There are various definitions of stress, but here’s mine: It’s the tense, unpleasant internal sensation that accompanies any negative emotion you care to mention, be it hostility, anger, frustration, or worry, and it lingers for as long as the situation provoking that unpleasant emotion remains unresolved in our minds.
In his book Mental Hygiene (first published in 1843), the American physician William Sweetser (1797-1875) introduced the term mental hygiene, and he proposed that stress and mental ill health can be the cause of much physical illness.
His claim anticipated the modern approach to mental ill health. We now know that, for many millions of people across the world, the physical pains and other symptoms they experience could be prevented or alleviated if they were given help to better cope with stress, meaning, life.
Stress manifests itself in a huge range of physical symptoms. These include:
Many of these symptoms arise because, when we suffer from chronic stress, our body is in effect malfunctioning as a result of the sustained presence within it of the “fight or flight” hormones.
These are released when our brain determines that we’re in a dangerous situation. They are designed to help us escape from life-threatening physical danger, and they’re only supposed to be released for short periods. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles and ways of thinking regularly trigger the release of them in many people. Our body is not designed to cope with this.
The Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, also known as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, is a list of stressful life events. First developed in 1967, this list attributes points to different life stressors. The more points you accumulate over a year, the more likely you are to experience health issues. It’s a useful reference to consult if you’re looking to understand what aspects of your life may be your most significant sources of stress.
The most serious stressors it lists are the death of a spouse or a close family member, divorce, and marriage. These are followed by dismissal from a job, marital separation, and marital reconciliation. Next come pregnancy, a jail term, and moving house. Personal injury or illness and your partner or a family member having major health issues are all also highly stressful, and so are an unhappy marriage, an unhappy romantic relationship, or an unhappy job environment. Retirement is quite high on the list as well.
Once we’ve identified the causes of stress in our life using resources such as the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, the time comes to ask: How do I start reducing my stress levels? I would say what’s required is a two-pronged strategy: there are ways we can reframe our life circumstances, and then there are specific actions we can take.
According to Dr Georgia Witkin of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, one of the top stress-busters is anticipating stress and planning for it. I think this is great advice. I suggest combining it with the following:
Each person’s situation is unique, but I think there’s something for everyone in the following list:
Kimberley L. Brownridge’s 50 Things to Know about Coping with Stress: By a Mental Health Specialist (2020) is a useful book should you want to go more deeply into the subject of stress and how to cope with it.
What manner of stress are you experiencing in your life? What have you tried to do to relieve it? Is there anything you’ve said you would do but haven’t yet done?
Tags Reducing Stress