How to Handle Stress
Part 2 in a series by Ken Patterson, MD
[If you missed Part 1, Start Here]
Boy, with coronavirus fears abounding, we could use some help with stress right now!
Stress, do we really need to define it? After all – we have it, it’s in our faces and in our heads all the time! But actually, working the definition a little might give us a some clarity.
All kinds of things cause us to feel stress:
- Work-unhappy, lack of control instability, insecurity, too many hours, too little money, lack of time off, fear of loss of job, etc.
- Life-loss of it, death, divorce, overcommitted financially, getting married, relocating, trouble with kids, trouble with parents,
- Internal factors-fear and uncertainty, attitudes and perceptions, unrealistic expectations, worry finding, negative habits.
- Coronavirus fears!
But all of these things are defined as stressors, not stress.
So, what is stress? Stress is when stressors on the outside of us get inside of us.
The #1 most important thing to do to handle stress is to develop effective filters to only let relevant stressors on the inside. For some people, just the realization that they have the power to decide what is going to stress them is enough. You have, or can have power over your stressors. With this they begin filtering out the stressors, and therefore no longer feel stressed.
Many of us need more help than this. We have filters in place, but they are way too permeable, and let too many stressors in. Even if that is the case, usually you can get benefit by just reaffirming the fact: you have power over your stressors. This affirmation strengthens your filters.
Stressors make us feel stressed when they get inside and hang around. When this happens we have worry and anxiety and we activate the fight or flight system. Worry and anxiety basically result from ruminating about negative possibilities. Because habitual thought patterns and the associated emotions are activated by these stressors, our response is often vague and undifferentiated. This often means that a small external stressor, that has little potential of harming us in any way, becomes attached to and triggers a larger negative emotional response.
So, the pattern of thinking that allows the stressors that get through our filters and become stress needs to be modified. Since this stress is often undifferentiated, the easy first step is to differentiate it. Why am I feeling stressed about this? What is the outcome I fear? Is this really the most likely outcome? Am I fearful of this because of other things and other fears in my life that I’ve associated with this stress?
As you go through this process, it’s important to not let yourself start spinning negative. Take the positive point of view and acknowledge that the positive outcome is more likely than the negative, and the fear of the negative consequences is usually worse than the consequence itself. Think positively!
Okay, let’s review what you have in your toolbox to handle stress:
Tool #1 – Is the knowledge that you have some control over what you allow to cause you stress.
Tool #2 – Increase your filtering! Many of the things the cause of stress, in the long run, don’t matter at all.
Tool #3 – Take time to analyze what’s causing you stress and why, and why it’s stuck in your head. Journaling is a great tool to assist with this. Often writing stuff down will help you in the analysis, and having written it down will give you a reference for the future.
Tool #4 – Take your stress tool bag out often – open it up, and put the tools to work. It’s this simple: stop the flow, take out your tool bag, get the tools out and reduce your stress!
And what about coronavirus? Should it cause us stress?
Probably not! It is a threat, a stressor, that is out there that we let inside our heads. The talking heads on TV would make us think this is an imminent threat and represents the end of life as we know it. But, the truth is that we are now entering phase 2 in our confrontation with this virus. The number of new cases will dribble along with an occasional slight bump in the number as we loosen social distancing. It will become much more of an annoyance, and less of an immediate threat.
Our response? Simple! Do the things necessary (see last blog) to protect you and your loved ones and don’t let the stressor get inside your head and cause stress.
If you found this to be useful, please pass it on to friends. And keep your eyes open because I’ll be sending out frequent updates.
If you would like to look further into what you can do to increase your health reserve, we are offering a $25 one hour health coaching session to further evaluate your status. Please call 704-5069 to schedule your session!