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What is Creating Your High Levels of Stress?

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A student in my husband’s college class came to see him one day to tell him she would have to drop out of college. She was a great student, and he was afraid she would not return to school, limiting her chances in life.

He was always a trusted resource and support to his students, and he gently probed the reasons. He listened as she told her story, as shared below. The name has been changed to protect her identity.

Susy grew up in a home that lacked nurture and care, and she was basically left to fend for herself emotionally and financially. Entering college, she was introduced to the wonderful world of music and musicians, who cared about developing their talents and abilities.

She was swept off her feet by a charismatic trumpet player who only wanted a pretty girl by his side. After they were married, her husband discovered she had an eating problem and difficulty maintaining her weight.

She was not the “perfect” girl he wanted to show off and he literally threw her out on the street. She spent the first night sleeping in the attic of a house her brother was renovating. She was told she had a week to find a new place to live.

That is when she came to tell my husband she was dropping out of school. He quietly listened, then picked up the phone and called me. Could we take her in?

“Yes, of course,” I said.

We refused rent, and only asked that she begin to trust in her abilities, finish college and get her degree. She did. And accomplished much in life. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Many Stories Mirror This One.

Kids who grow up without nurturing; marriages you thought would last a lifetime suddenly come to an end; a person you trusted betrayed that loyalty; the list is endless.

You, too, may find yourself one step from being on the street due to circumstances beyond your control. How will I make it? How will I survive?

While circumstances are different for everybody, we all experience some feelings of abandonment, rejection and, Oh my gosh, now what will I do?

The Fight/Flight Response

In survival, stress settles in as a permanent resident. Your mind and body are constantly trying to compensate. When the brain registers danger, either psychologically or externally, the fight/flight response is activated. Its purpose is to quickly prepare you to respond to whatever danger you face.

How Fight/Flight Affects Us Physically

Hormones and chemicals are released. Our heart, circulatory system, adrenal glands, stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, brain, lungs – in fact, almost every organ in the body – is activated in some way to meet this emergency.

  • Blood is shunted away from our extremities, liver, and digestive areas to the heart, lungs, and skeletal muscles.
  • Digestion is put on hold.
  • Glucose is dumped into the blood to provide energy for the impending fight or flight.

Once the danger is past, the body returns to a restful state; the heartbeat returns to normal, blood pressure lowers, and the digestive system resumes digesting your latest meal.

The problems we experience today are not so much a physical danger, like a real tiger at our door, but what I refer to as a “paper tiger,” a perception of danger.

When in a constant state of anxiety, doubt, and uncertainty, our body remains geared up to take action of some kind and is unable to return to a restful state. The longer it remains in the geared-up state, without some resolution or down times, the more potential long-term damage can occur.

Life in general will create a certain amount of distress. We expect life to have its challenges. It is when these become more than everyday occurrences, however, escalating into problems that seem unsolvable, that we need to stop and take action.

Signs of Distress – What Are You Experiencing?

You may or may not be aware of the causes of your distress. To find solutions, you first need to identify what’s causing your distress. The following questions might help.

  1. What situations are creating high levels of distress for you? Can you identify them?
  2. What mental, emotional, and physical signs reflect your rising stress levels? What actions do you take to reduce or lower your stress? Are they working?
  3. List the ways you can replace distress with good stress. Good stress is motivating, encouraging, accomplishing, stimulating, doing what you love to do, etc.
  4. Stress is experienced in our interpersonal relationships, and in many social settings, such as home, work, community, church, etc. How can different responses help lower levels of contention when they occur?
  5. What are you doing when less stressed? Can you incorporate more of that into your life?

Next week, we will address ways you can immediately begin to reduce stress so you have the energy to find more long-term solutions.

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