Recognizing stress 1st step toward relieving it

By: 

Lorna Marquardt, Leader Columnist

We have all heard someone say, “I am really feeling stressed out today.” Everyone feels stressed sometimes. Some people cope with stress better than others. Some recover quickly while others have difficulty getting past whatever has caused them stress.

Stress is how the brain and the body respond to demands. Every type of demand or stressor, such as exercise, work, diet, school, major life changes or traumatic events, can be stressful. A stressor may be a one-time or short-term occurrence, or it can be something that keeps happening over a long period of time.

Stress can be brought about by changes such as a loss of job, a divorce, a death, an accident or an illness. Routine stress can also be related to pressures of family, work, school or other daily responsibilities.

Financial stress is not uncommon. Growing tensions in our world, politics, increased violence, lack of respect for others, and environmental concerns can be stressors.

Not all stress is bad. Stress can actually motivate people to prepare or perform. Sometimes I am guilty of procrastinating, and I actually perform best while under pressure.

Stress can be lifesaving in some situations. In response to danger, our body prepares to face a threat or flee to safety. When this happens, our pulse rate increases, we breathe faster, our muscles tense, and our brain uses more oxygen as we aim for survival. In fact, I experienced that very feeling recently when a strange dog ran toward me when I was getting out of the car. Fortunately, I was able to get back into the car and close the door just in time. It might have been a friendly dog, but I opted for safety. I could actually feel my heart beat in my ears, and I felt breathless for a few minutes.

I had a very good friend who was a psychologist; we often talked for hours. I learned a great deal from him about the human mind. We talked a lot about stress, what causes it, and when stress can become dangerous.

I remember him drawing a circle. He divided the circle into several slices, resembling a pie. He gave each slice a descriptive word: family, health, finances, friends, job and religion. He said if a person lost his/her job and a good friend, generally a healthy mind can deal with the stress.

He went on to tell me that anytime more than two of the major categories are affected, you need to do what you can to eliminate some of the stress. In other words, if you have a health issue, your savings account has been depleted and your job is ending, you may be on stress overload, and you need to find some stress relief. Finding a new job or help for the health issue might put you back where you can deal with the remaining stress.

I have used the circle indicator often over the years. When I was a manager of employees, on occasion one of them would come into my office and tell me they were feeling “stressed out.” They would share with me their stresses. Often after venting, they realized they really didn’t have an overload of stress, they just weren’t coping well with some minor issues. However, there were times when one of them did have too many things going awry in their circle and we talked about solutions.

Health issues can occur if stress goes on for too long or becomes chronic. You could experience digestive symptoms, headaches, sleeplessness, sadness or anger. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold.

Over time, stress can contribute to serious problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other illnesses as well as depression or anxiety.

Taking practical steps to manage stress can reduce or prevent these effects.

1. Recognize the signs of how your body is responding to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, feeling angered or having low energy.

2. Talk to your doctor or health care provider if you are feeling “stressed out.”

3. Getting exercise such as 30 minutes of walking can reduce stress.

4. Stay connected with people who provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, community or religious organizations.

5. Set goals and priorities and decide what must get done and what can wait. Learn to say no to tasks that put you on over-load.

“How beautiful it is to do nothing and then to relax afterward.” — Spanish Proverb

Answer to last week’s question: Shawano’s 1980’s motto was “Come grow with us.”

This week’s question: The city of Shawano has employed four city administrators. Can you name them?

Lorna Marquardt is a former mayor of Shawano.