Stress. There are few words that we leverage to describe so many unpleasant and different states of being, feeling and thinking. Much like most emotions, however, often when we try and suppress it or dwell in it, stress can become bigger and more impactful in our lives, something few of us want. Let’s explore some ways to help lessen the impact that stress has in our family’s life…..
Let’s start by looking at the impact that stress can have on our well being. It can be easy to define stress as something trivial; however, it has been linked to both physical and emotional health problems when left unaddressed or untreated. While our bodies have incredible evolutionary abilities to manage small periods of stress that are caused by the environment (think about the importance of healthy stress when presented with a dangerous situation that necessitates immediate action), people are actually incredibly inadequate managers of long-term stress because our bodies were not designed to negotiate it for extended period of time. When unhealthy, long-term stress continues to impact our bodies and minds, it has a great capacity to evolve into ongoing anxiety, a disorder that has been linked to not just mental health difficulties, but physical ones as well. And….there are ways to both minimize and mitigate chronic levels of stress to avoid health issues.
Let’s start by reframing stress as something that is both good and necessary. Gentle levels of stress prepare us to motivate for healthy action. We get up in the morning, tackle important tasks, avoid perpetual procrastination and leave situations that may be harmful because stress provides the power to act and achieve. However, as every human knows, stress can also be unpleasant and less helpful for both our bodies and minds. In terms of overwhelming or unpleasant stress, it typically falls within the following three categories:
- We have too many things to accomplish and lack the internal or external capacity to adequately address those items
- We are unaware of what we need to do to resolve the stress or do not have the resources to do so
- We experience unpleasant emotions for a long period of time without creating opportunities to experience positive emotions (joy and love in particular)
Let’s look at these one by one:
We have too many things to accomplish and lack the internal or external capacity to adequately address those items
This may be the most conventional iteration of stress. “I have too much to do.” “I don’t have enough time.” “I’m only one person.” Some people tend to experience higher levels of angst, anger or irritation while others may retreat into procrastination or avoidance, both of which can feel awful and have interpersonal and intrapersonal consequences. The second part of this level of stress, lacking the capacity to address and manage stressful situations, is often a residual consequence where people’s resources have become depleted where it can become difficult to manage even low levels of stress that may typically be managed very effectively without chronic feelings of being overwhelmed.
We are unaware of what we need to do to resolve the stress or do not have the resources to do so
This type of stress can be incredibly frustrating because it involves processes that elicit additional frustration. When a problem is unsolvable, it often requires us to find acceptance for a reality that may be, at the present time, unchangeable. We can often arrive at this outcome after butting up against the stress and making aggravating attempts to solve an unsolvable problem. If and when we do find acceptance, we may have to continue practicing acceptance over and over again. This type of stress can pack the one-two punch of the initial frustration followed by grief because, even when finding acceptance is achieved, it typically comes with loss (loss of control, loss of a reality that we wish were true, loss of getting our way or loss of wanting someone else to do something that they may not want or have the capacity to achieve).
We experience unpleasant emotions for a long period of time without creating opportunities to experience positive emotions (joy and love in particular)
This type of stress may have the largest impact on emotional health, which can directly impact physical health. When chronic stress is unrelenting or poorly managed, it can be associated with elevated levels of mood difficulties, primarily depression and anxiety. And while depression and anxiety are often thought of as ‘lighter’ diagnoses, let’s consider the impact that anxiety can have on a person. Anxiety is linked to a tremendous amount of physical disease, but the impact that anxiety has on physical difficulties (including high blood pressure, arthritis, stroke, heart disease and pain) has a statistical correlation that is stronger than both obesity and smoking.
While personal costs of stress rarely create headlines, businesses are certainly paying attention as workforce stress equals financial stress. In fact, some companies costs for stress related losses and missed work days exceed the amount of money they spend on medical expenditures.
So what do we do about stress in ourselves and/or our children? There are strategies that can be helpful in building resilience against stress, managing current stress, limiting stress to make it more manageable and bringing joy to help mitigate stressful situations. Please feel free to use or pass along the following infographic regarding stress management.