gain. Generally, we need 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
Learn how to Relax. Take up yoga, meditation, deep breathing... When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and boost your feelings of joy. Lots of research supporting this!
Practice Good Time Management. Set goals, make plans, and avoid procrastination. For most of us, procrastinating ramps up our stress.
Time Management
Relaxation: Choose a relaxation practice and use it regularly
Here are a few you can try: Deep Breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Meditation, Guided Visualization. These don't just help you to feel better, they actually change your brain when used regularly. Try out one of the relaxation tools below!
The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Stress
Mindfulness & Stress
Managing Stress: Quick Tips Handout (zoom in)
Much of our stress comes from obsessing about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness practice involves paying attention on purpose to the present moment without judgment. Becoming practiced in mindfulness will reduce your stress.
Interested in learning more about mindfulness?
Check this article out (zoom in):
Symptoms of poor time management: forgetfulness, concentration problems, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, sleeplessness, irritability, headaches, worry, depression.
Here are some tips to better managing your time:
Strategies for Stress Management (zoom in):
1. Identify the Sources of Stress in your Life
This is not always easy! We often ignore the thoughts in our minds that are stressing us out and the behaviors that might feel good in the moment but that are contributing to stress (e.g., pizza, beer, late nights, etc.)
Look closely at your habits, attitude, & excuses
Do you tend to explain your stress as only temporary ("It's just that I have a million things to do now. It'll get better.") even though you can't remember the last time you relaxed?
Do you explain stress away as part of your personality (e.g., "I'm just Type A") or as an integral part of your role (at home or school...)?
Do you blame your stress on others?
Keep a daily log and jot down events, thoughts, and moods any time you start to feel stressed. Look for patterns and themes. Write down: what caused your stress; how you felt; how you behaved in response; what you did to try to feel better.
3. Key Things you can do to Better Deal with Stressful Situations
Change the Situation: Avoid or Alter the Situation
Change your Reaction: Adapt or Accept the Stressor
Learn new Skills to Better Manage the Situation
2. Look at how you currently Cope with Stress
Are your coping strategies healthy/helpful, unhealthy/unproductive?
In the long term, the following behaviors are
and serve to promote chronic stress: too much alcohol, smoking, overeating or eating unhealthy (high glucose) foods, sleeping too much, procrastinating, having angry outbursts, smoking pot, withdrawing from friends and activities, etc.
The following behaviors tend to be
: exercising, journal writing, getting good nutrition, talking to people and getting support, massage, listening to music, going for a walk, gardening, practicing good problem-solving skills, and working with your mind to have the right outlook
4. Engage in a Healthy Lifestyle

"The 5 minute vacation" (visualization)
Relaxation using Deep Breathing
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (10 minutes)
Full transcript