Stress: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Stress is a funny thing isn’t it?  It is such funny things that for years’ scientists have been unable to fully define stress and all that it encompasses.  Every body is just a little different, so too is the stress that we each deal with.  If we were to put a broad definition on stress it would go like this:

“In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stress can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the “fight or flight” response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinological systems.” – (

Where stress becomes confusing is how we each handle various stressors just a little differently.  There is no life completely free of stress, so the belief that we can eliminate all stress is simply not true.  There is actually a good reason for limited stress.  A little stress means that our bodies are functioning optimally.  If we aren’t exercising those “fight or flight” responses on occasion, we may never really know how to respond in a critical moment.  The problem becomes when our bodies are living in a chronic state of stress.   Learning how to determine the level of stress that is tolerable in life can be overwhelming in the current culture that we live in.  We are constantly pressured or pressuring ourselves to do more and more and think that we are able to handle it, until there is a tipping point and things start to feel out of control.  Have you ever had that moment, you know where you just lose it, over something really silly like one of your kids not being able to find their shoes (for the millionth time) right before you need to leave to be at a meeting?  Later on you think about the frustration and realize…well if I had given him an extra 10 minutes to figure out the shoe situation we would have been on time…or even if I hadn’t signed up to be on the board for yet another club/group etc., then I wouldn’t constantly be yelling for them to get their shoes on.

Let’s look at some different types of stress’ors we have in our daily lives.  There are two different types of stress’ors in my opinion:  The stress that is unchangeable, and changeable.

Unchangeable Stress’ors

  • Family: Kids, spouse, (this is more than just the actual family member, but rather all of the activities they are involved in and etc.)
  • Work: Unless you happen to be independently wealthy, then work is likely an important part of your life and will undoubtedly be stressful at times.
  • Bills: Even if you live a debt free lifestyle you still have bills to pay regularly, so making sure to set up a budget and cash flowing everything just right is stressful.  Adding a lot of debt on top of all this will cause an even more stressful situation, (working hard on eliminating debt is just as important for your health as eating right and exercising)

Extra (changeable) Stress’ors

  •  Overbooking your schedules: Being part of too many clubs, activities and committees (whether for you, your spouse or your kids) can create an unnecessary additional stress.
  • Working out or training too hard: Although exercise can combat stress, over exercising, or training way too hard can be counterproductive.
  • Toxic Relationships: Having a serious fight with someone can create the same “fight or flight” response as you would get from being chased by a puma (likely you won’t be able to compare).  If this is a constant, it may be time to seek help through counseling (if it is a spouse or parent) or simply cutting ties to that person (such as a “friend” or distant relative).  Less fighting = less stress

So what’s the big deal anyways?  Everyone has stress, it is just part of life right?  Well yes, but you don’t have to overdo it.  The effects of stress are not always obvious right away, but the damaging effects down the road are the biggest concern.  There are some things stress is doing to you now that are affecting your current state of health, and when I point them out you will likely nod your head in agreement.

You May Not Know It But…. Stress Is

  • Keeping you up at night
  • Leading you to the coffee pot many times a day
  • Making it hard for you to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight
  • Making you crave sugar…. ALL forms of sugar (pasta, bread, doughnuts, pie)
  • Hurting your relationships
  • Stealing your focus at work

 …and the worst part is that all of this will keep going and going until you recognize the problem

The Long-Term Effects Of Stress Are Even Worse

  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Adrenal fatigue (LINK TO ARTICLE)
  • Diabetes
  • Anxiety
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Premature aging
  • Cancer
  • Short life span

Scary stuff right?  Now what?  Nobody wants any of this stuff so we need to figure out how to change this.  The sources of stress may seem obvious, but acknowledging what you can’t really change and what you can is the first step to eliminating excess stress.  So now you can start thinking of ways to eliminate excess stress as well as strategies to combat the stress that remains.

Change The Things That You Can By:

  • Just saying NO. It is not necessary for you to volunteer for everything out there.  Being spread too thin does not give anyone the best version of you.  So pick the things that really matter (in this season of your life anyways) and stick to being awesome at those!
  • Getting out of debt (at least start working on that) Money problems are probably the number one stress most American’s suffer from. You don’t need to have all the awesome stuff out there if you can’t afford it, you are only going to stress yourself out into an early grave and that’s simply not worth it is it?
  • Quitting your job. Okay, Okay this one is not so easy, but if you truly hate going to work everyday and if you can then work on an alternative.  Bills still need to get paid, so do this one responsibly.
  • Say goodbye to toxic friends! Cut the strings on these bad relationships that lead you into a spiral of stress.
Still stressed even after you cut the fat?  Not to worry try these practical tips to help mitigate the remaining and unchangeable stress in your life.
  • Go for a walk. Lots of movement throughout the day is an amazing way to stay fit and help to keep stress at bay.
  • Exercise! This one is tricky because if you overdo exercise you are just creating…you guessed it MORE STRESS.  So don’t go for a 4 miler followed by a spin class and then do another workout later…I mean just don’t!!!  Unless your job is reliant on your athletic abilities like say a Pro baseball player then you likely don’t need a couple hours of working out daily.  Stick to normal amounts of exercise, incorporate lots of slow movement (walking, hiking, biking) occasional (1-3 times per week) of High Intensity Interval Training and 2-3 times a week of weight training (heavy weights not the “toning” weight training)
  • Organize your life. If your house, car, desk, everything is in chaos several things are going to happen.  A) Visually all you see is clutter this more than likely creates stress.  B) You spend more money buying things you already own because you can’t find it under the clutter.  Take some time to organize your home, car, desk and calendar.  You will be amazed at the weight being lifted off of your shoulders after this.
  • Make a budget. Gather with your spouse or partner and figure out your income and expenses.  Create a budget and figure out where your finances stand…at least knowing what’s going on will be a step in the right direction.  Getting your money figured out is like trying on a pair of skinny jeans that finally fit!  BEST feeling ever.
  • Take a bubble bath. Unwind with some candles, nice soothing music and some bubbles…. works every time.
  • Read a good book. When was the last time you picked up a book?  Don’t tell me it was in high school…. remember what you enjoy reading, head to the library, square up your late fees and check out a new book already!  Read before bed it is so much better for inducing sleep then watching TV or checking Facebook.
  • Write things down. Before bed make a list of the things you HAVE to get done tomorrow, followed by the things you would like to get done.  This will be a nice brain dump so you can sleep without worry.
  • Play more. Do you have kids?  A dog?  A friend?  Get outside head to the park; bring a ball or Frisbee and PLAY!  Guess what this also checks off the exercise box too.  See now that is just efficient isn’t it?
  • Call someone you love talking to, or go out to coffee regularly with… Family, or good friend it really doesn’t matter, pick up the phone and talk away or go grab a coffee together and you will feel so much better afterwards. (Don’t do this while driving, safety-first okay?)
  • Immerse yourself in a hobby. What did you enjoy doing before life got crazy?  Painting, beading?  Knitting?  Whatever just pick up where you left off and carve out some time weekly for what you love doing.

With these practical tips and having cut the fat from the unnecessary stress, you are going to be well on your way to keeping the stress in your life in check.  This isn’t a one-time thing, stress is an evolving little creature…this time of your life, is different than 5 years from now, but the principles of stress management will always remain the same.  Less unnecessary, better management of the necessary and you will feel a sense of freedom!  So the next time you find yourself yelling at your kids to get their shoes on, take a step back and reevaluate your current situation.  Are you inviting more stress into your life than necessary?  If yes, then you need to regain control again.  We all struggle with this, so rest assured knowing that you are NOT alone.  This is our one life and our one body so remember that we get to choose to make everything we do purposeful.  Go forth and be awesome and hopefully with less stress wearing you down!  For now, I must go find a missing shoe….

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