What is stress? Stress is the mental and/or physical tension or strain the body experiences in response to events happening in a person’s life. Stress affects our internal organs, like the heart and stomach, and impedes our mental state, emotional reactions, relationships and spirituality.
Medical problems, such as heart disease, are stressful in many ways: Being told you have heart disease is stressful, having a heart attack is stressful, needing medical procedures or surgery is stressful, being in the hospital is stressful, dealing with physical pain is stressful, going home and hoping you’ll survive is ultimately stressful. Not only do these experiences stress the patient, they stress the family as well.
Understanding how the mind and body work together when facing stress makes a tremendous difference in the recovery process and can significantly promote healing. Reducing stress will improve quality of life by optimizing positive changes that will support a healthy lifestyle.
How do you experience stress? Do you know you react to stress physically and emotionally? Are there stress symptoms of particular concern to you? Are there any patterns of symptoms?
Read through each category to identify your stress symptom profile:
- Mood swings
- Anger outbursts
- Quick temper
- Sleep problems — insomnia, restless sleep, early morning awakening, sleeping too much
- Weight changes — overeating, undereating
- Muscle tension
- Fatigue, tiredness, lethargy
- Increased use of alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, caffeine
- Feeling “keyed up” or on edge
- Stomach problems
- Low immunity, easily sick with colds, flu
- Racing heartbeat
- Difficulty concentrating
- Negative outlook
- Blowing things out of proportion
- Focusing on worst case scenarios
- Confused thinking
- Overthinking problems, obsessing
- Spacing out
- Low productivity
- Difficulty solving problems
- “What if…” thinking
- Lack of interest in relationships
- Decreased interest in sex, intimacy
- Intolerance of others
- Shutting others out
- Feeling misunderstood
- Lack of communication
- Isolation, avoidance
- Loss of meaning, direction
- Difficulty with forgiveness
- Lack of connection with God
What are effective stress management strategies?
Alter it — Avoid it — Accept it: Build resistance and/or change your perception.
Alter Stress: Remove the source of stress by making a change. Assertive communication, planning, time management, problem solving, and organization are examples of techniques for altering stress.
Avoid Stress: Remove yourself from stressful situations or learn how not to get involved in the first place. It is important to know your limits, to be able to say “no” before you’re overwhelmed, to delegate, to walk away, and to ask for help.
Accept Stress: Prepare yourself physically and mentally when stressful situations arise. Eating three balanced meals per day, getting 7-8 hours of sleep per day, having a physical outlet like exercise and taking time away from the stress to clear your mind make a tremendous difference toward a sense of well-being and an ability to tolerate stress.
Another way to accept stress is to change the way you perceive the situation. Identify irrational beliefs and unrealistic expectations like “I don’t need help, I have to handle this on my own” or “I’m the only one who can deal with this.” There is always help and there are always options. Have a neutral person help you identify alternatives.
Coping with stress takes creative planning, identifying your resources and making a personal commitment to change. Strategies like relaxation techniques, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and psychotherapy are known to promote healing and improve quality of life when dealing with the stress of serious medical problems.