We have all experienced stress, and we all probably believe we know exactly what it is. Unfortunately, this does not make it any easier for us to define. Perhaps one way to look at stress would be in terms of the way your system responds to a situation that you find to be stressful.
If severe enough, such a situation is likely to trigger in you a fight-or-flight reaction. Stress hormones get pumped into your system, causing your heart to pound in your chest and your breathing to quicken. One of nature’s great survival mechanisms will then have kicked in, resulting in your body gearing itself up for a burst of energy that could potentially save your life.
Although the human body is designed to experience stress, it is probable that this unconscious stress reaction would have served your hunter/gatherer ancestors far better than it does you. They were, after all, more likely to have encountered a dangerous bear or wolf in the wild - and were, therefore, more likely to have needed that sudden burst of energy to either defend themselves or escape.
You, on the other hand, will be stressed by situations related to your modern way of life. These might include the likes of deadlines that need to be met, company politics that need to be played out or tricky relationships that need to be negotiated. When faced with such modern-day occurrences, the same age-old fight-or-flight reaction might still get triggered in you, even though the effects of such a stress response will now be of little help. Is there any wonder that we have become so prone to stress?
Of course, this does not mean that all stress is bad for you. Perhaps you have found that having some tension in your life can help you to perform better. Stress certainly can serve to keep you alert in tricky situations. You may also be familiar with the exhilarating stress that can come with being creative. So when is it that stress is beneficial and when does it become a problem?
Negative stress, or distress, will cause you to be anxious and irritable. When such a state takes hold, you will find that you are less able to think clearly, to make fine judgments or perform certain precision tasks well. Worst of all, it will make you less effective in dealing with people. When faced with challenging modern-day situations, a calm, considered response is invariably more appropriate than a stressed, adrenaline-fueled one.
The degree to which you feel in control (or do not feel in control) may have an important role in determining the way you experience stress. Stress can be particularly problematic when you feel that you lack the resources or the ability to deal with the situation at hand, or when you are disempowered in some way. It can be made even worse if your plight is associated with such negative feelings as humiliation or guilt.
There is a fine line between a state of excitement and a state of distress. Physically, the adrenaline-rush that might come with a funfair ride will not be too dissimilar to the stress response triggered when you are forced to face a scary life-threatening situation. In either case, your breathing and heart rates are likely to increase in the way we have already spoken about. You will, of course, feel more in control in the one situation than in the other; and it is likely that that sense of control you have in the funfair ride will make for a thrilling experience, while your vulnerability in the threatening situation could turn it into a terrifying ordeal.
It is not healthy to remain in a state of negative stress for any great length of time. In nature, the effects of the fight-or-flight response are typically short lived. Even in the case of your plucky ancestors, the threat of being attacked by that bear or wolf would have passed quite quickly. By contrast, stressful modern-day situations tend to be complex in nature, and for this reason, they might take longer to resolve.
So, not only is it likely that most of the stress you experience is quite inappropriate to your circumstances, but it is likely that you will experience these episodes of stress for considerably longer than is good for you. We know that chronic stress often causes such ailments as headaches, stomachaches and backache. It is the primary cause of anxiety and depression; and research has shown that chronic stress can significantly increase your risk of heart disease. Besides this, it is likely to have very real implications for your general performance in the world and for the quality of your life.
Increasingly, we are becoming aware of the importance of our mind/body connection, and the vital part that managing levels of stress can play in our health and in our wellbeing. So, if poor stress management is affecting your life in any way, please don’t simply ignore the effects it might be having on you.
Hypnotherapy, and its related disciplines, can be effective in helping. The work we will do together will enable you to find more appropriate ways of seeing the situations you face, as well as more appropriate ways of responding to them. Because your stress is largely created by your mind, you will find that you really do have the ability to make the changes necessary to enable you to cope, to be more effective and to enjoy life once again – and to do so safely and without the use of drugs.
Read about the body/mind connecton, the depression cycle and about panic. Please also find articles on dealing with uncertainty, a case against the overuse of certain prescription drugs and the way your freeze-fight-or-flight response effects your emotions.
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If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
Roman Emperor, A.D. 161-180 (121 AD - 180 AD)