stressed man holding head

Have you ever noticed how some people are always extremely stressed out, even though they may have 1/2 of your workload, twice your money, and triple your free time? Or maybe you’re the stressed out one. You see, stress has less to do with what’s happening to us and more to do with how we deal with it. Blaming circumstances for your stress level (or anything for that matter) is a great way to leave yourself with zero hope.

Look, we all should know by now that stress is extremely unhealthy. If not, you are about 2,360 years behind. The book of Proverbs states, “a broken spirit drieth the bones.” That’s metaphorical you say. Really? Well, I guess it’s just coincidence that oxidative stress has been shown to deplete bone mass. By the way, that line in Proverbs is preceded by “laughter doeth good like a medicine,” which has also been scientifically proven to be true.

Stress increases cortisol (the stress hormone) and epinephrine (adrenaline). These work together to shut down digestion, increase the heart rate, and constrict your blood vessels. This is great for a moment of extreme need, and has been termed the “flight or fight” response. No, this wasn’t developed over years of evolution and fighting saber tooth tigers as some sort of half-man half-monkey being. It was designed for our survival by our creator from day one (or should I say day 6). Here’s the problem. We abuse this emergency mode by elevating little things to the level of life or death situations – often the result of poor priorities or perspectives.

Chronic stress increases cortisol, a catabolic hormone. (catabolic means “to break down.”) Cortisol breaks down muscle mass and increases fat, specifically visceral fat. You see, there are 3 kinds of fat: subcutaneous – the “under the skin” fat, intramuscular – the “between your muscles fat,” and visceral fat – the “among your vital organs fat.” You’ve probably heard of the “pear” shape being safer than the “apple” shape. This is due to the visceral fat that accumulates in the midsection. Although neither is attractive, the fat on your hips isn’t as deadly as the fat on your stomach. And this fat on your stomach is often increased by stress.

Stress also affects your sleep, and the lack of sleep snowballs into increasing hormones that stimulate appetite. It can become a vicious cycle of dangerous weight gain. Of course, as this isn’t the only health problem caused by stress, it’s important to try and remove any chronic stress from your life.

Ok, so you are convinced it’s a problem that needs to be solved, and now. So how can you solve it?

Avoid sources of unnecessary stress:

  • Poor time management – Instead of flying by the seat of your pants, keep a calendar and a schedule. Color code what you do by category or importance. Don’t give yourself too much time to finish tasks that don’t take long. By the same token, don’t give yourself too little time to finish difficult tasks. Keep it realistic, but by all means, write it down.
  • Lack of sleep – The negative impact of the lack of sleep is a topic that could take a small book to cover. Don’t expect to shed stress if you are shedding sleep.
  • Caffeine, refined sugar, & stuffing yourself – Caffeine activates “flight or fight” mode directly. Refined sugar puts your blood sugar on a roller coaster and increases irritability. Stuff yourself and it’s tough to deal with anything but a coma.
  • Other high-stress people – Many of these you can simply stay away from. But if it’s a spouse, parent, or child, try setting up some conditions by saying, “I’d love to spend time with you, but I just can’t do it when you are creating so much stress. It’s not healthy for either of us or our relationship. Let me know when would be a better time, or how I can help you be more positive.”
  • Failing to forgive – The person who wronged may feel bad, but it won’t hurt them near as much as you’re hurting yourself by not letting it go.
  • The inability to say no – Plain and simple: if you say yes to every request that is made of you, the chances of you not getting stressed out are very slim.
  • Procrastination – This is sure to create stress and unfortunately often accommodates the good, low-stress trait of optimism. It’s the “everything’s all right, there’s plenty of time” syndrome. That’s when optimism backfires.
  • Perfectionism – You have to focus on progress and excellence instead of perfection. “No one is perfect, no not one.” To demand perfection from yourself or others is to set yourself up for stress.

Adopt stress-lowering habits and attitudes:

  • Optimism – Find out who you are, where you came from, what you are doing, where you are going, how you are going to get there, and why. Then keep reminding yourself. If you never forget it, it should keep you humble, grateful, purposeful, and positive.
  • Ownership – Studies show that people with a internal “locus of control” (meaning that they believe they “happen to things” and can influence their fate) handle stress much better than those with a external “locus of control” (or those that believe “things just happen” to them and that they cannot influence their fate).
  • Laughter – After President Reagan got shot, he joked with his surgeons, “I hope ya’ll aren’t democrats!” His ability to positively respond in stressful situations was no doubt what got him to the Presidency in the first place.
  • Exercise – It can be difficult to change your attitude simply through by mental means. So it helps to start with physical action. Movement is powerful! Studies show that when you exercise, your mood improves, energy levels increase, and stress goes down as a direct result. I see this everyday, and would invite anyone to try to prove me wrong here! :) If you need help with a convenient structure and accountability, contact me.
  • Nutrition – Your mind runs on the fuel obtained through your diet, just like your body. In fact, death is determined by the lack of brain activity, not “body activity!” So keep your mind healthy and reduce your stress by eating right. If you need help, contact me.
  • Perspective – I like the old truth, “this too shall pass.” Most of the things we stress out about are temporary. Even with the events that aren’t temporary, their impact on us often is. Find comfort in that.
  • Acceptance – … Of the things you cannot change. An old saying goes, “which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” The point is, don’t obsess over the things you can’t control.
  • Faith – “Be still and know that I am God.” Whether you agree or disagree, it doesn’t change the fact that “everything works together for good for them that love God and are called according to His purpose.” That is very much a calming and stress-reducing thought.

Finally, realize that stress does not happen to you. Stress is YOUR RESPONSE to what’s happening and many times YOUR CREATION regardless of what’s happening or even not happening.