Withstanding stress is like weathering a bad storm. Not only do you have to contend with the stressful issues of work and home, but also the people around you who may react to these events in stressful ways. It can start to feel like these forces are working together to pull at your sanity.
Our culture has become more aware of the mind-body connection. We are more invested in understanding how stress impacts our physical health outcomes than ever before.
Just as we decide how to respond to a weather storm depending on the severity, we can learn to gauge and respond to the stressful storms of life. The stressful life events we face at work and in our personal lives are all degrees of severity. From mildly annoying stressor to life-changing calamity, stress manifests in countless ways.
Imagine stressful life situations in categories, like we often hear of weather patterns.
Everyone has their own version of what a low-grade stressor looks like. Generally, think of a Level 1 stressor as a stressful event that causes temporary, low level discomfort.
Managing a Level 1 stressor requires little effort. Using basic distraction is helpful and should be sufficient in alleviating the temporary stress.
A Level 2 stress might be something that actively needs to be managed. It will not resolve itself and if ignored may blow up into something worse. Managing Level 2 stress requires not only distraction, but action.
Take the necessary steps to make it right (within your power), talk to others who are involved to work toward reducing the impact.
When you’ve done what is within your power to resolve it, then use healthy coping strategies and distraction to manage your feelings. Exercise will help burn off residual stress that your body is holding.
These stressors require attention and problem-solving skills during and after the event to manage the impact. Level 3 stress will probably hang on even after the situation ends. Sometimes with this intensity, our minds go into troubleshooting mode later, trying to figure out how to prevent situations like this from happening again.
Our minds might automatically do this without our permission, so this will require intentional thought-stopping skills. Practice observing your thoughts. When you notice your mind wandering back to dwell on a negative situation needlessly, intentionally stop the thought and redirect to something benign or positive. Thought-stopping shouldn’t be the first go-to coping strategy.
Use it when you’ve allowed yourself to experience your emotions and have already given the situation a fair amount of thought.
Level 3 stress will likely require thought-stopping after the fact. Use additional coping strategies that alleviate stress through physical activity, creative outlets and feeding your spiritual needs.
Spending time with friends, attending a church service or reading inspirational material can help nurture your spiritual self. Listening to TED Talks can also refresh and refocus the mind and spirit.
These unfortunate parts of life shake you to the core. Often this level of stress will make you feel physically ill, may impact your eating habits, and of course, affects your sleep patterns.
You will probably end up dwelling on a Level 4 stressor because it is significant enough to impact a variety of aspects of your life. The stress may morph into anxiety and even a panic attack. Consider a Level 4 stress as an acute situation that requires immediate management and self-care.
In circumstances like this we need to respond by taking whatever action is possible to improve the situation and then focusing our efforts on reeling in our physiological responses.
If others are involved, talk about the situation and garner support from one another. Brainstorm ways to do what is possible to help alleviate the situation, and then come up with a plan for self-care together.
Problems arise when we respond to a Level 1 stressor in the same way we respond to a Level 4. Not all stressors are created equal, and we shouldn’t respond to them as if they are.
One of the worst things we can do when facing any level of stress is to move into avoidance mode. Sometimes it can feel tempting to simply abandon ship when stressful things are happening, but avoidance doesn’t work in the long run.
We can’t wish away the things that bother us and avoiding is a step below a wish. Have faith that you will survive your stressors and trust in yourself to recover from them.
Even stressful situations have value for our lives. We need to be open to the messages they deliver and allow for our growth to happen, even as we deal with pain.