Monthly Archives: June 2018

Good Stress, Bad Stress: Is There A Difference?

Good stress. Bad stress. The two are viewed as the Superman and Lex Luger – archnemeses. Yet, is good stress different from bad stress, and does each produce a different response in the human body? Even doctors and psychologists take opposing views on the concept of good versus bad stress. It is akin to the 1980s debate about good egg/bad egg as it pertained to cholesterol. That debate still exists, as does the debate over how much stress, and what “kind” of stress is good or bad for us.

One of the authoritative papers on stress, “Physiology and Neurobiology of Stress and Adaptation: Central Role of The Brain” by Bruce S. McEwen, examines that question closely, and says that there the two terms refer to the same physiological response, but that there are marked differences. In other words, there is only stress, but short-term responses can be adaptive, while prolonged exposure or reaction to stress can be maladaptive and harmful.

He says that stress is a word used to describe challenges that are emotionally or physiologically challenging. He differentiates the popular jargon of “good” or “bad” stress this way: good stress refers to experiences that are shorter term, that a person can master and overcome, and provide a positive, exhilarating response; bad stress refers to experiences that are protracted or recurrent and over which the person has little or no control. In short, good stress is self-induced or regulated, such as the stress of healthy sport competition. Bad stress is beyond our control, such as a compilation of crises in our lives, or job-related deadlines and workload that are initiated and controlled by others.

Understanding the difference between the two, while also knowing that the two produce the same hormonal reaction and responses, but of differing intensity and/or duration is critical to understanding how some stress can be enjoyable and other stress can be dilatory. It is critical, as well, to how we embrace and enjoy life experiences, and, ultimately, to how we define our sense of happiness and well-being.

A few of us are conditioned to avoid stressful situations, at all costs. But this response to the external world simply helps to create anxiety and greater stress. To be afraid of life and situations in life – even those beyond our control – contributes to what McEwen describes as “allostatic load,” where the person, in attempting to maintain a balance by active means, actually begins to experience wear and tear on the body because of prolonged or acute effort to maintain that stability. Allostatic overload, he continues, contributes to the aging process.

We do have choices, in many circumstances, but we often fail to recognize that there are options to respond to the stressful situation, to alter it, or to deviate from it without being chronically fearful of stress and confronting or conflicting situations.

I have been through more than my share of marriages and relationships in my younger life. As they deteriorated, I experienced stress. Like most others in such situations, one of the stressors was the division of marital property. Divorce courts are crammed with couples battling to maintain what they see as their share of assets, and attempting to garner everything that is important to them. But few seem to really know what is important.

I have been able to act as a formal mediator, and also handled the legal wranglings for eight other friends going through divorces, all with perfect results. The hardest part is to determine what those perfect results may be. And there is a tendency for people, once they gain the upper hand in negotiations, to go for the jugular. That, to me, is not acceptable. One friend had, as his objective, recovering his portion of his pension and a small cash reserve. He was more than entitled to it, but when we set out, we set that as his objective. But when it became clear that we could get more (because he was entitled to more, as well), the revenge factor kicked in. I gave him an option: go for more on his own or with a lawyer, or accept his original goal. He accepted the original, and has been happy.

In my own divorces, though, I had only one objective: to get out of the relationship and get on with life. In each case, I gave up the family home, gave up the cash assets, gave up the acquisitions, took on almost all debts and offered generous support where required. The result? I got to re-invent myself, over and over. I was stress-free (asset-free, too, but that was immaterial). Ironically, in every case, bitterness lingered in my ex partners. One went so far as to state that, if I was happy, she must have been cheated out of something by me. (It shouldn’t have, but that comment made me even happier. Gloating, sometimes, is irresistible).

The truth is that my ex-partners did not really know what they wanted, or what made them happy. They continued to experience stress, because they created the situation for themselves.

How does a divorce relate to a discussion of good stress or bad stress? Simple. We need to know what is important, and what is not. We need to know when to extricate ourselves from a stressful situation and when to stand up and be counted. Having my friends’ future in my hands was stressful. But because I knew, in my heart, that what I was doing was right, I was prepared to fight for them, and expose myself to conflict and stress. It was good stress. Because I knew that I really did not care about material wealth, I was willing to give up those possessions. I fought for my children, because they were important. I knew when to fight, when to retreat. And the fear of the stress was not a factor in my decision, except to the extent that I was willing to take on stress to do the right thing.

Because we associate bad stress most often with relationships and work (which also is a relationship), we respond by disliking the event, not the component causes. Is work really the problem, or is it the interaction with specific people, the work deadlines, a lack of comfort with the task itself, the remuneration, or any of a hundred other factors.

Fear of work stress or relationship stress scan become like a phobia, disabling us. It is when we are able to break down the specific components of that stress that we are able to dissolve our fears.

A friend has, over time, had extreme difficulty remaining in one job for any length of time, even though he is very talented. Rapidly, each job becomes too stressful for him. But, in talking to him, it has become clear that it is not the job, but his reaction to authority that causes his grief. He has lost out on tremendous opportunity because he fears authority and power so intensely. Hopefully, his new career will lend him some comfort.

My wife worked in a full time position, with some very decent coworkers. But she had to work, as a single parent, to support her children. She could not afford to leave the present position to seek other employment, as her wage would have decreased beyond what she could afford. A very outgoing person, she was becoming stressed, depressed and anxious.

We worked on a couple of strategies, after identifying that a majority of the problems came from expectations and reactions to specific co-workers. First, we worked on how to regain mastery over her space at work, without being obnoxious or retaliatory. This involved techniques to move the “alpha” employee from her position of dominance. It involved responding differently to two other co-workers, and understanding the contributors to their actions. This step paid almost immediate dividends, and her stress dissipated quickly.

But anxiety over income remained, which meant she was locked to her job. Through various means, we were able to allow her to become a casual employee. Although she still worked five days a week (because she was needed and valued), she did so at her choice, and, when she needed time off, she got it. Yes, she lost her benefits package, but with good health, she didn’t need it. This meant that, when she worked five days a week, she earned almost as much net income as she did while full time, but now she had choice. Suddenly, all her stress was gone. She was in control of choices. Sure, she had obligations at work, but she chose to be there.

This example clearly highlights how even bad stress may not be bad stress, if the circumstances surrounding it are altered. She enjoys the pressure to achieve, but she now does it for personal reasons and not because she is compelled to do so.

When we think of good and bad stress, we should be considering, not the designation, but the impact and the control that we can exercise over it. Our sense of fulfillment comes when we have chosen to achieve and compete, rather than when we are compelled to do so. Choose to achieve and fight for what you believe in. Do not choose to flee from challenge. That oasis of relief in life is rarely valued if you have trekked across lush, inviting fields as opposed to oppressive, raw and angry desert to reach the lush green of the watering hole.

Why Stress Is So Bad For Your Health

Stress is a natural part of life. These days there are very few who don’t get stressed over money, the economy, the housing market, jobs or even family. Our bodies naturally react to stress through blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, body temperature and muscle contractions. Everyone deals with stress on different levels and in different ways. However, if one is not able to deal with stress it can ultimately lead to mental and physical exhaustion.

It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the word stress was used to characterize a condition where a stressor causes stimulus. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist, witnessed an inappropriate physiological response to demand placed on a human or animal. Before coining the term stress was considered a normal part of daily function and encounters that results in strain. Now, we know that stress plays an important part in physical, emotional and mental well being.

Stress is defined as a failure to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats whether they are real or imagined. The signs of stress are easily recognizable and can present themselves as cognitive, behavioral, emotional or physical symptoms. Therefore when presented with stress one’s whole demeanor, attitude and presence can change. Cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms include poor judgment, negative outlook, anxiety, worrying, moodiness, irritability, agitation, inability to relax, loneliness, isolation, depression, lack of concentration and absentmindedness. Physical symptoms include increased heart rate, breathing, energy, blood pressure, cholesterol and production of sweat. Stress can also cause physical symptoms of aches and pain, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, chest pain, upset stomach and headache. Chronic stress that occurs over a longer period of time consistently can cause both physical and psychological damage to a person. Long-term stress depresses the immune system leaving it susceptible to infections, disease, and illness. Stress promotes the accumulation of visceral fat, which is a leading cause of obesity. Additional chronic stress has been connected to ulcers, cancer, heart disease, increased outbreaks of psoriasis, depression and diabetes. In children who experience chronic stress a stunt to developmental growth is normally seen.

Stress is normally given a bad connotation, which implies it is negative. However, most people forget or don’t mention good stress. When Hans Selye discovered stress, he studied all types of stress and realized that stress even when its good is still a stress nonetheless. He developed eustress or good stress and distress or bad stress. Eustress is a condition that enhances ones physical or mental function such as exercise, marriage, having a baby or a promotion. Where as, distress is persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation, which can lead to symptoms of withdrawal or anxiety. The difference between good and bad stress is based upon one’s past experiences, personal expectations, and the resources to cope with stress.

Coping with stress is not an easy task. Everyone adapts to stress differently and some people have an easier time dealing with stress than others. The way that the body reacts to a stressor is understood through the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which describes the effects of stress on the body. Depending upon the intensity and duration of the stressor will determine if the stress is acute-short term or chronic-long term. At the first sign of stress the bodies stress response is in a state of alarm. The body reacts by producing adrenaline which causes a fight or flight response. Fight or flight is the body’s way of preparing to fight (cope, adapt) or flee. The second stage i resistance to stress. If a stressor persists the body must find a means of coping with the stress. Does the body have a way to adapt to the strain or demands of the surrounding environment? As we cope with stress, the body’s resources (nutrients, enzymes, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals) are gradually depleted. The final stage is exhaustion where the body’s resources are completely used up, leading to inability to function normally. Weakness, fatigue decreased energy, inability to concentrate or think clearly are all signs of exhaustion. Long-term exhaustion can be detrimental to ones health and can manifest disease. Although, these stages represent a model of how stress affects the body, stress can manifest itself differently in every person.

No two people will respond to the exact same stressor in the exact same way. Life experience and social background play a role in determining ones ability to cope with stress. Normal responses to stress include adaptation, coping, anxiety and depression. Coping mechanisms include stress management. Stress management provides individuals with techniques to handle stress on a daily basis. Learning to cope with stress will help you live a happier, healthier life.

Let’s Find Out How to Survive Stress

Let’s face it; whether you’re a busy homemaker or a high flying executive, today’s popular mind-set is to be as busy as possible with nearly every hour and minute crammed with some kind of work. Yet the day-to-day pressure can build into chronic stress, which if ignored, can be detrimental to our mind, body, and spirit.

The Body

While most of us have stress in some form, an unhealthy response to stress happens when the demands of the stressor exceed an individual’s coping ability. While stress is actually a psychological state of mind, as it considerably affects our physiological state. “In a classical stressful situation, certain stress hormones such as cortisol are released which increases the heartbeat, sweating, uneasiness, and the urge to urinate,” with the initial indicator usually manifesting as an inability to sleep. In the long run this leads to problems such as indigestion, acidity, ulcers, low-back pains, high-blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, high cholesterol, depression, headaches, and fatigue, to name a few. Long-term stress also affects our immunity and reduces our disease-fighting capacity.

In Teens

While the teenage years can be highly stressful, some typical stressors include: stress from school, social anxiety, and depressive feelings – for example, not belonging, self-harm and other dysfunctional coping strategies. Another big one, particularly pertinent to today, is social media inappropriateness. While teens and adults overlap in how they cope with stress, the only difference is that adults express stress verbally while teens tend to isolate themselves during times of high stress. “This is because teenagers are unable to properly manage their stress due to a lack of healthy coping skills,”.

Negative Implications

If the stress is not caught and addressed in time, teenagers may utilize reckless and destructive behaviors, substance abuse, and physical violence as unhealthy coping skills. Teenagers’ academic and extra-curricular progress may also deteriorate if stress is not handled appropriately.

Getting a Grip on Teen Stress

Maintaining effective communication with your teen and adopting healthy coping skills are the two most effective ways to manage with stress.

    1. Be available – make some time no matter how busy the schedule is – structure opportunities into daily life. Spending time with your teen shows them that you care even though they are pushing you away.
    1. Be realistic and flexible in your expectations but praise effort more than just results.
    1. Be patient and consistent during their developmental phase – they are changeable and trying to make sense of their place in the world – they can defy reason and sense sometimes.
    1. Do not minimize their feelings in hopes of them “getting over it”. Their feelings are real and affecting them in ways that need to be addressed.
  1. Be practical and constructive in your approach – they may need your wisdom and organization – even if they say they don’t.

You cannot and should not shield them from all stresses and risks. You must set limits as well as consequences to what is acceptable and unacceptable at home, school, and elsewhere.

THE MIND

Stress Reactions

When stress is excessive, it results in one of four reactions- -anxiety, apathy and depression, anger and aggression and cognitive impairment. “Stress can be caused by traumatic events, events which challenge our limits, as well as internal conflicts,”. “For example, if your boss criticizes you unfairly, you feel the stress.” You want to be able to explain why he/she is wrong but also have a fear of upsetting your boss and this stress or internal conflict causes you to ruminate and these thoughts can very quickly spiral out of control: My boss thinks I’m incompetent; I won’t get the promotion I deserve. This series of ruminations results in catastrophic thinking, which can lead to worry, anxiety, feeling depressed and insomnia.

Top Ways to Alleviate Stress

Talk about what is stressing you to someone who listens to you, understands the stress environment and cares about you.

Ruminations create a “pressure-cooker effect”. They bounce around creating pressure. Releasing this through talking really helps.

Most relationships in life are reciprocal. It’s really important to establish good social networks so that people may be there for us in our hour of need.

It is very important to remove the source of the stress, if possible, by taking control and being active. For example, rather than being a victim of bullying in the workplace, you may choose to either put in a complaint or move post.

Distraction is a useful technique to avoid stress. Taking up a new challenge or a new activity is often very helpful.

MODERN DAY

Electronic Stress

Smart phones, gadgets, and computers all help us stay super connected but at a high price. “Smartphones add hugely to modern day stresses in that the workplace and social media permeate our lives so that we are never really free,”. “We are working or socializing 24-hours a day, checking our phones last thing at night and first thing in the morning when research shows that each time we receive an email, we can take up to 20 minutes on average to re-focus on children, partners or other focuses.

Planning

The best way to deal with smartphones is to switch them off when at home; however, this is impractical for some. “The alternative is to have windows of when you check your messages, for example 9 to 9:30pm, and to put it away for the rest of the time,” and be sure to avoid using your smartphone one hour before you sleep.

Finding Solutions

Today the aim is on maximizing the usefulness of our time and squeezing as much as we can from every minute of the day. So how can a person find time in the day to destress? We need to learn to tackle the external pressures and even our own inner voices that tell us that to be successful, he says as these are old mind-sets that we have learnt over the years that are no longer relevant. “We must replace these thoughts with new one’s that support us in the true value of taking time to de-stress the right way,”.

Shelve Your Stress with These Tips

1. Practice Regular Exercise – Exercise impacts a neurotransmitter that works like an antidepressant on your brain while lessening muscle tension.

2. Go Outside – Even five minutes in nature can help reduce stress and boost your mood.

3. Focus on Your Breathing – Ideally you should be breathing primarily through your nose through a simple technique called Buteyko breathing to help you restore beneficial breathing patterns.

4. Participate in Activities – You Enjoy Engaging in a hobby helps you enjoy yourself and take your mind off of stress.

5. Eat Healthy – Schedule time to eat without rushing and be sure to consume fresh, healthy, whole foods.

6. Stay Positive – Keep a list of all that you’re grateful for and make a commitment to stop any negative self-talk.

7. Stay Connected – Loneliness can be a major source of stress, so do some volunteering, meet up with friends or take a class to meet others.

8. Take a Break or Meditate – Taking even 10 minutes to sit quietly and shut out the chaos around you can trigger your relaxation response.

The Positive Side of Stress

Is stress is something that needs to be reduced, suppressed or avoided? Or can we accept it, use it, and embrace it? It turns out that which one of these mind-sets you hold plays a key role in how the stress in your life affects you.

Mindset

It’s not our stress levels that need to change, but our attitude to stress itself, reveals Menon, because how you think about stress and the stress in your life plays a profound role on how it affects your well-being. She explains, “It determines whether the presence of stress in your life is harmful, which can ultimately lead to burnout, depression, and heart disease or whether that stress actually leads to greater well-being and resilience.”

The Science

Research shows that when you tell people about the importance of stress mindsets, you encourage them to choose a more accepting and embracing attitude toward the stress in their own lives, suggests Menon and in turn, they actually become healthier, happier, and more productive at work, even in very difficult and stressful circumstances. According to research at Yale University, people who hold more a negative perception of stress and believe it should be reduced or avoided, are more likely to experience what we typically think of as the negative outcomes of stress. They’re more likely to have health problems or illnesses, suggests Menon and they’re more likely to become depressed and, are less productive at work. “But on the other side, people who hold a more positive and accepting view of stress are protected from the negative effects of

stress, even when their lives are stressful,” she tells, and they’re healthier and happier. They’re doing better at work and they’re better able to find meaning in their struggles.

The Question

Therefore, can changing how you think about stress make you healthier? Menon points out that the science says ‘yes’ – when you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress. “Research shows that stress is actually enhancing; in one study at University of Wisconsin researchers tracked 30,000 American adults for eight years,” she explains, and they found that subjects with a lot of stress had a 43 percent increased risk of dying – but only if they believed stress was harmful. What is surprising is those who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die than the normal population. In fact, Menon reiterates that they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.

The Big Picture

Although stressful experiences are an important part of life, how you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress, Menon says. “When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you can create the biology of courage and resilience,” she explains. “Stressful experiences help us learn and grow and they can actually be an opportunity to develop our strengths and choose our priorities.”