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how to reduce stress
December 8, 2017

“Bad” Stress vs. “Good” Stress

how to reduce stressThe word “stress” carries so many negative connotations, many people are unaware that medical science recognizes negative and positive forms of stress. We’ve all heard of “distress,” mostly in the context of extreme emotional upset. But its constructive counterpart, “eustress,” is a stranger to the average vocabulary.

STRESS FROM THE SCIENTIST’S PERSPECTIVE

European endocrinologist Hans Selye developed the first scientific stress model, General Adaptation Syndrome, in the 1930s. The basic GAS premises are:

  • The “adaptation” in General Adaptation Syndrome refers to the body’s attempts to adapt itself to the needs of the existing situation (actually, to what the brain perceives as the needs of the existing situation).
  • The human body reacts to a perceived threat by first releasing “alarm” hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), then by increasing heart and breathing rates, and finally by either returning functions to normal (if the threat is perceived as past) or shutting down in exhaustion (as in the phenomenon called “dying of fright”).
  • If the situation neither passes quickly nor generates an immediately life-threatening physical response, the body may “adapt” for the long term through chronic muscle tension, high blood pressure, artery blockage or other health conditions that may eventually lead to fatal collapse. (Just as with substance addiction, too much time in an unhealthy state can result in brain and body accepting the toxic situation as normal—and working to maintain it.)
  • While consistently high stress levels are harmful, there are two distinct forms of immediate stress. Distress comes attached to negative emotions and carries a risk of becoming chronic. Eustress comes attached to increased energy and motivation, and manifests for relatively short periods. However, if a situation develops that is perceived as unmanageable, eustress may turn into distress.

Distress can also be converted into eustress, often by the simple technique of consciously saying, “I’m so excited” instead of “I’m so scared.”

IF THE LINE IS SO THIN, HOW DO I TELL THEM APART?

However, many people stress out over being stressed—any sense of rising tension generates “This stress will wreck my health” panic—which, of course, generates distress. (There is, in fact, scientific evidence that fewer people die from chronic stress than from fear of stress.) When you’re recovering from addiction, the situation is further complicated by the possibility of post-acute withdrawal, which may generate periodic stress symptoms for as long as two years.

While the best response to rising tension is often to “relax it away” (more on that in a moment), always making that your default response may hurt your productivity and enthusiasm—at a time when you need them to rebuild your self-respect and future. So when you feel your heart rate increasing and your muscles tensing—assuming there’s no obvious physical danger in sight—take a moment to consider:

  • Am I facing any challenging new opportunities? Are they opportunities I genuinely want to accept?
  • Am I in a situation where I have power, however small, to influence the outcome?
  • Am I facing any potential relapse triggers?
  • How do I really feel right now? Excited, thrilled, angry, frustrated, fearful, despairing?
  • How have I felt after getting through similar situations in the past? Reenergized, proud, relieved, on the verge of collapse?

If most of your answers indicate a situation needing productive activity to achieve desired results, see the section on mobilizing eustress. If your conclusion is that you’re upset about something you have little power over—read the next section.

TIPS FOR DEFUSING DISTRESS

Distress is best met with physical relaxation and positive thinking. 

  • Stop where you are and take ten slow, deep breaths.
  • Pray or meditate.
  • Take a break for some fresh air or a healthy
  • Consciously dismiss all “what if” and “but” thoughts from your mind.
  • Visualize yourself enjoying a goal achieved or a fun activity coming up.
  • Make a list of your good qualities and achievements.

TIPS FOR MOBILIZING EUSTRESS

Eustress is there to energize you for action—take advantage of it.

  • If possible, act immediately on the situation that has your attention. If a “major” step isn’t yet possible, “starter” steps are just as important.
  • If there’s little you can do immediately, make a list and calendar of everything you will Share these with a friend to increase your momentum.
  • If neither of the above is immediately practical, turn your energy boost to another useful purpose. Exercise vigorously for a couple of hours, start that DIY project you’ve been meaning to get around to, do something to help out a friend.
  • Alternatively, put your energy into a mentally challenging project, such as a crossword puzzle or chess game.

And if you really aren’t sure whether it’s distress or eustress you’re feeling? Don’t stress out overanalyzing it. Just scan the lists above and pick any tip that feels good r

The word “stress” carries so many negative connotations, many people are unaware that medical science recognizes negative and positive forms of stress. We’ve all heard of “distress,” mostly in the context of extreme emotional upset. But its constructive counterpart, “eustress,” is a stranger to the average vocabulary.

STRESS FROM THE SCIENTIST’S PERSPECTIVE

European endocrinologist Hans Selye developed the first scientific stress model, General Adaptation Syndrome, in the 1930s. The basic GAS premises are:

  • The “adaptation” in General Adaptation Syndrome refers to the body’s attempts to adapt itself to the needs of the existing situation (actually, to what the brain perceives as the needs of the existing situation).
  • The human body reacts to a perceived threat by first releasing “alarm” hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), then by increasing heart and breathing rates, and finally by either returning functions to normal (if the threat is perceived as past) or shutting down in exhaustion (as in the phenomenon called “dying of fright”).
  • If the situation neither passes quickly nor generates an immediately life-threatening physical response, the body may “adapt” for the long term through chronic muscle tension, high blood pressure, artery blockage or other health conditions that may eventually lead to fatal collapse. (Just as with substance addiction, too much time in an unhealthy state can result in brain and body accepting the toxic situation as normal—and working to maintain it.)
  • While consistently high stress levels are harmful, there are two distinct forms of immediate stress. Distress comes attached to negative emotions and carries a risk of becoming chronic. Eustress comes attached to increased energy and motivation, and manifests for relatively short periods. However, if a situation develops that is perceived as unmanageable, eustress may turn into distress.

Distress can also be converted into eustress, often by the simple technique of consciously saying, “I’m so excited” instead of “I’m so scared.”

IF THE LINE IS SO THIN, HOW DO I TELL THEM APART?

However, many people stress out over being stressed—any sense of rising tension generates “This stress will wreck my health” panic—which, of course, generates distress. (There is, in fact, scientific evidence that fewer people die from chronic stress than from fear of stress.) When you’re recovering from addiction, the situation is further complicated by the possibility of post-acute withdrawal, which may generate periodic stress symptoms for as long as two years.

While the best response to rising tension is often to “relax it away” (more on that in a moment), always making that your default response may hurt your productivity and enthusiasm—at a time when you need them to rebuild your self-respect and future. So when you feel your heart rate increasing and your muscles tensing—assuming there’s no obvious physical danger in sight—take a moment to consider:

  • Am I facing any challenging new opportunities? Are they opportunities I genuinely want to accept?
  • Am I in a situation where I have power, however small, to influence the outcome?
  • Am I facing any potential relapse triggers?
  • How do I really feel right now? Excited, thrilled, angry, frustrated, fearful, despairing?
  • How have I felt after getting through similar situations in the past? Reenergized, proud, relieved, on the verge of collapse?

If most of your answers indicate a situation needing productive activity to achieve desired results, see the section on mobilizing eustress. If your conclusion is that you’re upset about something you have little power over—read the next section.

TIPS FOR DEFUSING DISTRESS

Distress is best met with physical relaxation and positive thinking.

  • Stop where you are and take ten slow, deep breaths.
  • Pray or meditate.
  • Take a break for some fresh air or a healthy
  • Consciously dismiss all “what if” and “but” thoughts from your mind.
  • Visualize yourself enjoying a goal achieved or a fun activity coming up.
  • Make a list of your good qualities and achievements.

TIPS FOR MOBILIZING EUSTRESS

Eustress is there to energize you for action—take advantage of it.

  • If possible, act immediately on the situation that has your attention. If a “major” step isn’t yet possible, “starter” steps are just as important.
  • If there’s little you can do immediately, make a list and calendar of everything you will Share these with a friend to increase your momentum.
  • If neither of the above is immediately practical, turn your energy boost to another useful purpose. Exercise vigorously for a couple of hours, start that DIY project you’ve been meaning to get around to, do something to help out a friend.
  • Alternatively, put your energy into a mentally challenging project, such as a crossword puzzle or chess game.

And if you really aren’t sure whether it’s distress or eustress you’re feeling? Don’t stress out overanalyzing it. Just scan the lists above and pick any tip that feels good right now!

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