Medically, stress is the rate of wear and tear on your body. It is the response
of your body to any demand. In fact, stress is all about change and adjustment.
The greater the adjustment you have to make to any life situation, the greater
the stress reaction and potential for the harmful effects of stress.
This is very interesting because probably the best definition of health is the
ability for the body to adapt. Your health is dependant on your ability to cope
with life's changes and "roll with the punches." Since stress is a "given" (when
do things stop changing in your life?), you can't eliminate it, but you can
learn to manage it.
A unique feature of stress is that it's very subjective. The saying goes,
"What's one man's meat is another man's poison." What creates stress for one
person may not be stressful for someone else at all. Stress is usually a matter
of perception: Stress isn't stress unless you think it is. So, one way to roll
with the punches is to catch yourself as early as possible when you're feeling
stressed, and remind yourself that it's only temporary, and that your fretting
about it isn't helping anything. At some point we learn to take the good with
the bad, put things in perspective, and quit sweating the small stuff (and it's
mostly small stuff).
A real key to stress management is your ability to relax. It's fairly
self-evident that we manage stress more effectively, and our bodies are
healthier when we're relaxed. You can do this very effectively by making time to
do what you really enjoy. It's like the idea, "When you're busy doing what you
like to do, you tend to forget your aches and pains." It's hard to be stressed
when you're having fun.
Similarly, you can use mental relaxation approaches to help you relax. You could
practice guided imagery, where you close your eyes and imagine you're relaxed
and on vacation. Because of the placebo effect, your brain doesn't differentiate
between fantasy and reality. What you believe or imagine is literally how your
body responds. So, if you were to imagine yourself relaxed in some way, you
would immediately begin to relax, which is the opposite of a stress response.
You could also imagine yourself able to manage stressful events (like mental
rehearsal). It can be very effective.
Also, you can practice meditation. Meditation is really the narrowing and
focusing of your attention on a neutral or meaningful subject, such as paying
attention to your breathing or a personal affirmation. Its intention is to
withdraw your senses from the outer world, and to still or quiet the mind. This
"being in the moment" keeps you from fixating on habitual worries or fears. In
fact worry may be the most common and insidious stressful thing we do (along
with criticism) - but I'll save that and more for our Survival Guide to Stress
Management seminar coming up in September. See you there.