How big is the problem of poorly managed stress? 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.
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.
This is why it’s important to teach your students stress management. Let’s take a look at some of the basics to get started:
- 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
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
The effects of stress can build up, and 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. 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.
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