What produces stress in you? Is it the garbage man leaving a mess? Too many bills? Conflict at work? Or some major catastrophe in your life? For many people, stress is not produced simply by one event--but by several.
What is stress?
Webster’s definition of stress is, "bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium." In human terms it may mean not enough money, bad health, accidents and injuries, family problems, trouble at work, or major disappointments. It feels as if everything is coming unglued.
Stress is not only caused by things going wrong, but also by too much to do at once--too many responsibilities and too little rest. One-third of all employed men and one-seventh of all employed women are working more than forty hours a week. Without counting work at home or in the community. We are a nation characterized as "harried, hurried, and haunted . . . We rush through our lives under the tyranny of the clock, in an age of haste."
Studies show that people view certain experiences as producing higher stress than others. These include the death of a spouse, divorce, marital separation, a jail term, death of a family member, personal injury or illness, being fired from work, retirement, or pregnancy. Studies also show that when these individual items accumulate, they produce a cluster of stresses which many times overwhelms people.
Good Stress And Bad Stress
Not all stress is bad. In fact, being under some stress will enable you to protect yourself and enable you to be more productive and creative. Stress is bad, however, when there is an overload-- it no longer stimulates you and you become immobilized and unable to function.
An important concept to remember is that negative stress is usually produced by a combination of factors or an overload.
For example, imagine walking into a room where you see six friends and one new person. You may experience a degree of stress, but generally it will enable you to respond positively to the one new person. If, on the other hand, you walk into a room where all seven new people, the stress may be so great that you may feel socially inept and inadequate.
An important concept to remember is that negative stress is usually produced by a combination of factors or an overload. Therefore, if you can change a few factors, you probably can reduce stress.
How Stress Affects Us
Physically. Our physical bodies are drastically altered by stress. Adrenaline is pumped into our blood stream, blood is cut off from the skin, causing it to appear white, air passages in the nose and throat dilate, the digestive process stops in the stomach and intestine, heart rate and blood pressure go up dramatically, and our pupils dilate, along with many other changes. We are prepared for action, such as fighting or running.
These physical changes must be allowed to return to normal, or the stress may have a negative impact on our bodies over time.
Emotionally. People under stress experience different emotional reactions than when not under stress. Some of these emotional changes are caused or accelerated, by chemical and hormonal changes produced by stress.
Common emotional expressions are fear, numbness, anger, paralyzed feelings, disorientation, defensiveness, guilty feelings, or feelings of loss. A common feeling is that things are out of control and that we are failing because we don't have it all together.
We may begin to view God differently. We may ask, "Where is God? Doesn't He know? How can a good God let this happen to me?"
Spiritually. The physical changes which include chemical and hormonal changes have an impact on us emotionally and spiritually. We may begin to view God differently. We may ask, "Where is God? Doesn't He know? How can a good God let this happen to me?"
People under stress frequently withdraw form God or other Christians, and they may find themselves being exploited by Satan during times of high stress. Sadly they may believe distorted information as they see life through an altered vision.
It is important to remember that you are one entity physically, spiritually, and emotionally. When you modify any of these areas, other areas are also affected. A time of high stress is not the best time to make major decisions in your life because your perception may be distorted.
External Sources Of Stress
Our society can produce stress from such things as high taxes or a community tragedy, but more likely external stress will come from career, family, or interpersonal relationships.
For midlife men, career often becomes stressful. As young adults they sold themselves almost entirely to their career, but during midlife crisis, they reassess life and ask "Why am I doing this?" A man in his mid-fifties also may be forced into early retirement, which may catch him totally off-guard. For many women, working may be only a way to earn money, and lack of fulfillment may produce stress.
Marriage, family, and interpersonal relationships are even greater stress producers. Struggles with teens, caring for parents, difficulties with in-laws, and meeting the cost of housing, schooling, tooth straightening, and enough cars, certainly can produce a stress overload.
Midlife is a time when people have almost given up hope that their marriage will get any better. Both mates may be going in opposite directions, being pulled by strong forces that combine to destroy their marriage. When they most need a satisfying, enriching couple relationship, they may be having the most trouble which only adds to the stress over load.
The first man may have a lot of stress as he fantasizes about an affair. He is wrestling with his internal conflict of whether or not he should get involved.
Remember that stress overload is generally caused by many factors. If one or more of the factors can be modified even just a little bit, then stress can be reduced.
Internal Sources Of Stress
Why is it that some people seem to sail through swirling masses of problems with hardly any stress, while others seem to be wiped out by just a few items? Stress not only comes from the experiences around us, but also from the way we allow ourselves to be affected by them.
For example, suppose two married men see a good-looking woman. The first man may have a lot of stress as he fantasizes about an affair. He is wrestling with his internal conflict of whether or not he should get involved. The second man has settled his internal values so that he says, "She is really attractive, but I made the commitment to God, myself, and my wife that I will be a one-woman man." The second man hardly experiences stress. He sees the woman as good-looking, but he is not struggling. His settled internal values reduce stress.
As you can see, our inner attitudes can magnify or reduce stress caused by certain situations. We may not be able to control circumstances, but we don't have to let circumstances control us.
How To Cope With Stress
Stress is like electricity. It can either give you light or kill you. Since positive stress can help you to be more productive and creative, and negative stress does the opposite, you need to work to eliminate negative stress to unleash your productivity and creativity.
Recognize the patterns of your life. Both successes and failures produce stress. If you get a job, you are invigorated. If you lose a job, you may be depressed and have a lowered self-esteem. Understand your normal responses and realize that after a stress experience--good or bad--you need recovery time.
Accept your feelings. Don't deny positive or negative feelings. Acknowledge that certain events have taken place. Realize that the feelings you are experiencing are directly related to some event or experience, but your feelings may not be an accurate reflection of the situation because of the distortion produced by stress. Talking to a friend will help you adjust to your new reality.
Identify any loss areas. Sometimes people fail to deal with losses that are associated with victories. A new job may provide great opportunities, but you may have to leave long-standing and trusted friendships behind.
Other losses may include a broken relationship, a dented car fender, a dropped camera, burned roast, or your unfinished daily schedule.
Let life teach you. Learn from stressful events and don't repeat mistakes or over-exaggerate successes.
Sometimes a loss is that you have nothing to do or no one needs you. Whatever the loss area, look at it frankly, and recognize the direct connection between your loss and your negative feelings.
Redirect your life. Let life teach you. Learn from stressful events and don't repeat mistakes or over-exaggerate successes. Step back from both the event and the feelings for a few moments. Then make decisions so that the best possible solutions come out of the stress situation.
Take definite steps to reduce your stress overload. Normally we accumulate about ten percent more responsibility each year. Look at your responsibilities. How could you cut out ten percent? Now replace it with ten percent nourishment--something to rebuild you physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Take a long hard look at your perfectionism and think of creative ways to modify or reduce the demands that you put on yourself and other people.
Rethink what you know of God. Read in your Bible about God's nature, His trustworthiness, and His power. Look at His love for all people--and for you in particular. Think about His purpose and His call in your life. Then reflect on some of His promises. Allow the concepts of the Scripture and God's promises to dominate your thinking. "O my people, trust Him all the time. Pour out your longings before Him, for He can help" (Psalm 62:8). Reading from the Psalms has always helped to give me bib perspective and a deeper connection to God.
Conway / Farrel Articles ~ Reprint by permission only, ©2011
Midlife Dimensions ~ www.Midlife.com
The Conways and Farrels are international speakers and popular authors.
Midlife Dimensions is a ministry founded by the Conways and continued by the Farrels.