The human body and all other living things need some forms of stress just to be able to exist. Plants need gravity and thermal stresses to allow them to know which direction to grow in and to allow it to grow strong. If a tree is never exposed to wind and is then suddenly exposed to a hurricane it will be destroyed. Much like this humans require stress to be able to grow and to fend off the disasters which happen in our lives. Even we need the stress of gravity to maintain stronger bones. This can be seen from some of the first astronauts who have returned from the international space station with porous bones and symptoms similar to osteoporosis.
You can take control of stress and use it to make your life better and more fulfilled or you can allow it to take control of you and put you in a ever worsening state of pain, misery and despair. The choice is yours!
Different types of stress.
Before we look at how we can use stress to build the life we dream of, we need to understand the different types of stress and how they affect us.
There are two main types that I’m going to focus on here, chronic stress (long term stresses) and acute stress (short term stresses).
Chronic stress is the infection that is plaguing people at every waking hour and in some cases even while they sleep. Chronic physical stress causes us pain and discomfort. It is caused by an issue such as pulled muscle, rotten tooth etc… that is left unchecked. Chronic stress is also mental and can result in depression, night terrors and many other conditions.
Acute stress is what we use to grow and develop. It’s when we stress muscles in the gym or study for an exam. Acute stress is what we use to battle chronic stress by training muscles to work correctly and not cause pain. Likewise we can stress the brain to exercise it so that we are not in mental pain.
There is also another thing that we need to consider and keep in mind when it comes to stress and that’s relaxation. Relaxation is the moments after a stress is released and the stressed thing is returning to its pervious form (or as close and you can get too it). Depending on the type of stress, its intensity and its duration the relaxation can be either painful or euphoric.
Identify stresses and which category they belong in.
For this section we’re going to break it down into three categories of stresses.
- Life stresses – out of our control stresses.
- Chronic lifestyle stresses – longterm stresses within our control.
- Acute exercise stresses – short term stresses within our control.
Life stresses are the natural disasters of life that happen no matter what we do about them. They are the things that affect us in different ways but we have to adapt to them or influence a large population to work together to make this thing change.
- The loss of a loved one
- Forest fires
- The economy
- Volcano eruptions
Life stresses are out of your control from occurring but how you deal with life stresses is very much within your control.
Chronic lifestyle stresses
Chronic lifestyle stresses are the long-term stresses we feel most of the time if not all of the time. But they are very much something that we can do something about.
- Financial stress
- Physical strains (caused by bad habits such as sitting with bad posture, or an injury)
- Mental illness (depression, anxiety, PTSD)
- Physical illness (diabetes, cirrhosis, heart disease)
Chronic lifestyle stresses are caused by the choices we have made to this point in our lives.
These stresses are usually inherited from others through learning to make poor choices from the people around you because those were the choices that they were making. Some of these stresses are caused by the way we deal with the life stresses.
Acute exercise stresses
Acute exercise stresses are the stresses that we actively participate in whether it’s a once off or it’s something we repeat continually.
- Physical exercise (sports or gym)
- Breathing exercise
- Mental arithmetic
Acute exercise stresses are the ones that we use to make change. These are the stresses that either cause the chronic lifestyle stresses, eliminate then, or at least help us live with them.
The life stresses along with the acute exercise stresses are what have resulted in your life up to this point. The chronic lifestyle stresses are what make your life difficult or even unbearable and they are what we need to tackle by using acute exercise stresses.
Using stress to fight stress.
That’s right it’s time to fight fire with fire. It’s an extremely effective thing to do but only if you actually know what you are doing. Sure you’ll figure it out as you go along if that’s really what you wanna do but most likely by the time you figure it out the whole forest might be wiped out. Maybe your metaphorical forest has burned up and there’s nothing left, well this is a great place for new fresh growth (It’s only up from here).
So like everything in life you can’t do anything intentional about something unless you know what you are doing so we need to analyze our stresses. It’s time to turn to the most powerful tool ever created by humans. No I’m not talking about an apache helicopter, and no its not a cruise ship either but that may be a good tool to help get rid of some stress.
I’m talking about a pen and paper. You need to learn to become best friends with a pen and paper if you really want to know who you are. And that leads us into the first step to using stress to build your dream life.
Get to know yourself
The first exercise for this series of posts is to start to truly get to know yourself.
Get yourself that pen and paper and take it somewhere away from distractions. Go to your bedroom or head out and go to the park or a river and sit at a bench. If you are an extremely stressed individual you may want to take a few goes at this to cover everything as best as possible and not overwhelm yourself. Take some deep breathes to help lower your heart rate and get into a clear, focused mindset (as clear and focused as you can manage, don’t get stressed about destressing).
Start by making a list of all the chronic lifestyle stresses that are causing you either physical or emotional pain. Get each and every one out of your system and down on a page (Just the top level of the stress, such as PTSD but not the cause of the PTSD). You’re not going into analyzing why they are affecting you or how you need to fix them. All that this exercise is doing is defining the problems.
If this task was in itself very stressful then take a break and give yourself a treat, play with your dog, listen to music or watch some tv, whatever you like to do as a reward for finishing a stressful task.
If you aren’t too stressed or have taken a break then its now time to break down these chronic lifestyle (problem) stresses into severity. Beside each stress rate them 1-10 on how big of a problem they are in your life, where 1 is fairly tolerable and 10 is unbearable.
After this your list could look something like the following;
- I have credit card debt – 5
- I have student loan – 5
- I have back pain – 8
- I have social anxiety – 9
- I hate my job – 8
- My home is a mess – 3
- I don’t feel confident – 6
- I’m not fit – 4
- I’m always tired – 8
- I’m not skinny enough – 7
So this list has a stress level of 63. This is a fairly short list but contains quite significant stresses such as social anxiety and physical pain. What this exercise is meant to illustrate is not how bad things are but that we can tackle these each individually and that it’s never one thing that is the cause of the way your life is.
Take the time to really get to know your stresses because it’ll make it easier to wish them farewell for good. We must know ourselves before we can take any action.
We have covered the fundamentals of stress. We have defined the different types of stress that are in our lives. Life stress, chronic lifestyle stress, acute exercise stress. we have learned what role these stresses play in our lives and finally we have identified the stresses that are having a negative effect on our life.