STRESS: Recognizing It before It Becomes Problematic

Stress is something that most of us can say we’ve experienced at one time or another. In fact, saying “I’m stressed” has become an acceptable mantra. A mantra that turns into accepting a frenetic pace of life that is wreaking havoc on many, both physically and mentally.

Ironically, most everyone knows that people are stressed, but only a small percentage actually believe it affects them personally. Hmmmm…so is that denial or minimizing?

Am I really stressed out? 

Fear of admitting we’re stressed could result in having to make changes and adjustments to our daily routine, which can be challenging. Therefore, if we deny we have stress, we can continue “functioning,” albeit at a reduced productivity level and a good chance that our mind and body will suffer at some point. 

Since stress is such a tricky thing, let me present a different way to think about it that I learned recently when I went to a Wellness talk presented by Charleston chiropractor, Dr. Angela Dixon.  

Imagine a bucket – a stress bucket. We all have one. It fills up with stress but no physical symptoms show up until the bucket begins to overflow.

So we go to the doctor and tell the doctor our symptoms. They treat the symptoms, which is exactly what they’re trained to do. We take the medication. The symptoms go away, so we stop the medication, but we haven’t changed our stress level.

The symptoms return. We go to the doctors. They treat our symptoms, which is exactly what they’re trained to do. The symptoms go away, so we stop the medication, but we haven’t changed our stress level.

The symptoms return. We go to the doctors. They treat our symptoms, which is exactly what they’re trained to do. The symptoms go away, so we stop the medication, but we haven’t changed our stress level. 

The symptoms return. We go to the doctors. They treat our symptoms, which is exactly what they’re trained to do. The symptoms go away, so we stop the medication, but we haven’t changed our stress level. 

Ok, so you see that pattern and the problem.

Keys to identifying stressors

The key is to identify the stressors in our lives BEFORE the bucket overflows and we then have physical symptoms to deal with! 

However, there are stressors that we may be dealing with that we’re not even 100% aware of. Here are three types of stressors that occur in our lives: 

    1. Thoughts – based on the inputs we receive daily. For example, what we watch on tv, listen to on the radio or what we read; who we engage with; and how we spend our time.
    2. Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, which could include a major car accident or a physical attack.
    3. Toxins include the cleaning supplies we use in our homes, the air we breathe – and those two examples – one we have control over and one we don’t. And choices are all part of life. So we want to focus on what we can control.

“When we reduce and eliminate stress, we practice a really sophisticated level of self compassion!” 

So, how do we reduce stress then based on the three stressors I just explained?

THOUGHTS Humans have more than 60,000 thoughts per day, most are unconscious of and probably don’t even register. But what about the thoughts we get attached to and repeat over and over again. Are they positive, helpful, and inspiring or are we telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, for example?

We can’t change something until we acknowledge it.

We can clean up our thoughts by turning off the news, listening to inspiring podcasts versus the radio and all its commercials. Or, listen to audio books or read more when we’re at home. Incorporate more positive input, so we get a positive output. 

It’s important to identify the negative and change it to a positive. For me, this took the form of me listening to Wayne Dyer, for days!! He may not be your guy, but for me, I was able to reprogram my thought patterns through a constant stream of his talks (all free on YouTube, I might add). Even if I wasn’t totally paying attention, the positive messages were still getting into my subconscious.

So, choose your method of becoming conscious of your thoughts and change the ones that are keeping you stuck and stressed. 

TRAUMA includes issues such as post-traumatic stress from a car accident or physical attack. It’s not easy to talk about trauma, which is why it’s so important to in order to heal and move forward. If this is something that hasn’t been dealt with and feels scary, consults a trained professional, such as a therapist specifically trained to manage trauma. At the same time, you can also begin journaling. It’s important to create space to process the feelings surrounding a traumatic event so that it doesn’t continue to raise stress levels.

TOXINS come in many forms. The most obvious are the cleaning products in our home. Many contain chemicals that are making us subtly sick. They can be the cause of skin irritations and headaches. And we’ve all heard about the Tide issue. Bleach is another! Growing up, the smell of bleach actually represented a clean home (I’m sure I’m not alone of this one!). We certainly don’t want to wrap ourselves in sheets and towels that are washed in chemicals. A simple way to “clean” laundry is to use a very mild, no fragrance detergent, then add baking soda and vinegar. If you want a fragrance, use an essential oil such as lavender or peppermint.

Toxins are also present in some food we eat. In order for boxed and canned foods to maintain a longer shelf life, manufacturers load them up with preservatives. A simple solution to reduce or eliminate food toxins is to not eat ingredients that we can’t pronounce or need to look up. Eating fresh organic ingredients is important for maintaining a healthy body.

Medications! Well, without going to deep into the rabbit hole (or in it at all!)…first I’m not telling you to not take medication! There’s a reason you’re on it, and you should always consult your doctor before you stop taking prescribed meds. However, if you are on medications, you can also work toward incorporating nutrient-rich food and eliminating toxic chemicals wherever possible. Then get retested to see if you actually do need the meds. Our bodies are designed to function optimally given the right types of foods.

Other ways to reduce stress are to ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • Am I happy in my career or job? – Maybe it’s the commute that’s taking up more than 2 hours a day and you could opt to work from home. Or find something closer to home.
  • Are my relationships fulfilling? – Is there joy and happiness. How can you create more time to make memories?
  • Am I mindfully eating all meals?  – Are you watching tv or scrolling on your phone versus paying attention to the food and the people you’re eating with?

Those are just a few examples. Nothing is a clear-cut yes or no. There are always a series of questions to get to the answer. So, start asking questions. Be curious, find more joy and reduce stress! Your body and mind will thank you for it!

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