by Susanna Clavello, Emotional Wellness & Personal Growth Coach [email protected]
Stress can be defined in many ways. According to the American Psychological Association, for example, stress is “a normal reaction to everyday pressures, but can become unhealthy when it upsets your day-to-day functioning.” On the other hand, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”
In reality, not all reactions to everyday pressures are stressful, not all stress is harmful, and not all human beings react the same way. Furthermore, stress is not a reaction to adverse circumstances like we usually think of it; stress is the response to our way of thinking about the circumstances, or the meaning we give to any given situation. Stress, therefore, can be our best ally or our worst enemy based on the way we think about it -our mindset.
There is a kind of stress that is positive, also known as eustress; it motivates us, energizes us, and also protects us. For example, the butterflies in our stomach, sweaty hands, palpitations, or uncontrollable laughter or tears when we are about to race in a competition, start a new job, launch a new project, learn how to drive, get married, or when a child is born, are the result of a mix of excitement and joy, fear and apprehension, and of facing the challenge of something new and unknown. As a result we plan, practice, study, prepare, visualize, and put forth our very best effort to ensure a successful outcome. Eustress is our ally and its purpose is to keep us focused, avoid making silly mistakes, boost our self-confidence, and create resilience.
On the other hand chronic stress, also known as distress, is the one that accumulates day after day and wears us out little by little. It’s the kind of stress that we experience when Murphy’s Law happens, when we have a financial burden, a bad day at work, tasks that are beyond our skills and abilities, family issues, and other circumstances that make us feel overwhelmed. Chronic stress can show up as anger, frustration, resentment, lack of self-esteem, chronic fatigue, anxiety, isolation, and/or overindulging (i.e., overeating, overdrinking, overspending, gambling, etc).
A common example of chronic stress is when we get stuck in traffic. We are in a bad mood, blow the horn, yell at the driver in front of us, check the watch every 10 seconds, sweat, feel anxiety, speak in a sharp tone of voice…
These common reactions are not due to the circumstances per se; rather, it’s our mind that thinks of the worst case scenario. For instance, we visualize arriving late to the meeting, to pick up the kids from school, to the concert, to a doctor’s appointment, or that we will run out of gas - I am going to lose my job, my children are all alone and unsupervised, they won’t let us in, I am going to miss my appointment, I am going to be stranded in the middle of the freeway.
This mindset is our worst enemy and in the long run, can result in negative health consequences. The good news is that we can live healthy, fulfilled lives if we avoid the buildup of distress and give it a more amicable twist. To do this, we offer the tips below.
If your stress level is so high that it’s leading you to a breakdown, we highly encourage you to get some help and reach out to a professional coach, a psychoanalyst, or a psychotherapist.
Susanna Clavello, Emotional Wellness & Personal Growth Coach