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What you need to know about stress:

The family of origin has its own rules and messages about how they view pending situations and how to react and cope. It is this concept that will travel with you as you get older. However, it is possible to alter what you learned. Let go and develop your own style of coping.

Your past experiences, which you found stressful, define how you have managed to deal with situations and how you perceive new events.

You have a skill set that you can think about and determine your methods of coping that work positively for you.

You can, as you develop the insight and awareness about yourself and be objective, see the results of your decisions in your emotional make-up, physical health and ability to cope. However, not everyone is able to separate themselves from their actions and objectively evaluate their performance. It takes self-acceptance and acknowledgment. We are not perfect.

Overall, stress is known as the fight-or-flight syndrome. Fight can mean verbal or physical interactions with others or even angry and negative self-talk messages. Flight can be seen as running away for safety or as avoidance or a means to withdraw (e.g. isolation and sleep) due to physical and/or emotional exhaustion.

The physical component of stress can be observed in quickened breathing, red face, clenched jaw, tightened muscles, stomach aches, biting the inside of the mouth, fatigue and increased sleeping.

The emotional component of stress can be observed by the behaviors, whether they’re silent or loud, for instance: irritability, tenseness, yelling, threatening, tearfulness, withdrawal, hair twirling, skin pinching and etc.

Problem Solving STRESS:

S- Situation: What is the issue?

T- Tension: It’s inevitable. You will feel it in your body and notice it in your thoughts and feelings.

R- Response: What are the pros and cons to choose from and what choices did you make?

E- Evaluate your behaviors and the results to determine if the situation was dealt with in the manner you desired or not.

S- Struggle: There are many different issues people have to evaluate and determine how to deal with on a regular basis. For some and not others, the struggle can be easy to fraught with high levels of tension. Until you get it right, for you, you may feel uncomfortable, which you will need to accept and live with until you make a decision.

S- Solution: Did the actions and behaviors you chose exhibit a good or bad way of coping with the situation? How you determine the consequences depends upon your expectations, which are key to how much stress you place upon yourself. If you place a high degree of importance on specific issues, it will possibly effect how you perceive a situation.

Stress will not go away and, in order for it to be effectively managed, one must learn useful and appropriate methods of coping to diminish worry and tension. How you describe your coping style is important. Is it fluid and flexible or tense and rigid?

This, in effect, will determine the type of responses you exhibit and express and what you decide is appropriate or not.

Stress is an event. How it’s perceived alters its meaning and importance, by one’s reactions and then becomes good/bad or positive/negative. Yet, not all stress needs to be placed on opposite sides or extremes.

The highest degree of stress can be associated with good as well as negative events for example; marriage, a birth of a baby, new job, relocation, divorce, disability and death. Coping is a necessary skill and sometimes has to be taught and then practiced to learn positive ways to feel calm.

Coping styles vary per person, situation and response and is on a continuum like stress. I often teach others to think of the Olympic circles (placed in a circle) with you in the middle and the intersecting circles incorporating various issues in your life in the circle topics of family, work, spiritual and emotional, exercise, etc. and how they each interact with each other in a specific manner.

Styles of coping are based on one’s personality, character traits, insight and awareness, perception, learned behaviors and willingness to change and improve and past experiences and outcomes. We end up modifying our responses or change as we learn some methods work better than others. Additionally, one’s ability to cope is often related to age, culture and values.

We may hear the following from those closest to us:

“How are you doing with the loss of … ?”

“How do you feel about … ?”

“You shouldn’t feel that way.”

“Get a grip.”

“Let go of it.”

“This will make you stronger.”

“This wouldn’t happen to you if you weren’t able to handle it.”

“Don’t get bent out of shape.”

These aren’t all necessarily helpful and you may feel aggravated and irritated. Yet, your friend is trying to be supportive. Don’t let your stress increase and take it out on your friend. In order to work through the strain you feel yourself under, you have to understand yourself; your responses to pressure. It is important to note that you will have varied thoughts and feelings dependent upon the specific situation.

It’s normal to feel tension at some point during the day, week or month. We all have various pressures to perform, to complete and to conquer. Your inner voice is essential to recognize and understand, which will determine how you perceive the situation.

Once you have isolated your opinion regarding the specific event, you take steps to determine how you want to proceed. People sometimes forget to take that moment to stop, think and then act. I often hear clients say, “I have difficulty not responding right away and speak without thinking.” This is common and normal.

What you need to remember: Don’t make decisions when upset. Seek help if you feel you’re losing it by talking with family, friends or a therapist. Decide on an activity to help reduce your stress. Stress is a neutral event. It’s up to you, regarding how you will perceive, respond and cope with the situation.

Stress management is all about learning to recognize your physical and emotional signals and determining what you’re going to do about it using methods that work for you.

Managing Stress

Laughter and singing are great to relieve stress. Both open up your airways and re-regulates your breathing. Muscle relaxation, imagery, dancing and exercise (yoga, tai chi, swimming, and sports) get out the tension, relax you and raise your endorphin levels, which induces happy feelings.

Writing is a great tool, which lets out your thoughts. Some thoughts are repetitive, which increase worry and tension.

I often tell parents to hold their children’s hands in a circle and scream. You end up laughing and reducing the stress.

Be patient with yourself and be open to new ideas to try if your old choices don’t work well. Listen to yourself and others to gather information to make an informed decision regarding your decisions. You can replace and swap out old behaviors and responses and learn new ones that are healthy for you. Stress is inevitable and can be managed.

(NOTE: Jane Rosenblum is a licensed clinical social worker and freelance writer. Ms. Rosenblum has worked for 30 years in the field of social work in various settings and roles. Those settings and roles include the following: hospitals (including that of psychiatric geriatric patients); home health care facilities; an elder abuse task force; community health care services coordination; and school social work and case management for public and private organizations for those with medical, psychiatric and substance abuse problems. She holds a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Sargent College of Allied Health at Boston University and a master’s degree from the Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston. Ms. Rosenblum has also received a Type 73 certificate from the School of Social Work from Loyola University in Chicago. Her column on social work and education will appear regularly on TutorforGood.org’s News section as well as PharmPsych.com.)