With everything that’s happening in the world, it’s no surprise that people are reporting heightened levels of stress and anxiety. It actually makes perfect sense, because we’ve all been touched in some way by the issues at hand.
While it’s true that current circumstances have shined a light on increasing stress levels, the trend itself is not a new one. These numbers have been climbing for years, and recent statistics show that 32% of adults reported feeling “more anxious” in 2019 than they had in 2018.
It’s an epidemic of massive proportion, and one that needs to be addressed due to the long-term effects on our physical and mental health. While there’s no magical cure because stressors vary and there are different types of stress, understanding more about how stress functions can help us find healthy ways to cope.
Types of Stress: Acute vs. Chronic
Stress falls into two categories: acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).
Acute stress occurs in everyday life and causes a brief spike in tension that passes quickly, allowing us to revert to our normal patterns and behaviors without long-term negative effects.
Chronic stress is created through repetition; stressors wear on us day after day, month after month. This more dangerous type of stress is often minimized by a “this is just my life” thought pattern but can have long-term effects on our physical and mental health.
Types of Stressors: Internal vs. External
External stressors are circumstances or events that happen “to” us in the natural course of life. They can be either positive or negative but affect some sort of disruptive change in our lives.
-Having a surprise visitor show up at your door
-Getting a flat tire on the way to an important appointment
-Being furloughed or downsized from your job
-We generally have limited or no control over external stressors we can only decide how we will react to them.
Internal stressors are self-imposed pressures that hinge on our attitudes or expectations about how things “should” function as opposed to the realities of how life works.
When our personal expectations are challenged or unfulfilled, our self-esteem suffers,
and it creates internal stress.
Needing to have that promotion before you turn thirty to see your career as “on track”.
Requiring yourself to maintain a specific grade point average (or level of continued education or training) to be “successful”.
Feeling that your home must be cleaned, top to bottom, to be “acceptable” for guests.
At best, the arbitrary demands we place on ourselves lead to a fear of failure and heightened levels of stress and anxiety. At worst, a failure to meet such goals can cause a spiral into self-recrimination and depression.
Typical Reactions To Stress:
We often respond in one of 4 ways when we’re feeling overwhelmed with stress and anxiety:
Immobilization- We refuse to act. Decisions are either deferred or left entirely unmade because the choices are too overwhelming.
Avoidance- Refusing to acknowledge the issue, and/or choosing not to interact with anxiety-inducing people or situations.
Aggression- Entering into conflicts with and placing blame on others.
Surrender- Submitting to the wishes of others to “keep the peace”.
Unfortunately, none of these serve as effective long-term coping mechanisms.
They actually help to perpetuate a cycle that creates chronic stress because they don’t allow us to deal with issues in a manner that will effectively resolve them.
How to Cope More Effectively:
There are several exercises that can help maintain perspective and address stress and anxiety in a healthy way.
1. Focus on the physical. It seems simplistic, but we are better able to deal with mental and emotional stressors if we’re not also physically stressed. That means taking pains to eat regularly and well, sleep an appropriate amount, and limit alcohol intake.
Find ways to be active. Work out with weights, run, or do yoga. The purpose is twofold: to feel better physically, and to gain some temporary distance from stressors.
2. Categorize the issue. Try objectively ranking stressors on a scale of 1–10, with 10 being the most urgent issue you can imagine. You may find your high stress level exists due to the cumulative effect of multiple stressors and that many of those stressors rank quite low individually. If a specific issue ranks only a 2 or 3, is it worth worrying about?
Perhaps it can be eliminated from your concerns entirely by taking some simple steps.
3. Break it down. Try dividing a large, overwhelming issue into a series of tasks to be completed over time. Make a list of the steps, and just look at the very next task as you move forward. It will help shrink the enormity of the challenge in your mind.
4. Release the pressure. We don’t have complete control over external stressors,
but we can exercise restraint when it comes to internal stressors the expectations we place on ourselves. There’s no reason to run yourself into the ground trying to be all things to everyone, and then feel like a failure if you don’t get to everything on a list that’s a mile long. Choose your battles.
5. Utilize mantras. There are two that are particularly effective.
“I can do this.”
“That doesn’t work for me.”
The first is a positive statement that reminds you you’re capable of completing the task at hand. The second assures you that you don’t always have to. Put your best effort into the things that are worth your time and effort, and let other things fall away. You don’t always have a choice, but when you do, it’s fine to say no if a demand will stretch your resources beyond healthy limits.
Finally, if you find life’s demands have simply outpaced your ability to cope, consider seeking therapy or counseling. A professional can help you identify stressors and learn new coping techniques to help reduce anxiety levels and improve your quality of life.
Translated to English from: https://docs.google.com/document/d/11fwztSEWoS40EyRdvfRB8ZreWDYbmCKjnQYpj0eZu9E/edit?usp=sharing
For more translations: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karla-ver%C3%B3nica-becerra-s%C3%A1nchez-8646ba1ab/