What exactly is the importance of stress management? Experts estimate that stress costs the American economy more than $300 billion each year. Medical experts estimate that 80% of all health problems are, at least in part, due to stress. While the effects of stress on our society are great, poorly managed stress takes a toll on people as well. Here are just some of the way stress can hurt us:
- Job problems
- Uneasiness about the future
- Problems with a boss or co-worker
- Bad habits
- Feeling tired
- Chest pains
- Changes in eating habits
Unmanaged stress is believed to build up over time and to give rise to even more serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and even some cancers. Stress is clearly a powerful force to be dealt with in our world. Now, let’s take a closer look at stress and its effect on us in our daily lives. Here are some things you will learn to understand the importance of stress management:
- What is stress?
- What is a stressor?
- Physical responses to stress
- Mental responses to stress
What is stress?
To conquer and control such a powerful force, we must first learn more about it. So, what is stress? Stress is an unwanted response that is felt when our minds cannot deal with a challenge. Many years ago stress was different. Imagine roaming the woods with your ancient ancestors thousands of years ago. Suddenly, you come across an angry bear. At that moment you have to make a quick decision—to stay and fight or to take flight. This is called the fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response demands a choice, a quick choice. Stay and fight, or flee to safety. Back in those days, the decision was simple.
In today’s world, this classic fight vs. flight model has changed. In today’s society there are few life-threatening situations, but the fight vs. flight response is still active in all of us. Stressful situations can still evoke the fight vs. flight response. Some of these everyday stressful situations include:
- Having to stand up and give a speech to a group of people
- Having to deal with an angry teacher or boss
- Being stuck in traffic
- Being late for a meeting
- Losing your job
These are just a few of the modern day things that can cause us stress. They are not life threatening, but they still bring out the old fight vs. flight response. Unfortunately, nature has conditioned us to release these stress-inducing reactions when we most need to be calm. The important thing is how you learn to react to these non-life-threatening events. If not properly controlled, your body is not just reacting, it is overreacting.
What Is a Stressor?
A stressor is an event, situation or thought that we allow to cause us stress. In this definition the keywords are we allow. That’s right—we allow stress, whether we are aware of it or not. A stressor is a trigger. When this trigger happens, we can decide how to react. If we allow the stressor to bother us, our emotions get involved and cause us physical discomfort. Usually this all happens without us even being aware of the process.
Physical Responses to Stress
Once you know what your stressors are, you can take a look at how you respond to those stressors. This knowledge about your personal stressors and how you react will help you learn to manage your stressors and how you respond to them. The effects of stress can build up, increasing the importance of managing your stress. After all, it doesn’t take long for our incorrect feelings about stress to affect our work, our relationships and our health. Short-term bodily reactions or responses to stress are things like pounding of the heart and fast breathing. Physical reactions to stress can cause health problems, including:
- Difficulty in breathing
- Severe headaches
- Muscle aches
- Dryness of mouth
Long-term responses to stress can and often do cause illness. If you have ever been really upset over a problem, you may have gotten a headache, upset stomach, a cold or the flu. So stress can be at least partly to blame for almost any disease. Sometimes it is the direct cause of illness.
Mental Responses to Stress
In today’s world, stress seems to be everywhere and the number of stressors in our lives seems to be increasing. Why, then, are some people not bothered by stress? How are they able to deal with stress more effectively than others. The answer is not that these people are somehow luckier than the rest of us. The answer is that they have learned to recognize and deal with the stressors in their lives.
Our reactions to stress are controlled by our minds. Let’s look again at our definition of stress. Stress is an unwanted response that is felt when our minds cannot deal with a challenge. While we cannot always control many of the things that lead to stress in our lives, we do have control over one thing—our own minds. We can learn to deal correctly with stressors so that our response to a stressful situation is positive. We can learn to use the stress in our lives rather than being helplessly controlled by it.
Thanks for tuning into our post in this series on Anxiety Management and the importance of Stress Management. If you’d like to learn more about the importance of stress management and how The Anxiety Management Program works, download our PDF brochure here.