The day started out like any other day.  The alarm went off at 5:00 am at which time it was promptly squelched.  The intent was to rise early, work out in order to meet the fitness goal that I set so I could be slimmer for the holiday season, and then head off to work.  The reality was I dozed off again and didn’t wake until two hours later.  Turns out I didn’t press the snooze button but the off button for the alarm instead.  As you can imagine, panic set in as I leapt from the bed, at which point I proceeded to fall flat on my face.   Ironically, I had tripped on the sneakers I left out for my morning workout.  A little shook up but definitely more awake, I did the express version of getting washed up and dressed. I am sure you all have some kind of “express version” of getting ready where the end result is that teeth are clean, hair is somewhat in order, you smell ok, and the clothes on your body are cleanish.   I grabbed a coffee to go from the kitchen and headed out the door. 

A quick look at the car clock told me I was only 5 minutes behind my perceived schedule.  Sweet!  I can make up that time on the way to work.  It was at this point that I noticed I had on two different colored socks.  Not wanting to take the time to go back inside and find matching socks, I rationalized that mismatched socks is ok to do.  It makes a fashion statement of “one who is eclectic”, and who doesn’t like to be considered eclectic?  I then noticed that my shirt was on inside out and figured I should probably fix that, so after a quick glance around to see if anyone is watching, I quickly whipped that shirt off and put it back on properly. Problem solved.  Feeling pretty proud of myself, I proceeded to take a sip of my coffee at which point my travel cup emptied out onto the front of me.  Turns out in my rush to get going, I didn’t properly secure the lid to my cup.  I felt the stress begin to creep up on me. 

I would love to say that the day improved, but it did not.  One thing after another came at me.  I left my lesson plan book at home.  My teaching assistant called out sick, and there was no sub for her.  One of my students was sent home because she had lice.  An afterschool meeting was called, which meant I wouldn’t be able to eat before heading off to my second job.  Upon returning home from my second job, I was greeted to my vacuum cleaner running, dry spaghetti all over my kitchen floor and two scared but very guilty young cats hiding in the bathroom.  (Don’t ask, I have no clue how they turned on the vacuum cleaner and dumped the spaghetti that was on the top shelf of my cabinet.) The mail was full of bills, and the milk in the refrigerator had gone bad.

This was an actual day that I lived while still single working as a teacher and waitress.   Looking back at that day now, I can laugh about it, but in the moment I felt very overwhelmed.  The day started with stress and ended that way.  Unfortunately, many of you have had similar days where nothing goes your way, and stress increases as the day progresses.  Today stressful situations and environments surround us, making it all the more important to understand how to manage stress to maintain proper well being.  Since that incredibly stressful day I experienced 30 years ago, I have added a husband, three children, more bills to pay, volunteer commitments, and a new business to my life.  While there are times I feel the stress of all that is my life, I have come to understand stress and what I can do for myself to manage it to a point where it won’t impact my health and well being.  The next couple of posts to this blog will be on the topic of stress in order to help you do the same.

In order to understand how to manage stress, you have to first understand exactly what stress is.  There are many definitions of stress.  A more holistic definition states that stress is a perceived threat placed upon an individual mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually by the demands of their job, relationships, and responsibilities in their personal lives.  When such a “threat” is perceived, a stress response happens within the body, often referred to as fight-or-flight response.  During a stress response epinephrine and nor-epinephrine are released activating several physiological mechanisms, which affects the physiological systems in the body.  Repeated stress response within the body will begin to take a toll.  Stress is the number one cause for inflammation in our bodies.  Additionally inflammation is the number one cause for disease in our bodies.  Knowing how to manage stress, particularly in a holistic way, helps to decrease inflammation in the body promoting overall better health and well-being.

There are three kinds of stress: eustress, neustress, and distress. Not all stress is bad.  In any situation that a person is motivated or inspired, that individual will experience eustress, which is a form of good stress.   These situations are enjoyable and are not considered to be a threat.   Examples of eustress would be getting a new job, receiving a promotion, marriage, having a baby, or getting a new home.  

Receiving information that is negative but is remote from your personal life is an example of neustress.  This kind of stress is neither good nor bad.  It does not evoke a sensory stimulus that will have an effect on the body of any consequence.  Hearing about a natural disaster, lets say an earthquake that took place in a country far away such as Haiti or Japan, would be an example of neustress.  While you may feel concern for those involved in the disaster, the effect of that circumstance is removed from you personally.  Another example would be overhearing a conversation in which one person is telling another about the illness of their child. While it may give you temporary concern, the effect of that stress is removed from you since you are not the one dealing with the sick child. 

Distress is considered bad and is often what is referred to as just “stress”.  Distress can be acute, meaning it is intense but disappears quickly, or it can be chronic, which is not as intense but will linger for long periods of time.  Examples of acute stress are work deadlines, a car accident, or your children experiencing problems in school.  Acute stress tends to dissipate once the problem has been resolved.  Chronic stress continues over a prolonged period of time since the resolution for the problem is either non-existent or takes time.  Situations that create chronic stress would be dealing with a serious ongoing illness, family abuse, or childhood trauma that was never dealt with.  Whether the distress is considered acute or chronic, such negative stress messes with our body’s equilibrium causing an imbalance that is felt physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually.  In order for stress management to be effective it must address all of these areas of our person.

In order to understand best how to manage your stress, you need to take a look at the stressors in your life.  Stressors are a situation or stimulus that can be perceived as a threat and cause stress.  They are divided into three categories: bioecological influences, psychointrapersonal influences, and social influences.  A bioecological stressor is basically something in the environment that causes a stress response.  These stressors affect most all people the same and are not influenced by what we think.  An example would be climate, seasonal or altitude change.  Most people will feel the physical stress of dehydration a higher altitude can cause, and many are mentally and emotionally affected by the lack of sunlight during the winter. 

Psychointrapersonal stressors make up the greatest percentage of stressors.  These real or imagined stressors are created in our mind and are centered on the values, beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts that we use to defend our identity or ego.  When these are challenged or violated in any way, a stress response is created. 

Social stressors involve our relationship with others and our environment.  A predominate social stresseor is that of the invasion personal space.  Environmental situations such as overcrowding, traffic, and lack of boundaries would be some examples.  Additional social influences that cause stress would be financial insecurity, violation of human rights, and relocating.

All stressors have a connection to human well-being.  It is important to be able to identify the stressors in your life so as to better manage them.  Developing strategies and techniques for stress management is important.  At Serenity Grove Wellness Center, we work to help our clients manage stress through the use of energy healing, sound therapy, meditation, journaling, relaxation techniques, spiritual counseling, and expressive art.   More on these strategies will be in the next blog installment.  Until then, may you all experience a stress free (or close to it) Holiday season!

Love & Light