This is the first of a series of three articles by Sheila O’Brien. Sheila owns Life Has No Remote, a stress counseling service that is part of our Business Partner Network.
Anxiety, overwhelm, sensory overload, helplessness, frustration, anger, fear, depression, confusion, paranoia, irritability, need to escape, withdrawal, trapped, hopelessness…all of these are feelings associated with stress. Most of us experience these (one or more of them) more often and regularly than we want to. They are all symptoms of stress.
What is stress? Stress is a human reaction to a perceived danger (real or imagined). The perceived threat can be mental or emotional or physical in nature. Any time we feel threatened…like our boat is getting rocked and unbalanced, we feel stress. Sometimes it is EU-stress, which stimulates positive feelings, and is energizing and life-affirming. Sometimes the stress reaction is DIS-stress, which is stifling, and oppressive and scary. Mostly, it is our own internal perception that determines whether a particular circumstance falls into the eustress or distress category. Eustress is beneficial to our health, our self-concept, and to our potential for happiness. Distress is destructive, energy draining and oppressive. It suppresses our ability to appreciate and express our unique, authentic SELF into our life. For the purposes of this article, we will be addressing DIS-stress.
“The primary cause of illness is lack of energy. The primary cause of lack of energy is stress, mainly mental and emotional stress.” – Dr. Leonard Coldwell
Our health is a function of our energy reserves and resources. Because of the negative impact of DISTRESS on our lives, let’s consider the 3 basic types of DISTRESS and what causes them. What are the different types of stress? How are they different? What impact do they each have on our health and well-being? Is one type more harmful than the other?
Physical stress comes from putting too much load on the body to perform its functions. It is caused by too much exhaustive physical exercise, overeating, drinking too much, constant pain, sleep deprivation internal toxic and/or acidic reactions, some allergies, nutritional deficiencies, etc. Once these factors are eliminated, the body is able to catch up; the physical stress no longer drains our energy, and no longer takes a toll on the health and well-being of the individual.
Mental stress comes from imagining or remembering disturbing mental images. Examples are worry, obsession, or fixation with a traumatic event, remembering negative events, imagining negative results or outcomes of future events, anticipating failure or defeat, humiliation, etc.
Emotional stress comes from experiencing fear, trauma, anger, helplessness, overwhelm, severe illness, self-doubt, oppression, etc. We experience emotional stress in bad relationships, by going to a job we hate, divorce, bankruptcy, or due to the death of a loved one.
All three types of stress are inter-dependent and inter-related. All three types create PHYSICAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL symptoms, for example, high blood pressure can be a physical symptom of mental and emotional stress, or it can be a physical symptom of physical stress due to a toxic condition in the body. Mood swings and a sense of helplessness would be considered psychological symptoms of mental and emotional stress. Continuous mental and emotional stresses are the true danger, because they often go unrecognized. We become accustomed to the symptoms of mental and emotional stress, and no longer recognize it as abnormal. Physical, mental and emotional health is harmed when our energy reserves are depleted by stress, particularly mental and emotional stress.
To truly eliminate stress (instead of just manage it) we must identify the root cause of the distress. After we have identified and eliminated the root cause of our stress, the symptoms begin to disappear and reverse themselves. We may have a different root cause of stress in each of several areas of our lives. Finding and eliminating each root cause allows us to feel freer and have more energy to be true to ourselves, and to express our TRUE, unique nature in living our lives. This opens the door for us to enjoy good health and true happiness.
THE STRESS CYCLE
Here is an example of how the three kinds of stress are interdependent and intertwined. You have a job that you don’t enjoy. You are mentally and physically (and possibly emotionally) exhausted by the time you get home at night, and you have no energy to really engage with your family and friends. You wish you could quit the job, but you imagine the negative consequences of losing your paycheck and are afraid to quit. This makes you feel trapped. The trapped feeling begins to grow, and it affects your personal relationships. You have no enthusiasm for activities you used to love, because you are tired and resentful about wasting your life with at a job you don’t enjoy working for a boss that doesn’t appreciate you. The internal pressure you feel continues to eat away at you, and you find yourself with high blood pressure, pain in your body, sleep deprivation and a feeling of helplessness or hopelessness to change your situation. You’re trapped…or not.
Let’s break down the above scenario. Your job is draining your energy, possibly physically, definitely mentally, and possibly emotionally. You are physically tired from lifting heavy boxes all day without adequate breaks (physical stress). You are thinking about how you don’t want to have to work here anymore, and all the reasons you resent it: not enough pay, no recognition or acknowledgement; and you’re imagining the negative consequences of quitting (mental stress). Perhaps you have a boss or co-worker that is harassing you to be more productive, or do things differently, or just being a bully because that’s who they are (emotional stress). Your energy is being sucked away by every one of these types of stress. But you need the paycheck, so you stay. Then you go home and are hoping to be left alone to relax and recover from your workday, but your spouse wants you to fix dinner, fix the car, take care of the kids, listen to his/her story, and is getting more demanding, to the point where you feel harassed at your own house (emotional stress). You think about escaping, but you are afraid to, because of the negative consequences that could happen, like divorce or bankruptcy (more mental stress). And you find yourself lying awake at night because you can’t stop thinking of all your problems (mental stress contributing to sleep deprivation…contributing to more physical stress). See the loop? These different types of stress are completely intertwined and interrelated.
Meditation or exercise or watching a movie may help you calm down, but it’s not going to make the problem go away. You need to identify the root cause of the stress and get it out of your life. In this scenario, the job is your primary cause of stress. It is draining your energy to the point where you have health problems, problems in your personal relationships, and a sense of feeling trapped and helpless to really fix things. To improve your life, you need to get rid of the job and find one you like. Your relationships will recover, your health will improve and you will have the chance to enjoy life again. Sounds so simple…and it is, but it takes an enormous amount of courage and a determination to succeed in order to make it work.
TOOL FOR FREEDOM and EMPOWERMENT: List the things/relationships you’re just putting up with.
Understanding the types of stress, their causes and how they impact our lives is the first step toward restoring our energy, our health, and our potential for happiness. One tool for identifying the energy drainers in your life is to make a list of ALL of the things (from tiny to huge) that you are tolerating in your life. You want to include EVERYTHING that you wouldn’t consciously choose to be dealing with in your life right now: everything from the broken shoelace and dirty dishes to the relationship or job or your health. Keep adding to the list as you go through the next several days. As you look at the list, begin to take care of the little things that are easily fixed. This will be one less thing that is draining your energy. As you re-coup the energy from the little things, you’ll find you have enough energy to handle the slightly bigger things, and eventually, you’ll have the energy and courage to handle the bigger things in your life. This one tool can get you on the road to plugging the holes in your energy reservoir, and help you to be more in control of your life.
I hope this article has helped you to understand how stress affects our health and well-being, and that you now use the tool offered here to help yourself begin reclaiming ownership of your energy reserves and the resources available to you. It is when we actually take a stand for ourselves that we finally have a chance to turn our lives around. You can do it. You’re worth it. Make the decision to go for it.
IBMS® Licensed and Certified Coach
(Instinct Based Medicine System®)
Life Has No Remote, LLC