A Closer Look at Stress (and How to Minimize It)

Stress. It’s a part of our everyday vocabulary. If you’re not feeling stressed, your friend or coworker is. Life is just so stressful.

But, the more you say a word, the less it actually means. So, what is stress? What does it look like? And, more importantly, how do we make it go away?

Defining Stress

When we think about what “stress” is, we often think in terms of the experiences that cause us stress: working with a difficult customer, having a long to-do list, nearing a deadline, finances, relationship problems, new experiences. This list goes on and on.

Next, we might think about the way that stress makes us feel. In this way, the definition of “stress” for you might be sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, or incessantly breaking out.

Looking at “stress” in these ways is actually kind of stressful. But, if we reframe stress in the scope of its true definition, things are a bit more simple. Courtesy of WebMD,

“Stress is any change in the environment that requires your body to  react and adjust in response.”

That’s right–“stress” is just something to react to.

Visualizing Stress

Although strange, stress can be easily associated with alertness. When we look at stress as merely a change in our environment, any reaction to change demonstrates an alertness and awareness of that change. Sounds good right?

It’s only when consistent alertness consumes our consciousness that stress becomes not so good. Stress then causes a variety of mental, emotional, and physical responses, including the following:

Mental/Emotional Responses to Stress

  • Anxiety: Stress triggers a “fight or flight” reaction that makes us feel like we must do something right now or else. That means tons of worrying about what might happen.
  • Adrenaline Rush: Similar to anxiety, stress mobilizes us to respond immediately. Like a cup of coffee in the morning, it wakes us up and maybe gives us the jitters. Subsequently, stress can cause…
  • Insomnia: Now that your brain is quickly pushing blood and sugar throughout your body and you’re high on adrenaline, thinking about everything at once, how are you supposed to sleep?
  • Tunnel Vision: A positive response! “During times of stress, a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex acts like a telephoto lens, allowing you to zoom in on a problem and ignore everything else that’s happening” (Huffington Post).
  • Low Energy, Motivation, and Depression: On the flipside to all of these high energy, anxiety-ridden responses, some people react to stress by letting it consume them. This shouldn’t be viewed as laziness or even apathy. Rather, a burdening awareness of stress freezes these individuals completely, preventing them from even beginning to attack the problem at hand.

Physical Responses to Stress

  • Flushness: Does stress make you look like a ghost or like you just ran a marathon? That’s your bloodflow talking.
  • Upset stomach, etc.: This isn’t just a coincidence. Those knots in your stomach are actually your digestive organs not doing their job properly. Instead, they’re focused on the emergency warning that your brain set off once you realized the due date of your project was tomorrow. (Bodies are weird sometimes.)
  • Headaches: Refer to “Mental/Emotional Responses to Stress” and you’ll see just how much is going on in your brain. That kind of hyperactivity doesn’t come without some tension.
  • Increased Heartrate and Breathing: It takes a lot of fuel (blood and oxygen) to process stress. That means your heart and lungs are doing double-time.

Beating Stress

In considering the methods of minimizing stress in your life, there are two different approaches: eliminating causes of stress and coping with the effects of stress. Which should you choose?

Well, it depends.

Generally speaking, stressful experiences are an unavoidable part of life. Our body is naturally equipped to handle stress. And, the more that we experience it, the better our coping skills can become.

However, there are some causes of stress that we can avoid, or rather eliminate at the root. Toxic relationships, for example, should not be considered normal, nor should rushing to complete work at the last minute.

It’s important to look at each stress trigger independently. We should absolutely seek to eliminate damaging relationships and procrastination from our lives. However, we shouldn’t avoid taking challenging classes or experiencing new things just to prevent potential stress.

Instead, we should utilize coping mechanisms. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are full of them. Meditation and mindfulness are two of the most popular ways to cope with stress, but there are an array of different methods that one can try.

Blueprint Mental Health and Coping with Stress

Blueprint Mental Health offers a warm and compassionate environment for teens and adults to receive outpatient mental health therapy. We specialize in the use of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for adolescents, and are able to assist with various issues, including depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. We work with individuals, parents, and families to help them cope with stress and achieve their goals.

For more information, contact us at (908) 256-6965 or e-mail info@blueprintmentalhealth.com.


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