To get 2022 off to a less stressful start I’d like to give you a quick refresher on stress because when you are stressed it is so easy to get confused and stop thinking clearly about it and how to manage it.
So I just wanted to reach out and give you a short reminder about what stress is really about and how to manage it.
That’s right, manage it. Unfortunately, you can’t eliminate stress because it is intimately linked to change and if I can guarantee you one thing about 2022, it is that SOMETHING in your life is going to change (for better or worse) during the coming year.
Since we cannot control, eliminate, or avoid all change, the best we can do is learn how to manage it and the stress that it could create. To start, remember what I’ve already told you in previous emails about stress:
So What is Stress???
Stress is the combination of three things; (1) a potential stressor, (2) your self-talk (what your mind tells you about it and your ability to cope with it) and (3) a stress response that kicks in if you feel unable to cope with it.
A Potential Stressor
A potential stressor is something that threatens you or has already caused you harm or loss.
Remember those three things; threat, harm, or loss.
If something doesn’t cause you to feel threat, harm, or loss, it isn’t a potential stressor.
Every day in 2022 you will face lots of things that are annoying, tedious, or hard. These things are not necessarily stressors, just the demands and responsibilities accociated with living an active and productive life.
Lets look a little closer look at threat, harm, and loss…
Threat is about things that haven’t happened yet. For example, imagine that you just got a letter from your auto insurance company telling you that because of a recent accident your rate is going to double when you renew your policy in two months.
This event hasn’t happened yet but it threatens you because you don’t think you are going to be able to afford the new premiums.
Harm or loss involve things that have already happened and hurt you in some way.
For example, imagine that you received a different letter from your insurance company related to the same accident. This letter states that they have already cancelled your policy and are not reimbursing you for the accident.
In this case you have experienced a financial and emotional loss that has caused you harm by forcing you to cancel those vacation plans you were making.
Your Self-Talk About Potential Stressors
Your Self- Talk (what your mind tells you) about a potential stressor,and your ability to cope with the threat, harm, or loss you attach to it, determines whether or not your brain will trigger a stress response.
Determines; powerful word. I don’t use it lightly.
So, in other words, it isn’t the potential stressor itself that is the real issue; it is what your mind tells you about it that determines whether or not it becomes a real stressor that triggers a stress response.
Your mind has the ability to either turn that potential stressor into a full-blown stress response or shut it down before it even begins.
Now here comes the real interesting part…
Sometimes, what your mind tells you (your self-talk) about a potential stressor is accurate, helpful, and based on real threat, harm, or loss.
Other times, your mind tells you inaccurate, unhelpful things that blow the threat, harm, or loss way out of proportion and trigger a stress response.
It is this inaccurate, unhelpful kind of self-talk that you need to start paying attention to because it is what will tell your brain to trigger a stress response.
A Stress Response
Once your mind says, “this is threatening and I can’t cope with it”,your brain instantly triggers a stress response. This response releases powerful hormones, salts, and sugars that jack up your blood pressure, get your heart racing, tense-up all of your major muscles and give you energy to get ready to fight or flee.
The fight or flight response is your life-saving response to threat and it has been with all humans since the dawn of civilization.
Although this response can save your life by literally fighting or fleeing from a real threat (like a mugger or car swerving into your lane on the highway), the long-term effects of this response, if it is triggered too often or is continuous, can cause serious physical and mental health problems.
Forget the term, good stress. Continued triggering of the stress response is bad for you. The whole idea of good stress (also known as eustress) is outdated.
Fifty years ago researchers didn’t realize that what they were calling good stress good stress was really another type of response called the challenge response.
Like the stress response, the challenge response also mobilizes energy and gets your body ready to take action. Unlike the stress response, however, the challenge response is not harmful to your body or mind.
The challenge response combines mobilizing energy with helpful thoughts and positive emotions.
Getting psyched up is a phrase you’ve probably heard people use when they are challenged.
Look at Olympic athletes getting ready to compete or eager job applicants preparing for an interview. In both cases the people are focused, thinking of positive outcomes, and looking forward to the opportunity to showcase their talents.
Unlike the stress response which produces powerful hormones and other harmful chemicals and by-products that linger and can cause you serious health problems, the challenge response shuts down once your challenge is met.
It doesn’t produce the same powerful hormones, harmful chemicals and other by-products.
The challenge response only results in fatigue. After a little rest and relaxation you are back to normal.
I’m sure you’ve already experienced the challenge response.
You got psyched up and gave something your best effort. When you were finished, your body, mind, and spirit were at peace. You didn’t feel any threat, harm, or loss, only a sense of accomplishment.
That same challenge response, like the stress response, is inside of you just waiting to be released. It all hinges on what your self-talk, what your mind tells you about potential stressors.
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