Monday, December 17, 2012

Help! Stress!

I came across a good article on stress the other day – it went into a lot of the biological and physiological changes that take place in us, as well as the emotional. For me, the most helpful part of the article was when it talked about the psychological damage that is caused by stress.

Studies have shown that stress is most damaging when it has one or more of these conditions:

Beyond your control

Repetitive – Prolonged exposure to irritations and annoyances takes its toll on our coping abilities. Doing the same boring task over and over again dulls our mind. It becomes more difficult to concentrate and perform well. We worry that we may make mistakes or reach our limit of patience. “I can’t drive this crowded freeway one more day during rush hour.” “I can’t cook one more meal for this ungrateful family.”

Routine in relationships has the advantage of creating stability, but if the routine is inflexible it may become negative and stressful.

Unpredictable – Even more harmful is when there is no possible way of knowing when something bad is about to happen. If you live with an angry or alcoholic person, there most likely is an atmosphere of “walking on eggshells”. You know that things may fall apart at any moment and you will live in a heightened state of alert. Especially if you are a parent you will feel the stress of wondering when to step in and protect the kids from a spouse or even another sibling.

If your job situation is unstable and could end, or your stability is tied to the financial markets there will be a lot of pressure on you. If you live paycheck to paycheck and drive old cars and own old appliances you may always be waiting for something to break and wreak havoc.

Beyond your control – This is most likely the worst of the lot. Having control makes us feel safe and we will often go to great lengths to try to keep from the anxiety produced by uncertainty. Unfortunately that includes trying to control other people or uncontrollable situations. When we try to control others, they will likely rebel after a certain point and we will feel even more at a loss.

As a business owner I can’t make people buy from me. As a husband I can’t force my wife to agree with me. When taxes are raised and food and gas prices continue to escalate, I can mostly sit by and watch it happen.

What are the solutions?

Minimize your exposure to the really annoying people or tasks and alter your routines to break up the tedium of life if repetitiveness is your stressor. Try making more positive responses to people and take the negative thoughts captive.

For the last two, I would encourage you to take control of what you can control. For things that are unpredictable, rather than focusing on worst case scenarios and feeling stuck, work on having several contingency plans to address possible events. When situations are beyond your control, set boundaries and limits and ask for what you need in order to maintain as much positive control as you can. Focus on gratitude even when you don’t feel like it.

Then let the rest go. Be comforted that God is in control – always. He is never blindsided. 

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